A belated effort is underway to salvage the remains of Matt Hancock's reputation. The latest line, repeated by a dutiful Brandon Lewis on Sky this morning, is that the former Health Secretary quit for the good of the country – which begs the question as to why he waited 48 hours after the news broke to do so.
A cynic might suggest that Hancock's resignation had more to do with public anger and media pressure failing to subside rather than any high moral principle but for Lewis the answer was clear: Hancock went for the good of his family. The Northern Ireland Secretary told breakfast viewers this morning:
“His position was untenable and distracting from the wider work that we've all got to do to move forward in the pandemic and out of the pandemic. There's no getting away from that and I think that's why Matt ultimately made the decision he did. As I say, I think in doing that he has put his family and indeed all of us across the UK first, because he wants the focus, as the PM does, as we all do, to be on getting out of the pandemic.
— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) June 27, 2021
In resigning, Matt Hancock has “put his family first” claims Brandon Lewis 🤔 pic.twitter.com/yb4Hg2T63s
Given that Hancock has told his wife that he now intends to move in with Gina Coladangelo, Steerpike suspects this is the first time a minister has resigned to spend more time with somebody else's family.
Will such a ploy enable Hancock to one day return to Cabinet? Boris Johnson managed to pull off a similar track when he split with Marina Wheeler, his wife of 25 years, to move in with Carrie back in 2018. But unlike the latter, Gina Coladangelo has three children and of course a husband in the form of 54 year-old millionaire Oliver Tress, the founder of retail chain Oliver Bonas.
Hancock's resignation has been manna from heaven for certain commentators, for whom the affair has enabled a tidal wave of comment. One of the more incredible lines was provided on GB News this morning by David Waker, bishop of Manchester, who claimed 'I'm more worried about the fact he failed to keep the social distancing than I am about the fact that that here was a middle aged bloke having a bit of a fling.' So much for those holy vows before God.
Elsewhere journalist Sarah Vine has written in the Mail on Sunday a widely-shared article headlined: 'The problem with the wife who's been with you for ever is that she knows you're not the Master of the Universe you purport to be.' Who better placed to write such a piece than the partner of Michael Gove?
Vine's comments about political marriages and 'how rarely, if ever, they manage to thrive under the pressures of public life' seem to have struck a chord with many in SW1, who readily agree with her assertion that 'Westminster is a place of myriad distractions for the politician seeking refuge from his or her home life.'
Indeed she notes how Hancock is only following in the footsteps of his great political mentor, George Osborne, 'now separated from his wife Frances and expecting a child with his former political adviser, Thea Rogers.' By contrast, whatever else his faults, Vine claims David Cameron always made time for Samantha.
Steerpike hopes other ministers learn a salutary lesson from such sage advice.