There's only one story doing the rounds on SW1 WhatsApp chats this morning: the photographs in today's Sun of the married health secretary in a clinch with a senior taxpayer-funded aide.
Matt Hancock caused headlines last November after bringing lobbyist Gina Coladangelo – his friend from Oxford university – into government as a non-executive director for the department of health, despite there being no public record of the appointment. Now it seems his relationship with Coladangelo has again got him into trouble.
— The Sun (@TheSun) June 25, 2021
The Sun's photographs are dated from 6 May, at a time when it was illegal to hug someone from outside another household as part of the ban on 'private indoor meetings.' Indoor relationships with someone you don't live with were illegal until 17 May, with casual sex effectively being outlawed outside support bubbles.
Gatherings of two or more indoors were illegal except for permitted purposes. One purpose of course was 'work' which would cover the pair being together at work. However a gathering had to be 'reasonably necessary' for work purposes to fall within the exception and be legal – was this particular meeting 'reasonably necessary' for work purposes?
Nearly two weeks later, on 16 May – the day before the hugging ban ended – Hancock went on Sky to say:
“We all have a personal responsibility, we all know now the sorts of things that are riskier but we’re able because the case numbers are so low to move away from some of the more restrictive interventions. I think personal responsibility is an important mantra here because people have been so responsible through the crisis.
And then three days after that interview Hancock fronted a government press conference on 19 May at which he again repeated the mantra: 'Please remember the basics: hands, face, space and fresh air’ – all of which he appears to have breached in his clench with Coladengelo. Her role at the health department is set to see her earn at least £15,000 of taxpayers’ money, potentially rising by a further £5,000.
It is also worth noting the health secretary's response to the revelation that Professor Neil Ferguson broke lockdown rules to conduct an affair last year, with the health secretary at the time arguing that the epidemiologist 'took the right decision to resign' from SAGE, adding that to stay out was 'just not possible in these circumstances.' Those comments came incidentally a year to the day before Hancock's own department of health clinch.
Given today's revelations it seems unlikely the embattled health secretary will get many responses to his now deleted Instagram advert, posted just yesterday in which he proclaimed that: 'I work alongside some brilliant women. If you're a woman who wants to get involved in politics, swipe up.'
Still maybe Hancock can find some from among his old university chums?