UK Health Secretary Resigns After Caught In Clinch With Aide

Photograph Source: Richard Townshend – CC BY 3.0

The UK health secretary Matt Hancock was caught on leaked CCTV footage in a “steamy” embrace with his “special adviser” Gina Coladangelo on 6 May, almost two weeks before lockdown rules were eased to allow friends and family to meet indoors, and to hug each other.

Hancock resigned his position shortly after the Murdoch-owned tabloid The Sun released CCTV footage of what transpired in his ministerial suite.

Both Hancock and Coladangelo are married with 3 young children each (though Hancock announced after being caught that they would be moving in together).

However, the problem with him remaining in office was not his infidelity.

There would after all be an immediate cull of the political classes of many countries if the expectation of marital fidelity became a desideratum for holding office (for one thing, the serial adulterer BoJo Johnson would never have become prime minister, and let’s not forget Silvio Berlusconi with his “bunga bunga” parties attended by squads of underage females).

Shortly after The Sun made its disclosure, and Hancock duly apologized, BoJo, while knowing Hancock’s position was indefensible, sent out a spokesperson to tell reporters: “The prime minister accepts the apology and considers the matter closed”.

BoJo had of course said at the start of the pandemic that Hancock was “completely fucking useless” in a WhatsApp message to his then chief of staff Dominic Cummings.

The health secretary has overall responsibility for ensuring public confidence in the handling of the pandemic and the appropriateness and fairness of lockdown restrictions.

The problem for Hancock, who made a desperate attempt to cling on to his position, is that he now had a clear default on public trust, and given his inept management of the Covid crisis and brazen corruption in the handling of PPE contracts and other resources, was never going to regain that trust.

The vivid comparison of children unable to hold the hand a dying parent in hospital or attend their funeral afterwards, and Hancock’s restriction-breaking fervid tryst with a millionaire adviser paid out of public funds did not go down well, even with Tory voters, who swamped their MPs with emails expressing dissatisfaction at the health minister’s conduct. Reports of this email avalanche soon made their way to the party whips, who informed Hancock that his position had become untenable.

The whips probably realized that BoJo’s long history of adulterous liaisons and rule-breaking would lay him open to the charge of hypocrisy if he were to sack someone for being derelict in the way he himself had been for decades.

Hancock in this episode was just too much like his boss.

So, the whips spared BoJo this task by giving Hancock his marching orders. BoJo, who never misses an opportunity to lie, then told reporters he had a hand in Hancock’s departure, even though he had said at the beginning that he “considered the matter closed”.

Mystery surrounds Gina Coladangelo’s appointment, by Hancock, as a non-executive director at the Department of Health in September 2020. There is no public record of this appointment, which came to light in November that year.

Coladangelo was initially taken on as an unpaid adviser on a six-month contract, before being appointed to a paid position in the department.

Typically, BoJo’s office insisted her appointment “followed all the correct procedures”.

At the same time, several questions, having to do with potential conflicts of interest, are raised by Coladangelo’s grace-and-favour appointment.

Did their affair start before or after she was given her publicly-funded position?

Coladangelo’s job description assigned her a supervisory role in the ministry of health. How could she conduct herself with the requisite propriety in that role when she was in a covert relationship with the head of the ministry?

Sky News has also reported that her brother, Roberto, is an executive at a healthcare company with several NHS contracts. News sources are investigating these contracts, but may not get very far— Hancock was known (in breach of regulations) to award no-bid contracts to chums by personal email and WhatsApp, which do not necessarily leave a paper trail.

Official provisions regarding privacy would make it difficult to extract the contents of these private communications, unless of course there was a whistleblower who had it in for Hancock, thereby emulating the individual who leaked video footage of the libidinous scenes precipitating the latter’s downfall.

Hancock’s successor was announced within 90 minutes of his departure.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer/finance minister, Sajid Javid, was recalled to the cabinet as Hancock’s successor. Javid resigned in protest last year when the aforementioned Dominic Cummings tried to extend the authority of the prime minister’s office over the Exchequer by combining the advisers of both offices, thereby giving Cummings control over both offices.

Not that Javid is renowned as a person of principle.

He was managing director of Deutsche Bank before he entered politics, and has struggled to explain what he was doing there as a structured credit trader at the core of DB’s business during the 2008 global financial crisis. According to The Guardian:

“Javid was “responsible for structuring an emerging-market synthetic CDO that incurred millions of dollars’ worth of losses for investors”. A US private equity fund alleged that Deutsche had “stuffed the CDO with ineligible loans that resulted in the 14.28% loss rate”, according to Euromoney, though the bank claimed the losses were due to the financial crisis and the risks had been known. The eventual court case was dismissed because it fell outside the five-year statute of limitations”.

Javid’s earnings at Deutsche Bank were approximately £3m/$4.2m a year at the time he left in 2009. Being a politician did not end Javid’s involvement in the banking sector. As well as being an MP, last year he was hired as a senior advisor to JP Morgan, who paid him £1,500/$2,100 an hour for a few hours work per week.

JP Morgan is a major player in private healthcare, and Javid was careful to resign his position with them when taking over from Matt Hancock.

The Tory approach to the NHS since taking office in 2010 has been to sell off chunks of it to the private sector and to award no-bid contracts to their chums and donors.

To expect Javid, whose favourite writer is Ayn Rand, to overturn this approach would be to ask a leopard to change its spots.

Another challenge facing Javid is the rise in the UK’s Covid cases— last week there were 84,000 cases, a 61% increase, and the highest case rate since January.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.