Matt Hancock faces a constituency backlash as a Tory councillor has called on him to step down as an MP and urged the local party to deselect him as their candidate.
The former Health Secretary, who resigned from the Cabinet on June 26 after admitting he breached social distancing rules by kissing a female aide in his office, faces pressure in his West Suffolk seat.
Cllr Ian Houlder, a Conservative on West Suffolk Council, revealed he has written to the local association chairman demanding that Mr Hancock face deselection by the party ahead of the next election.
He has also written to the MP directly to “express my ire” over his “hypocrisy”.
Cllr Houlder told The Telegraph: “I am furious. I do not include his [Mr Hancock’s] personal affair, which in anybody’s mind is quite sordid, but he has been standing up there for a year pontificating to everybody in the country… That’s what I found really contemptible.”
Cllr Houlder described how he had personally been forced to stand outside the church during a family member’s funeral due to Covid restrictions, adding: “Think of people who haven’t been able to bury their mothers or fathers. There he [Mr Hancock] is, just groping away, hands everywhere, tongues everywhere, out of his bubble.”
Signalling that the “double standards, the hypocrisy” of Mr Hancock’s conduct had also been difficult to stomach for those whose businesses had been hit by lockdown, the councillor said he “should go before the next election”.
He added: “I think there should probably be a by-election. I don’t think he should cling on, hoping that people’s memories fade.”
Mixed views among constituents
A second Tory councillor in West Suffolk, who asked to remain anonymous, took a different view, however.
“I think there’s a sense of sadness for the family and disappointment, but there’s not outrage. There is support for Matt as a constituency MP and that seems to be holding up,” the councillor said. It is understood he has the backing of MPs in the county as well.
A third local Tory source suggested the verdict was out among the local party: “There are Conservatives who were close to his wife, who is very much at the centre of his constituency.
“The speed of events have been quite bewildering for people. Matt wouldn’t answer questions about his private life at the AGM last week. But people are still processing this.”
The source added: “Matt should be given time and space to allow him to manage what are personal issues. He also deserves a bit of a break after a gruelling year with the pandemic.”
Mr Hancock apologised last week for breaching social distancing guidance and apologised to his “family and loved ones for putting them through this”.
He is said to have separated from his wife, Martha Hoyer Millar, and is now considered to be a couple in a “properly serious” relationship with his former aide Gina Coladangelo, with whom he was caught in a clinch on CCTV in May, according to friends.
The local interventions came as Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested that Mr Hancock should have declared his relationship with Ms Coladangelo to the Cabinet Office.
Speaking on his Conservative Home Moggcast, the Leader of the House of Commons pointed to parliamentary rules on MPs appointing family members to roles, adding that “there are likely to be rules around disclosure of personal relationships in other areas too”.
Under government rules, non-executive directors of Whitehall departments must declare on appointment any potential conflicts of interest, such as shares, directorships and any relevant relationships.
However, friends of Mr Hancock have claimed that the affair did not begin until after Ms Coladangelo was appointed.
It is unclear whether the rules required Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo to alert the relevant authorities when their tryst began, although senior civil service sources suggested they should have updated their declarations.
While he refused to discuss Mr Hancock’s case specifically, Mr Rees-Mogg went on to state: “If we are asking general questions, if a man were to appoint his wife to be a non-executive director, you would hope that the Cabinet Office knew that the lady was married to the man.”
Changes to appointment rules
In a clear swipe at Mr Hancock, a senior Government source also compared his behaviour unfavourably to Simon Clarke, a former local government minister, who stepped down last year after entering a relationship with a Westminster colleague.
“That was his [Mr Clarke’s] understanding of the rules,” they added. “I think if you compare the behaviour of Simon with Matt, Simon behaved impeccably.”
Meanwhile, Lord Kerslake, a former head of the civil service, said that Mr Hancock’s affair had shown that the rules around non-executive directors appointed in Whitehall must change.
“The problem really with the current model is about, really, the appointment process, how it is overseen and indeed clarity about what that role is supposed to be and I’m afraid changes are going to be needed in light of this sorry saga,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Meanwhile Lord Bethell, a close ally of Mr Hancock and a junior health minister, came under renewed pressure on Tuesday over his use of a personal email account rather than official communication channels to conduct government businesses.
Downing Street acknowledged Lord Bethell was using a private email address, but suggested that was allowed within the rules, while the peer insisted he had done nothing wrong.
Lord Bethell insisted he sought to uphold the ministerial code “in everything I do” after being questioned in the House of Lords by Lord Lister, Boris Johnson’s former chief of staff.
“I am absolutely rigorous to ensure that Government business is conducted through the correct formal channels,” he told peers.
“The guidelines are clear – it is not wrong for ministers to have personal email addresses and I have corresponded with a very large number of members in this chamber from both my parliamentary address and from my personal address and that is right and I will continue to do so.”