OPINION: Am I alone in feeling sorry for Matt Hancock over affair photos?

Was the reaction to last weekend's pictures of Matt Hancock over the top?

Was the reaction to last weekend's pictures of Matt Hancock over the top? James Marston has sympathy for the former health secretary - Credit: PA

Am I the only person who feels sorry for Matt Hancock?

I can’t help but suspect the knife twisting and continuing vendetta – at least until something else comes along – is as much due to the fact that he’s been telling us what to do for the last 18 months, and no one much likes being told what to do, as it is his CCTV exposé.

Breaking the rules – a far lesser crime than kissing his aide it seems – is hardly something he’s alone in doing is it? And he did say he was sorry.

I’m afraid, the whole episode, highlights once again the observation made by the playwright Alan Bennet that to be English is to be a hypocrite.

Painful though it may be to hear but we are a land that often glorifies the downfall of others and though “do as I say not as I do” might be an example of hypocrisy, so is perpetual victimhood and blaming others, including the government, for every social ill.

This collective sniggering and vindictiveness I detect at a man’s indiscretion and the breakdown of marriage is maybe not something we should be proud of.

We might blame “the media” but we often forget that the media is a reflection of us, a mirror of ourselves, our prejudices, our behaviours, our values – which, it seems to me, carping at those in trouble is included.

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I feel sorry for anyone who is in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity, even, perhaps especially, if it is, and it seems it is so often to be the case, a downfall brought about by the ego, pride and self.

Who knows what it’s been like to be secretary of state for the last 18 months? Who among us hasn’t made a mistake? Who, indeed, hasn’t had things go wrong in their lives they have partly, or even mostly, caused?

The news will move on, it always does, but in the meantime it has concentrated on the drama of the personal rather than the questions the incident perhaps raises and that, perhaps, we should be asking;

1) Why doesn’t the man who helped create the rules of pandemic behaviour think they are worth following?

2) Is the risk of death from coronavirus overplayed?

Instead of screaming ‘but it isn’t fair’ and tittering over our morning coffee as we notice where Mr Hancock placed his hand, should we be asking of ourselves has our reaction to Covid been proportionate to the risk?

Maybe the answer to that is one we don’t want to face up to just yet, easier to divert ourselves away from self-examination and the possibility we have overreacted. Time will tell.

Forgiving others, of course, is perhaps the hardest thing we don’t do very well, if at all.

To subjugate our own ego, when we are certain we know best, to admit our own fallibility, is almost antithetical to the human condition. We’d rather affect outrage, offer disapprobation, project onto others, than look too carefully or too critically at ourselves.

I know no one who is that humble, least of all me, but it would be a very different world if we managed to forgive others a little more and judge others a little less.

And even as I write I am painfully aware of my own shortcomings on this front – a journalist is paid to judge, at some level, every time he puts finger to key pad and I know I don’t forgive nearly enough, even when I know I ought to try.

Mr Hancock’s departure from high office might be the right thing – I can see the argument it is – but I suspect too that he may well be back one day.

Humiliation is part and parcel of high office – from Cardinal Wolsey to Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher and everyone in between, public humiliation is the name of the game and, whether we realise it or not, it is often exactly what we expect, maybe even want, from our politicians.

Mr Hancock’s departure says as much about us as it does about him.