Duncan Baker showed real bravery in calling for Matt Hancock’s exit
- Credit: Archant
Reporter Noah Vickers says he was pleasantly surprised by North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker's response to the Matt Hancock scandal - and that we need more straight talk from our local politicians.
On Saturday, Duncan Baker became the first Conservative MP in the country to call for Matt Hancock to resign, following the explosive revelation that the Health Secretary had been having an affair with his aide.
As reporters, my colleagues and I had spent our mornings contacting every MP in Norfolk and Waveney to ask whether they believed Mr Hancock should go. The implications of the Sun’s story were and continue to be serious.
While the issue of the affair itself is clearly a private matter, it brought to the fore vital matters of public interest.
Mr Hancock’s lover, Gina Coladangelo, was on a salary of £15,000 for 15-20 days of work - meaning that she could have been earning up to £1,000 per day of taxpayers’ money.
There was also the obvious breach of the government’s guidance around social distancing - which was still in place at the time of the “clinch”.
As this newspaper’s editorial put it: “While millions of us stuck to the rules, Hancock flagrantly ignored them.”
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South-West Norfolk MP Liz Truss commented on Friday: “I understand this is a personal matter and he hasn’t broken any rules.”
But this was nonsense, and the public could see it was nonsense.
Not only was the guidance broken, but it could be argued Mr Hancock broke the law too. At the time, separate households and bubbles were not allowed to meet indoors together, with few exceptions.
One such exception was for activities “reasonably necessary for work” - but it is a struggle to see how this could apply to Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo’s tryst.
Of the 10 MPs we approached, just three responded, one of whom was Labour MP Clive Lewis, who was naturally in a more comfortable position than his Conservative neighbours to criticise Mr Hancock.
What was more surprising was the response from Mr Baker.
He wrote, in simple and honest terms, that Mr Hancock had “fallen short” of the ethical code that comes with being a minister and that he would “not in any shape condone this behaviour”.
To then have the bravery to openly and explicitly call for Mr Hancock to step down, when none of his 362 Conservative colleagues had yet joined him, was admirable and refreshing.
We elect our MPs to stand up for their constituents and to uphold basic democratic values, such as the rule of law.
It is still unclear how long Mr Hancock’s affair had been going on for, but in March of last year, he said to people in burgeoning relationships that they must either move in with one another or not see each other for the foreseeable future. “Make your choice and stick with it” were his words.
At the time of asking, Mr Hancock had already admitted that he broke social distancing rules and had “let people down”, but Mid-Norfolk’s George Freeman said he had “no comment” on the matter.
Ninety minutes after Mr Hancock’s resignation video had been posted however, Mr Freeman tweeted: “Respect to @MattHancock for making the right decision.”
In a similar vein, Waveney’s Peter Aldous failed to respond to my colleague before the event, but commented after the resignation had happened: “It became very clear that Matt's position had become untenable.”
Making such declarations from the safety of hindsight is simply not good enough. It had become impossible, except for the truly deluded, to see how Mr Hancock could credibly continue to enforce public health messaging after displaying such contempt for his own rules.
In initially refusing to offer his resignation, he showed a contempt for the public who had been following them.
Yet 360 Conservative MPs refused to publicly utter any criticism of the Health Secretary.
Mr Baker therefore deserves our respect for his honesty and integrity, particularly as he was only elected in 2019, and may one day hope for a ministerial post himself.
Several serious questions remain unanswered by the government, but for now - well done, Duncan Baker: you have set an example for your colleagues.
- The other MPs contacted were: Jerome Mayhew, Broadland, Elizabeth Truss, South West Norfolk, James Wild, North West Norfolk, Chloe Smith, Norwich North, Brandon Lewis, Great Yarmouth, Richard Bacon, South Norfolk.