Dom Cummings will no doubt be celebrating tonight. My message to the former Downing Street svengali who launched blistering attack after blistering attack on the now former Health Secretary is a simple one though: at least Matt Hancock apologised immediately after yesterday’s Sun story broke and –– perhaps one day later than would have been ideal.
But Hancock also had enough of a sense of public service to put the battle against Covid before his career and resign – neither of which you, Mr Cummings, did after you breached the rules at the very height of the pandemic.
Mr Hancock and his family now deserve space and privacy as they deal with the very personal consequences of the extra-marital affair that is at the root of tonight’s resignation. Downing Street will be hoping that other newspapers don’t have any proof of rule-breaking by any other ministers but a fear that other controversies might well loom around the corner might encourage Boris Johnson to undertake only a very limited reshuffle at this stage.
The Prime Minister has been swift to appoint Sajid Javid as the new Health Secretary, a smart and pragmatic move which will have minimal impact on other departments. This will allow Downing Street more thinking time to plan a full and more far-reaching restructuring of Cabinet that is so badly needed.
Johnson needs a Deputy PM who has the eye for detail and experience of Whitehall’s workings that – frankly – he lacks. The government needs a new Education Secretary to quickly develop an ambitious plan to tackle the learning deficit that threatens to blight millions of young lives. Priti Patel’s sprawling empire needs to be broken up and a dedicated Cabinet minister should be appointed to tackle immigration.
Someone like Ruth Davidson needs to be brought into government to spearhead it’s woefully disorganised response to Nicola Sturgeon’s demands for a second referendum. My own recommendations for that comprehensive reshuffle will appear on Reaction by Monday morning.
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But finally, for now, an instant judgment on Matt Hancock’s time as Health Secretary. Yes, he made mistakes but every government in the world has made mistakes in the fight against Covid. And some of the mistakes – like failing to stop flights from, for example, India – were made against Hancock’s recommendations.
What should be acknowledged is that he was a key part of Britain’s world-leading vaccine rollout programme, and that many thousands of people are alive today who would not be if it hadn’t been for this fast and sophisticated programme.
Tonight’s resignation was the correct action for Hancock to take. Tory MPs – who had been ominously silent on social media because they feared a ‘Cummings-gate II’ bulging postbag from angry constituents – will be mightily relieved.