Matt Hancock’s extra-marital affair with close aide Gina Coladangelo has consigned the ambitious politician to the back benches.
It has also resulted in the end of his 15-year marriage. The Sunday Times reports that Martha Hancock was completely unaware that her husband was cheating on her with his university friend and had believed their marriage “happy and stable”.
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Before the revelation in The Sun on Thursday night, the health secretary reportedly told his wife he was leaving her as soon as he learnt that the affair was about to be made public.
In his resignation letter on Saturday, he wrote: “The last thing I want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis.”
The fact that Hancock was not sacked on the spot by his boss Boris Johnson has not gone unnoticed.
The prime minister, who is now on his third marriage, has had several well publicised affairs, and is believed to have fathered seven children, though this number is not officially confirmed.
Hancock’s sudden fall has prompted the Westminster rumour mill to spin into motion. Why was there a camera in his office? Who leaked the footage to the press? And could other ministers soon find themselves similarly splashed across the tabloids?
Writing in her Mail on Sunday column today, Sarah Vine, herself the wife of Michael Gove, offers an insight into the life of political matrimony: “The problem with the wife who has known you since way before you were king of the world is that she sees through your facade.
“She knows your fears and your insecurities. She knows that, deep down inside, you are not the Master of the Universe you purport to be.”
Vine also considers the “aphrodisiac” of power for politicians: “Westminster is a place of myriad distractions for the politician seeking refuge from his or her home life.
“And when you feel disconnected like that, and because power is such an aphrodisiac, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see how you can go from being happily married to the kind of person who gets caught so unfortunately on CCTV.”
Most political marriages cannot survive these kinds of scandals.
Former Tory minister David Mellor split from wife Judith after his affair with actress Antonia de Sancha was made public in 1992, and the late Labour MP Robin Cook divorced his wife Margaret in 1998, after his relationship with future wife Gaynor Regan became public.
On the other hand, Tory minister Cecil Parkinson’s wife Anne stood by him after his secretary and lover Sara Keays had his daughter in 1983. He refused to meet Flora Keays for years and following his death there was a court battle over access to his will.
Ex-prime minister John Major’s wife Norma also forgave him after his four-year affair with fellow Tory MP Edwina Currie in the 1980s was revealed in 2002.
Times have changed, and infidelity is not the automatic resigning matter it once was.
Hancock’s affair was not the reason he was forced out. The real political damage was inflicted by the images that showed him breaking the government’s own rules on social distancing, which he was responsible for communicating to the nation. Then there was the matter of Coladangelo’s role as a non-executive director at the Department of Health.
As we have seen in recent months, with home secretary Priti Patel surviving in office despite breaking the ministerial code, it takes a lot to force any resignation in the current political climate.
While cronyism and corruption appear to be acceptable behaviour in this government, the factor that seems to matter most is purely political: how could this play out at the ballot box?
Hancock’s affair was the first major Westminster sex scandal in many years. It is unlikely to be the last to rock Johnson’s government. Watch this space.
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