Matt Hancock: Are we back to 1990s Tory sleaze?


Ministerial adultery may no longer be a resigning issue, but an accumulation of financial and personal scandals evokes memories of the Major government.

A Tory Cabinet minister caught in an alleged extra-marital affair splashed over the tabloids is reminiscent of the sleaze that engulfed John Major’s government before it lost power in 1997.

Back then, most of the ministerial misadventures concerned adultery, undermining the then Prime Minister’s socially conservative Back to Basics campaign – although it was the revelations over cash for questions which ultimately damned the Conservatives at the ballot box.

In the 2020s, ministerial infidelity is no longer regarded as a resigning matter on its own, particularly given Boris Johnson’s complicated love life did not stop him securing an electoral landslide in 2019.

But Mr Hancock’s liaison with Gina Coladangelo comes on top of months of revelations of financial sleaze, which could add to a public perception of Tory ministers acting in their own interests rather than the voters’.

For a start, if the Health Secretary had been caught kissing someone who was not an aide or non-executive director in his department, and if he had not broken any social distancing guidelines during the pandemic, then this story would be far less scandalous.

On the former issue, he is at risk of breaching the ministerial code and on the latter he has admitted to breaking social distancing guidelines and and may have also broken coronavirus laws.

The public may well take a dim view of his hypocrisy over social distancing.

Mr Johnson was criticised by his own standards adviser in May for “unwisely” allowing the refurbishment of his flat above No11 Downing Street without apparently knowing it had been funded by a Tory donor.

A separate inquiry by the Electoral Commission into the donation is ongoing.

Then there is the row involving financier Lex Greensill’s lobbying of ministers through his conduit, former PM David Cameron, although no serving ministers offered any favours in return.

The risk for Mr Johnson is that this accumulation of stories will begin to create an impression of widespread ministerial sleaze.