Next month’s summer recess cannot come soon enough for Matt Hancock. The health secretary has endured a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad few weeks – capped off by photos showing a “steamy clinch” with a departmental aide.
The cabinet minister has said he is “very sorry” for breaching social distancing guidance after being caught with his adviser in a passionate embrace, but made clear he does not plan to resign.
He was already under pressure after punishing attacks from Dominic Cummings and the embarrassing revelation that his boss, Boris Johnson, had branded him “f****** hopeless” in a series of WhatsApp messages.
Even the Queen referred to Mr Hancock as that “poor man”. So how did the health secretary come to be at the centre of storm after storm at Westminster? And what are his chances of surviving the latest scandal?
Mr Hancock’s messy month began at the end of May, when Mr Cummings accused him of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm” during the pandemic. The ex-No 10 adviser said he should have been fired for “15 to 20” different things.
Two weeks later, Mr Hancock was accused by Labour of being a “liar” and “trying to rewrite history” after he told a parliamentary inquiry there had never been a national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
During his 10 July appearance, the health secretary rejected a series of allegations made by Mr Cummings – denying that he ever lied to the prime minister about Covid patients being discharged from hospitals into care homes.
Though he survived his four-hour grilling by MPs, things got worse for Mr Hancock on 16 June – when it became clear Mr Cummings wasn’t done with his least favourite minister.
The former Downing Street strategist released WhatsApp messages showing Mr Johnson had referred to Mr Hancock as “totally f**king hopeless” at the height of the first wave last spring.
Doorstepped by a reporter and asked if he was “hopeless”, Mr Hancock neither confirmed nor denied. He managed the strangely equivocal response: “I don’t think so.”
The health secretary has also faced a significant rise in Covid-19 cases in the past few months, with Labour blaming the government’s failure to shut the borders and prevent the Delta variant from taking hold.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth says his opposite number would be “forever branded hopeless Hancock”.
Earlier this week, the monarch was heard referring to Mr Hancock as that “poor man” during her first in-person audience with the prime minister in 15 months.
The Queen appeared to sympathise with the tough task the health secretary faced controlling a third wave, telling Mr Johnson that she had spoken to him at the privy council. “He’s full of...” she said, before the PM quickly interjected with the word “beans”.
The exchange may have afforded Mr Hancock a chuckle. Little did he know his week was about to end with the most excruciating front page imaginable.
The Sun published photos of the health secretary embracing aide Gina Coladangelo, referring to it as a “steamy clinch”. The pair were spotted embracing on several occasions during the pandemic, sources told the newspaper.
Intense embarrassment aside, Mr Hancock is now facing demands for an investigation into the details of the alleged office affair to find out if a variety of rules may have been broken.
The photos were taken with social distancing rules still in place at workplaces – and two weeks before the ban on hugging between people in different households was lifted.
There are also questions about Mr Hancock’s appointment of Ms Coladangelo to a £15,000-a-year advisory role, since there was no public record of it.
So what happens now? He broke cover in a statement released by an aide on Friday, appealing for privacy for his family and saying he was “focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic”.
But at some point he will have to face up to questions on the history of his personal and professional relationship with Ms Coladangelo. His political future may depend on the responses he provides.
His colleague Grant Shapps will have hated having to answer for his actions on Friday. Other Tory ministers will resent having to do the same in the days ahead, should Mr Hancock choose to lie low.
Both Labour and the Lib Dems are calling for Mr Hancock to be sacked. Mr Johnson may not want to give them a scalp right now. But any further damaging details about the alleged affair could yet force his hand.