By Howard Green
Sometimes, it’s hard not to laugh at contemporary British politics. The fall of Matt Hancock is the latest instalment in this ongoing political sitcom. Hancock, the Partridge-esque Health Secretary who came to prominence during the pandemic, was forced to resign a few weeks ago through external pressure following an extramarital affair with one of his aides, Gina Coladangelo.
This unceremonious departure is the punchline to the long-running joke that was Hancock’s continuing job security during the pandemic. He hung on through his department’s catastrophic failure to minimise deaths from the disease, through privately contracting crucial health services to pals and family, and through the repeated exposure of his colleagues’ lack of trust in him. But one gag-inducing bout of infidelity proved enough to bring the house of Get Out of Jail Free cards toppling down at last.
Naturally, this late twist in the Hancock sitcom did not pass without comment. The paper which originally reported the story treated it as scandalous and juicy gossip, while more liberal news agencies shamed Hancock’s hypocrisy in ignoring COVID protocols that he had implemented. Both angles recognised that Hancock’s affair is the twist in the tail of his slapstick ministerial career, and used it as a device to shoehorn in some last-minute character development. The irritating, scrawny loser trope is all-too-transparently transformed into a scurrilous villain, or into a relatable everyman with ‘believable’ desires, depending on the political motivations of the publication in question.
To add to the absurdity of the situation, it seems that the paper which reported the story seemingly had access to the evidence of Hancock’s affair for a lengthy period of time before publishing it. Alas, the reasons behind the tactical late release of the news of the affair will remain known only to the media moguls, the scriptwriters of the sitcom that is Britain’s future, desperate to pan out their show for at least one more series.
Following hot on the heels of the devastating blow he suffered when the Dominic Cummings subplot came to its explosive conclusion, Hancock’s resignation will no doubt keep him off our screens for a little while at least. But if he sticks to his guns as a jobbing Suffolk MP, maybe taking an occasional commercial role around elections, we could still see an ill-advised reboot of his ministerial career for a second season.
The impulse from those of us on the left to laugh at all this farce comes in part from the twisted and traumatised feeling that has developed since the inevitable fall of Corbyn and the beginning of the pandemic. Conservatism and capitalism have held our necks in their ferocious grip for so long now – if we can’t laugh at their inherent incompetencies, what can we do?
As Hancock leaves the political stage to the fading sound of a BBC tuba, he is replaced by the stoic and dry Sajid Javid, signalling a tonal change from the cringeworthy one-nation conservative to the deadpan Thatcherite. What next from the roguish crew of government incompetents who so vigilantly occupy our televisions and our media? Their 11 year long routine of small cast shifts and degrading nonsense will go on, no doubt – an appropriately dark comedy for these apocalyptic times.
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