Matt Hancock proves once again that failure for government ministers is no barrier to future success

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A smile and a thumbs-up ahead of the London Marathon (PA)
A smile and a thumbs-up ahead of the London Marathon (PA)

Since resigning as health secretary in June, Matt Hancock has been doing rather well for himself. There was the holiday to the Swiss Alps; a first attempt at the London marathon; and now an exciting new job. Yes, Hancock announced last night that he will take up the role of United Nations special representative, working “to help African economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and promote sustainable development”. You’d have to say well done; couldn’t have happened to a better fellow.

The rest of us could learn a thing or two from Hancock. What’s he done to deserve all this good luck? Well, you may remember that, as health secretary, he was very much a part of the UK’s response to Covid. The response, which has contributed – so far – to the deaths of 138,000 people. The response, which only yesterday – lest we forget, the very same day that Hancock announced his whizzy new job – was described by a parliamentary report as, “one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever experienced”.

You may also remember that Hancock resigned from the Department of Health for the not insignificant gaffe of breaking his own social distancing guidelines – a polite way of saying he was caught snogging his aide Gina Coladangelo in his Whitehall office, while the rest of the country grappled with a third (or was it a fourth?) wave of Covid-19. Nicely done, old boy. So off he went, busily apologising (honestly, no need!) for “letting people down”. (Funny how you seem to get a more sincere apology out of Hancock for that than you do for overseeing the UK’s catastrophic response to Covid. But whatever.)

Put into this sort of context, it is easy to see why the United Nations would want to get Hancock on board. The letter from Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, appointing Hancock to the role, is unequivocal. The UN was, we learn, impressed by Hancock’s “global leadership, advocacy reach and in-depth understanding of government process”. Added to this, Hancock’s “success on the United Kingdom’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the acceleration of vaccines that has led the UK move faster toward economic recovery is one testament to the strengths that you will bring to this role, together with your fiscal and monetary experience”.

No mention anywhere of the lives lost or the fact that Hancock’s previous boss, the actual prime minister, described him as “totally f**king useless”. He obviously interviewed well. “And what would you say were your weaknesses, Mr Hancock?” He could hardly have failed to get that one right.

His former colleagues, of course, are delighted. They all lined up to wish him well. Tom Tugendhat, Michael Gove, James Cleverly, Sajid Javid – back slapping all round. “I know Matt will bring energy and enthusiasm to this role,” said Cleverly, which is not quite the same thing as saying he will be any good at it. It makes you wonder if the outpouring of congratulations was, in fact, little more than thinly disguised relief that Hancock is as far away from the machinery of government as possible.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, though. Perhaps Africa really is lucky to have this great mind working on its behalf. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Hancock does next. First the UK, now the UN. Keep on failing and then what... the world? If at first you don’t succeed, fail and fail again.

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