Columnists

Mary Kelly: Matt Hancock resignation affair so 'totally Tory'

In the Spycatcher trial in 1986, Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong defined the difference between a lie and a misleading impression as being "perhaps economical with the truth". Now Brandon Lewis has a new definition. He was rightly ridiculed when he tweeted that there was no border in the Irish Sea... Now he has admitted that "that tweet has not aged well"

Matt Hancock took to Twitter to announce his resignation as health secretary for - among other things... - breaking social distancing rules. Meanwhile, Tweets denying the existence of an Irish Sea border have "not aged well", secretary of state Brandon Lewis has said
Mary Kelly

IT beggars belief that an organisation which stands accused of "systemic maladministration" following a scathing report by the Public Services Ombudsman, can be left in charge of the hugely sensitive task of assessing victims of the Troubles before they are awarded their pensions.

Capita were found to have unfairly rejected many legitimate claims for benefits during the 20 month investigation of its operation of personal independence payments (Pip) by Margaret Kelly and her team.

It was a Capita assessor who asked a partially sighted person if the recent fitting of a glass eye had led to any improvement in her eyesight. Another claimant, whose only physical ability was to blink, was judged capable of controlling their own financial affairs.

Incredibly, Capita will have the contract for Pip for another two years, despite this debacle. It's not surprising that the Department of Justice is getting flak for giving it the contract for the Troubles Victims Payment Scheme. The DoJ might well argue that this was awarded before the Ombudsman's findings and appointing another organisation would lead to inevitable delays to the victims who have already waited too long for their rightful payments.

A spokesman said the assessments would be carried out by a "dedicated team" within Capita, which rather implies that it was the undedicated ones in charge of the Pip payments.

But here's a suggestion. How about not giving the contract to a private company, possibly because they are the cheapest? How about leaving the assessments to the doctors who are familiar with the actual physical and mental needs of the patients they have been dealing with for years? Just a thought.

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THERE'S something so totally Tory about Matt Hancock being forced to quit after being caught in a teenage disco snog with his advisor Gina Coladangelo.

It wasn't the dreadful hames he made of the Covid response with shortages of PPE, spreading the virus to care homes and handing out lucrative contacts to chums and party donors, regardless of their inexperience.

No, his undoing was being caught in a grope while solemnly telling the rest of the population to keep their distance.

It was no surprise that Boris Johnson didn't feel up to sacking him since he has plenty of form in the snogging stakes himself.

He maybe didn't want to look like a hypocrite.

No such qualms for hopeless Hancock. He thought an apology would be enough since his nemesis, Dominic Cummings, got away with it. And he didn't even apologise.

Let's remember that it was Hancock who fumed on TV news about Professor Neil Ferguson being caught breaking lockdown rules to visit his lover. "You can imagine what my views are. It's a matter for the police," he said.

And some 10 days after his bout of office tongue wrestling, he was advising people who were thinking of hugging a loved one to "do it carefully" and preferably outdoors. You couldn't make it up.

But Tories can be quite ruthless when they feel the hot breath of public wrath. They made it clear he was toast and Uncle Fester, aka Sajid Javid, was ready to jump back into the cabinet after languishing on the backbenches, supplementing his MP's salary with a £150,000 advisory job with bankers JP Morgan, as well as earning £1,900 an hour for a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence firm.

Meanwhile, poor Gina has also had to give up her non-executive director post at the department of health, which good old Matt handed her on a plate.

The role, which included scrutinising the minister's, ahem, performance, earned her £15k. Not a big salary by their standards, until you learn it is for just 15 days. Nice work if you can get it. And if you're mates with a Tory politician, you certainly can.

You've got to hand it to the English establishment for their facility to describe what would be a downright lie to anyone else.

In the Spycatcher trial in 1986, when the British government was seeking to ban publication of an autobiography of a former senior MI5 officer, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robert Armstrong, defined the difference between a lie and a misleading impression as being "perhaps economical with the truth".

Now our secretary of state, Brandon Lewis, has a new one. He was rightly ridiculed when he tweeted that there was no border in the Irish Sea as lorry drivers were queued up handing over their documentation.

Now he has admitted that "that tweet has not aged well."

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