Newmarket is a racing town, インクルード racing town, Dick Francis country, a place steeped in the language of odds, favourites and long shots. A month ago, the local MP, マット・ハンコック, was a firm favourite. Then closed-circuit TV footage was leaked of him transgressing social-distancing rules in an intimate embrace with a senior aide, Gina Coladangelo. Almost overnight, his political career was put out to pasture.
After speedily leaving his wife, その後 resigning as health secretary, Hancock was also under pressure in his own constituency of West Suffolk, of which Newmarket is the main town. A hurried statement from the executive of the local Conservative Association accepted his “heartfelt apology” and proffered its appreciative support. His seat would be safe, so a cabinet return might be on the cards once the fuss had died down?
But a month on from his resignation, many Conservatives at Westminster are wondering if there can really be any way back for Hancock. お気に入り Dominic Cummings’, lockdown trip to Barnard Castle, Hancock’s behaviour will not be forgotten in a hurry. “I think he will leave politics,” said one Tory colleague from a nearby seat. “I can’t see a return. There is a lot of hostility and these local associations can be pretty ruthless if they think someone has got on the wrong side of the voters.”
Ian Houlder, a Conservative councillor, has never been a Hancock’s fan. “I thought he was a knob from the get-go,」と彼は言います, dispensing with the traditional subtleties of euphemism. “I was in the room when he was selected. I placed him about fourth out of six candidates. Then somebody said his wife was very well connected.”
Houlder would like to see Hancock deselected, and says he and other councillors will refuse to use the MP’s image on their election literature for district council elections. “It says in the constitution that we should support our local MP in the elections,” he notes. “I’m certainly not bloody going to, and I should think an awful lot of other people will sit on their hands.”
Privately, one member of West Suffolk Conservative Association executive acknowledges that opinions are divided among local Tories between those who think Hancock’s double standards were career-ending and those who believe they were merely human. And that split also seems evident on Newmarket’s high street. Across the road from the imperious Jockey Club Rooms, with its handsome forecourt statue of the 1933 Derby winner Hyperion, Robin Whatling says he had wanted – before 25 June – to put money on at the bookies for Hancock becoming the next prime minister.
“I thought he did a tremendous job. My feelings haven’t changed. I just think, thank God there weren’t cameras in my office. He’ll be back when he’s sorted out his personal life. I sorted mine out, got divorced, and now I’m back in Newmarket.”
Standing by his cab, taxi driver Gordon Playford never left Newmarket, but would like to see Hancock go. “We hardly see him here anyway,」と彼は言います. “He’s in with the horse-racing set. They make up half the council.” Hancock once won a charity horse race at Newmarket, and there is a sense, among some of his critics, that he is, as Houlder puts it, “too grand” for ordinary Suffolk folk, preferring the company of the social elite that congregates around the lush, endless turf to the west of the town.
One of his most loyal supporters is Rachel Hood, chair of the West Suffolk Conservative Association and former president of the Racehorse Owners Association, who put out the hasty statement of support. に 2018, 彼女 donated £10,000 to Hancock’s office.
And a year later her husband, the trainer John Godsen, made a similar-sized donation to Hancock’s constituency office. Hancock has said that he will “always support the wonderful sport of horse racing”.
まだ, if there is any truth in Houlder’s suggestion that Hancock cleaves to Newmarket’s powerful horse-racing figures, it didn’t damage his local appeal, any more than Covid did. For despite presiding over the PPE shortages, the initial lack of testing and the care-home catastrophe, Hancock was, until last month, almost universally popular hereabouts.
Colin Noble, former leader of Suffolk county council, says that in the May local elections, the MP was a major vote winner. If he’s since lost his winning sheen, it’s notable that it’s the women in the town who seem most forgiving. “He’s been a naughty boy but I think he’s been harshly treated,” says Lisa Waterfield.
But what about Dominic Cummings’s verdict, that Hancock had serially lied and was “disastrously below” the standard the public had a right to expect? “I hate him!” she almost spits, meaning Cummings. “It’s just a personal vendetta.”
BA cabin crew member Marisa Moss also wants to give Hancock a second chance. “As someone who’s followed the rules pretty strictly, and had a newborn baby during that time, and has been furloughed from my job, I think he was hypocritical. But I’m happy to have him represent this constituency. We’re all human and many people have broken the rules.”
As Hancock’s mad half-hour fades into the past, it looks like he has survived. At least for the time being. But there are boundary commission plans to create a new constituency to replace West Suffolk, which could lead to a new selection process.
“Hopefully,” says Houlder, “the men and women in grey suits will take him into a corner and tell him it’s time for some fresh blood.”
That’s one possible outcome. But if Hancock lasted as health secretary for 18 months in a pandemic rife with death and controversial government decisions, his powers of survival should not be underestimated. レース, as any jockey will tell you, is not over yet.