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Leader comment: Fall of the Health Secretary

02 July 2021

THE dust has settled after the dramatic departure of the Health Secretary last weekend. Some will still be wondering about the reason given for his departure, however. Not the Bishop of Manchester, who told GB News: “I’m more worried about the fact he failed to keep the social distancing than I am about the fact that here was a middle-aged bloke having a bit of a fling.” It is easy enough to see what Dr Walker was doing: the media like to wheel in a member of the clergy to huff and puff over sexual morality, so why not confound them a little? And he later went on to talk of a “betrayal” of marriage vows.

Marital fidelity does matter. The Prime Minister has been remarkably successful in diverting criticism of his approach to family life — usually a touchstone of Conservative politics — by allowing himself to be depicted as an affable rogue. But his smokescreen is too thin to obscure the real damage that infidelity can cause in the lives of couples and their offspring. The Hancock-Coladangelo “fling” has broken up two homes and presented six children with a situation that, if they conform with the statistical and anecdotal evidence, is likely to distress them for years. If politicians did not play so much on the theme of trust, perhaps their personal conduct would not come under such scrutiny. But they do, and it does. In 21st-century politics, the chief crime appears to be hypocrisy. In our view, it is dishonesty, and breaking Covid rules says less about a minister’s honesty than an affair kept secret from his family.

This is not just our view. Matt Hancock, addressing a church congregation in 2018, said: “We are all fallen. We are only human. We have flaws and vices and failures of character and of resolve. But the best way to keep the powerful honest is accountability — in this world and the next — and the rough, often tough scrutiny of the press keeps us real in the here-and-now.” It is right to feel sorry for Mr Hancock as well as for his family. The point about fallen humanity is that it is subject to God’s infinite mercy. This does not come in the form of a Johnsonian loyalty, however, willing to overlook faults “because we are all human”. It is, instead, part of the mysterious economy of God’s Kingdom. Living in Love and Faith quotes the Bishops’ teaching document on marriage (1999), which openly links God’s righteousness and mercy: “The scope of God’s holiness is the scope of his mercy, and the more we are ready to open ourselves to the demand, the more we will know of his generosity. . . The reason that the Church continues to insist on the highest expectations of married couples, when so many of our contemporaries are content to treat the matter lightly, is that much more than marriage is lost if we let the scope of the demand and generosity of God slip from our sight.”

Paul Vallely: Hancock’s fall is a lesson for the PM

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