Such moral leadership should come from the top. Some hope of that. The Prime Minister didn’t instruct his Health and Social Care Secretary to fall on his sword immediately when the news broke. This says a lot about prevailing standards at Number 10.
His eventual departure, after two days of the kind of shilly-shallying we’ve come to expect from his boss, was like the lancing of a particularly rancid boil.
It’s been a mighty eruption, but I fear it won’t be the last. We only know the half of what goes on behind that imposing front door.
It’s said that the appointment of Sajid Javid, who resigned as Chancellor in February last year, as the new Health Secretary – how quickly times flies during a global pandemic – is a victory for ‘Team Carrie’.
This implies that the influence of the Prime Minister’s wife is now firmly in the ascendant since her nemesis, her husband’s former special adviser Dominic Cummings, stalked off to stir the rumour and revelation pot from the social media sidelines.
And Mr Javid, you may recall, left the Cabinet because he objected to Mr Cummings’ grand plan, which involved ditching all his personal Treasury team to join forces with Number 10.
Are you still following? With their machinations, side-taking, awarding of jobs and contracts to personal friends and now marital infidelity, this lot make Sir John Major’s sleaze-mired government, which the electorate deserted at the 1997 election with a Labour landslide, look like a vicar’s tea party.
To his credit, and this is often forgotten, Major established the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1994, an independent body under the chairmanship of Lord Nolan, whose seven principles – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership – should form the basis of conduct for anyone who serves the public, from a local councillor to the Prime Minister himself.
Past performance brings us context, but it doesn’t do to dwell too much. To borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister, who was a little hasty last Friday, the matter now really is well and truly closed. We must look forward.
Mr Javid has a serious job to do and he must establish his priorities quickly. As far as reasonably possible, he should allow Nadhim Zahawi – the quietly capable MP for Stratford-upon-Avon and head of the Vaccine Taskforce – to carry on with his sterling work.
And he should turn his own immediate attention to the two major aspects of the brief which Mr Hancock constantly evaded, namely social care and GPs.
Social care reform has been delayed so many times by successive Health Secretaries that it’s a joke. Only it’s not remotely funny, not for the thousands of families who have lost loved ones in care homes during the pandemic, or for the countless number who live daily with perilously inadequate care provision for elderly or infirm relatives, or fear losing cherished family homes to pay for future care.
There are no excuses now; fine detail of this reform must be forthcoming. Mr Javid, 51, has often been spoken of a free-thinker from a background that is less than privileged; his father was a bus driver in Bristol and the family took summer holidays with relatives in Rochdale, where the young Sajid spent his days imagining that he was somewhere else.
By 25, he was the youngest ever vice-president at Chase Manhattan bank. Since joining the Government in 2010, he has been in charge of a succession of key ministries – experience that qualifies him for his hardest role yet.
His new department certainly needs someone with vision – and tenacity – in charge.
GP surgeries were failing to deliver before the pandemic, with rising patient lists and serious staff shortages meaning waiting times stretching into weeks, even months.
So how will Mr Javid stop thousands of GPs leaving the profession through stress and overwork, or playing the system with flexible hours contracts and early retirement?
Issues that are coming to the fore as Sheffield MP Louise Haigh reports how a GP surgery in her city may have to close because of a shortage of staff, Jeremy Hunt, chair of Parliament’s Health Committee, advised Mr Javid yesterday to focus on three priorities – social care, staffing and patient safety – in the coming weeks. He was right to do so, but I’ll mention a fourth tenet that we all now expect from Mr Javid. Trust – and avoiding a repeat of a pious Mr Hancock’s sanctimony and hypocrisy.
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