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Sensemaker audio

A political affair

A political affair

Matt Hancock’s resignation as Health Secretary has triggered a bout of political infighting. Who’s going to win?


Today’s story was written and produced by Ella Hill.

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Claudia: Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker. From tortiosemedia.com

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, the UK’s got a new health secretary. 

“I’m honoured to have been asked to become Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. I understand the responsibility that comes with this job,  especially at this critical moment.”

Sajid Javid

He’s a familiar face. 

Sajid Javid has been an MP for more than a decade. And over that time he’s done a lot of different jobs in government. 

He’s been Secretary of State for housing, for communities and local government, for business, for digital culture media and sport, and Minister for Equality. 

And then he did two of the biggest jobs of all. He was Home Secretary… and his last big job in government was Chancellor, in charge of the Treasury. 

But you might not have seen much of him lately. That’s because back in February 2020 he resigned. 

“The chancellor Sajid Javid has resigned suddenly, in the middle of the prime minister’s reshuffle. Boris Johnson said he wanted him to stay on but ordered him to fire his entire team of advisers…”

BBC news

His resignation came as a surprise. Because Sajid Javid had a lot of allies. Boris Johnson’s then-fiancee Carrie Symonds – now his wife Carrie Johnson – was a big supporter. 

They’ve been friends ever since she worked with him as a media adviser. 

But one person really wasn’t a fan: Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser back in the day, Dominic Cummings. 

And it was his political maneuvering which caused Sajid Javid to quit. 

“The conditions that were attached was a requirement that I replace all my political advisers. These people could have been working incredibly hard on behalf of not just the government, but the whole country with fantastic job.  I was unable to accept these conditions. I don’t believe any self-respected minister would accept such conditions. So therefore, I thought the best thing to do was to go.”

Sajid Javid

But now he’s back, with a big job to do…

His reappointment has turned into a squabble between those who support Dominic Cummings… and those who take Carrie Johnson’s side. 

But in today’s Sensemaker I’m going to explain why it’s more than just a squabble. It tells you something really important about the way this government works – or doesn’t.

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After Sajid Javid’s appointment, the war between Dominic Cummings and Carrie Johnson broke out almost straight away. At least it did on Dominic Cummings’s side.

“So Carrie appoints Saj!” he wrote in a Tweet. 

Dominic Cummings is playing into a narrative which says Carrie Johnson is the person who really pulls the strings in Number 10. 

Now, obviously, in the end it was Boris Johnson’s decision who to pick. He’s the prime minister after all. 

And even if Carrie Johnson did have a hand in helping make that call, a lot of people would say she got it right. 

“I think he is got a good appointment. I think it is the best possible appointment other than perhaps Johnathan Ashworth. I think Sajid getting along with his job quietly, and in a measured fashion. That was what the NHS wanted to hear. ”

Dominic Cummings has been trying to make trouble for Boris Johnson ever since he stopped working for him. And in the past few weeks there’ve been signs that he’s playing dirtier. 

Those messages he released between him and the PM? The ones where Boris Johnson called Matt Hancock “f-ing hopeless”. They didn’t finish Matt Hancock off but they left him weaker and less able to put up a fight when the CCTV pictures of his affair went public.  

So – if you’re into these political games – Matt Hancock’s resignation was 1-0 to Dominic Cummings against Carrie Johnson. 

Sajid Javid’s appointment makes it one-all. But here’s the thing… a lot of people think this isn’t really about Carrie Johnson… or about Dominic Cummings. 

Because getting Sajid Javid as health secretary is a huge win for another big player in this government: Chancellor Rishi Sunak. 

Hold on there, I’m going to explain why…

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“I want to see the restrictions lifted and life going back to normal as quickly as possible and right here and now that is my absolute priority…”

Sajid Javid

That was Sajid Javid speaking just after he got his new job. And it will be music to Rishi Sunak’s ears. 

Because like Rishi Sunak, Sajid Javid wants to lift the lockdown as quickly as possible to get back to normal – and reboot the economy. 

He’s got a head for numbers: he had an 18-year career in the City as a banker. 

So people expect him to be thinking hard about businesses when it comes to the risk assessment for lifting lockdown. 

And it looks like he’s minded to come down on the side of the economy. 

That’s the side the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has tended to take all through the pandemic. He hasn’t always won the argument, but now he’s got a new ally.

“So my task is to help return economic and cultural life that makes this country great and while protecting life and our NHS. ”

Sajid Javid

As for Sajid Javid’s new job… in charge of health and social care, remember – social care which is a really tough nut to crack and potentially very expensive…

Starting out with a good relationship with the Treasury won’t hurt.

Because the NHS is seriously short of money. It’s got a £9 billion backlog of repairs and maintenance to do. And waiting lists 5 million people long. 

When it comes to the economy, Sajid Javid is a traditional conservative. He’s in favour of low taxes and low spending. Like Rishi Sunak. 

But not like Boris Johnson. 

And in the end, that decision – about whether this is an old-fashioned Tory government which tries to keep a tight grip on spending, or a very new type of Tory government which is happy to splash the cash – that’s much more important than a fight between Dominic Cummings and Carrie Johnson.

Today’s story was written and produced by Ella Hill

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