What does the future hold for Matt Hancock outside government?

West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock

West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock will find life outside government very different. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

As the dust starts to settle after a tumultuous hiatus in the career of West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock, attention will soon turn to what happens next to the former health secretary as he tries to rebuild his professional - and private - life.

Mr Hancock is likely to, quite rightly, use the next couple of months of the summer holidays to focus on his family and private relationships. That is right and everyone concerned needs privacy in that.

But by the end of the summer, and the arrival of the party conference season, Mr Hancock and the West Suffolk Conservative Association will have to start thinking of the way forward.

I'm not sure that his position as a Suffolk Conservative MP is quite as secure as many seem to think - especially not in the long-term.

There are several different types of MP who enter the House of Commons with very different ambitions. 

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There are those that really want to serve the community they know and care deeply about and have no ministerial ambitions.

There are those who quite like the idea of doing something else once they are in Westminster and who would not turn down a ministerial job if offered to them.

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And there are those who make no secret of the fact that they want to go into parliament in a bid to achieve high ministerial office.

There is no doubt Mr Hancock fits into that category. I didn't cover his selection meeting when he was chosen as West Suffolk candidate in 2009 - but I've heard from people who were there that they were left in no doubt that he was aiming for the top.

The Conservative Association at the time clearly liked the idea of having an MP at the very centre of government.

There is nothing wrong with having that ambition or with a constituency backing it - clearly the Ruislip and Uxbridge Tories didn't expect their new candidate to keep a low profile in parliament when they selected the outgoing Mayor of London to fight the seat in 2015!

What I do wonder is how satisfying Mr Hancock will find work dealing with constituents' problems on a full-time basis. Will he have the temperament to spend his time sorting out problems with potholes or local health provision as the local MP?

Or will he take up company directorships and consultancies to maintain his interest in politics, as well as his bank balance?

That can be a handy sideline for ex-ministers, but it does carry a risk.

Constituents who are happy that their MP is too busy to spend too much time in surgeries and visiting schools while they are a minister can feel a bit aggrieved if they continue to be too busy for such engagements because they are earning money from external sources.

I've seen how that perception eroded the confidence in one local MP, who ended up losing the backing of his association.

Mr Hancock's local Conservative Association did back him last week - but I didn't see that backing as unconditional after reading it through a number of times and we have already heard some rumblings of concern locally.

The comments from national Conservative vice-chairwoman Amanda Milling and other MPs in the wake of the Batley and Spen result should also put him on notice.

I know the prime minister said Mr Hancock's public service was far from over and that he should be proud of his work at the Department of Health - but that is pretty standard wording for a resignation response and should not be seen as any kind of guarantee of a return to ministerial office.

And, of course, the elephant in the room is the proposed carving up of his constituency under the Boundary Commission changes announced last month.

That means that whichever seat Mr Hancock wants to go for -- the new Haverhill and Halstead seat or the Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket seat - he will have to face a full selection committee.

Before the events of the last fortnight, he would have been a dead-cert wherever he had stood. Now, he is going to have to work rather harder to convince party members he is the best person for the job.

There is no reason to think Mr Hancock's political career has been ended by the events of the last fortnight - but it has been set on a different course and what happens over the next two or three years will be crucial for him.

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