Ambitious, bright and a grafter ... Matt Hancock could go all the way
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West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has won promotion amid the chaos of this week’s government resignations. Here Political Editor RICHARD PORRITT profiles a rising star in the Tory ranks
Back in 2012 at the end of long interview I had conducted with Matt Hancock I asked if my photographer could take some pictures.
“Of course ... oh wait.” He looked around before grabbing the iPad on the table which had been recording the exchange and gazed into the screen: “Better just make sure my hair is OK.”
But Mr Hancock is no narcissist. He just had a plan and wanted everything to be right.
Back then he dodged my questions about whether he wanted to be a cabinet minister. He had only be the MP for West Suffolk for two years but had already made an impression in his constituency and beyond.
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And as the former chief of staff for then-chancellor George Osborne, Mr Hancock was widely tipped as a star in the making. He was rightly seen as a fresh, young Conservative that offered something new for the party.
And he only had to wait another year before his hard work was rewarded with his first ministerial role. He racked up four more junior roles before the Brexit earthquake struck.
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As one of a band of prominent MPs known as the “friends of George” Mr Hancock appeared to be out of luck when Theresa May unceremoniously dumped Mr Osborne when she took the reins of Number 10 in 2016.
Mrs May was keen to put her own stamp on the government, to remove as many traces of David Cameron’s administration as she possibly could. But Mr Hancock was not about to go without a fight – he had put too much hard work in.
He managed to convince the new prime minister to keep him on as a junior minister with a digital brief. And then the hard work really started.
Born in Cheshire in 1978, Mr Hancock’s family ran a software company – technological advances were a big part of his life from a very early age. He saw the opportunities the digital revolution offered – both for business and individuals.
A dedicated and bright student, Mr Hancock studied philosophy, politics and economics at Exeter College, Oxford and then economics at Christ’s College, Cambridge. He briefly went on to work as an economist for the Bank of England.
As a new MP he said: “I became an economist because my family run a small internet company – when you type your postcode into the internet and it brings up your address, they wrote that software.
“And in the early 1990s the company almost collapsed – interest rates were 15% and life was very tough. That made me interested in not just how to run a business but how the whole economy works and how to prevent good businesses going bust.”
Soon he realised that real power to help people and businesses was in the hands of government and, after impressing Mr Osborne as his chief of staff, he was elected in 2010.
But after Brexit Mr Hancock had to prove his mettle. And after watching his parents battle to make a success of their business when he was a boy he knew the answer: graft.
One source in the culture department said Mr Hancock got through on “enthusiasm and long hours” and predicted a similar work ethic in his new role at the health secretary.
“Matt knows about digital stuff – and that certainly helped,” he said. “But it was more than that. He always wanted to know more, he always wanted more knowledge and more solutions. In that respect he was rather inspiring to work with.
“When he first arrived in that junior role it was clear his plan was to get his head down and prove to the prime minister that although her instinct was probably to get rid of him she had made the right choice.”
Within 18 months he was the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.
But one MP has some reservations about Mr Hancock’s new role: “He lacks emotional intelligence or any feel for the job – but then again so did Hunt and he has left a terrible mess for his successor to sort out. That said, Hancock has a real opportunity to be a much-needed breath of fresh air in the new role.”
Mr Hancock is hugely ambitious – to the point where some MPs hold it against him. But what is wrong with ambition if it is backed-up with talent? Now is the time for the Suffolk MP to prove he is not just a hard worker.
Health is not an easy gig. This is a real test for Mr Hancock. If he can navigate this one though Number 10 could beckon – don’t rule him out for the big job.