by Giles Fraser
Saturday, 26
June 2021

Matt Hancock’s hypocrisy wasn’t the problem

There are objective standards, and he failed to meet them
by Giles Fraser
He has slightly less to smile about at that moment. (Photo by Toby Melville – Pool/Getty Images)

There are several good reasons why Matt Hancock was right to resign earlier this evening. But hypocrisy isn’t one of them.

We ought to be soft on hypocrisy for two reasons. First, we are all at it. Maybe not on such a grand stage. But most of us — perhaps all of us —  commit little hypocrisies every day. We say one thing and do another. In which case the charge of hypocrisy is itself inevitably hypocritical. The only people who are not being hypocritical are those who admit their own, which is a kind of paradox.

Secondly, hypocrisy is about having higher moral standards that one fails to meet. Better that, it seems to me, than having low or no standards that one can therefore easily meet. The opposite of hypocrisy is a kind of cynicism — it is the deliberate refusal of moral values, a position designed to protect oneself from the accusation of not having met them.

Yet hypocrisy is often thought of as the worst kind of failure going. And I suspect the reason for this is our thoroughgoing subjectivity about morality. In an age where we cannot agree on right and wrong, where we all have our own moral truth, not being true to what you say is the only kind of failure going. When morality becomes so subjective, hypocrisy is the only accusation left.

No, there are objective standards. And Hancock has failed to meet them. He had to go. But not for being a hypocrite. We are all up to that.

Join the discussion

  • Well, there’s hypocrisy and hypocrisy, isn’t there? We may all have our own hypocrisies. But when you’re the guy who’s telling everyone in the country that you can’t meet friends, or family, can’t travel, can’t visit someone in hospital who really wants to see you, then surely we are entitled to hold you to a rather higher standard than your average citizen. Though I would agree that the appalling damage he’s inflicted on his family is morally worse.

  • Relax, all that’s happening is a Mexican standoff playing out, like the one at the end of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.

    Hancock has compromat on Cummings, who has compromat on Johnson, who has compromat on Hancock, who has compromat on…

    Just a matter of who draws fastest and who gets shot. Now, has anyone got some Ennio Morricone they can put on to heighten the tension?

  • I agree with much of what you write but hypocrisy is as old as time whereas woke is a recent fashion. While everyone is a hypocrite to one extent or another, not everyone is woke.
    I also agree with what you write about adultery but, even if one thinks that his to his family are morally worse than his lies to the country, in some sense they are apart from his job; many people are doing jobs very effectively while having an adulterous relationship with a colleague.
    Neither you nor Alison mention the cronyism which seems to have been part of her getting her job.
    Many people will look on his behaviour and for a variety of reasons; unfortunately he will be back soon when the furore dies down.
    I think Boris should have sacked him – but that would have been GROSS hypocrisy!

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