Selected as Michael Fallon’s replacement by David Cameron after the former’s elevation to defence secretary last July, Matt Hancock found himself with, effectively, three pairs of big shoes to fill. Fallon had built up a reputation for a fearsome work rate by juggling a trio of portfolios across two departments, and Hancock’s promotion in his stead testified to the high level of regard for the latter within Downing Street.
A bona fide ‘Oxbridge’ graduate (he followed his Oxford PPE degree with an Economics Master’s at Cambridge), Hancock had a spell as an economist at the Bank of England before serving his political apprenticeship in George Osborne’s office, later becoming the then Shadow Chancellor’s chief of staff.
Elected MP for West Suffolk in May 2010, his perceived closeness to Osborne has since seen him become the target of ridicule from fellow Conservative MPs, with Philip Davies advising colleagues on a recent Tory ‘away day’: “Anyone tempted to lick George Osborne’s backside should be careful because if you go too far you will find the soles of Matt Hancock’s shoes in the way.”
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Precocity breeds resentment, of course, and the 36-year-old seemed undaunted by his triple role, occasionally displaying striking similarities to his predecessor.
The Eurosceptic Fallon would surely have approved of Hancock’s decision to place himself in the vanguard of government ministers saying the UK must be prepared to “walk out” of the EU if negotiations prove fruitless; likewise, Hancock’s rather cavalier enthusiasm for fracking – "nobody knows exactly how much is down there or how much we can get out…the way to find out is to get on with it" – has been distinctly Fallon-esque.
Some minor missteps aside – his retweet of a limerick declaring the Labour party to be "quite full of queers", which he insisted was "a total accident", springs to mind – Hancock’s performance as a (double) minister of state was certainly assured. Few will have been surprised by his rise to the Cabinet Office job today.