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Poor Matt Hancock – he could still be taking it easy as culture secretary

25 June 2021

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Would that ‘poor man’ Matt Hancock – as the Queen recently described him – have kept out of trouble if he’d have turned down the job of health secretary and lingered on as the secretary of state for culture? By DCMS standards, he was practically an old timer in the role when he left July 2018, having been in post for seven months (he was minister for culture for some 18 months before that).

Well, if the work of his successor, Oliver Dowden, is anything to go by, Hancock would have found himself not fighting a pandemic but waging a culture war or many fronts. The role of culture secretary has become so demanding that the beleaguered Hancock almost certainly wouldn’t have found time to tangle with one of his aides in a corridor in Whitehall.

What did he get up to as culture secretary? Well, naturally he travelled to Newcastle to visit the Hancock Museum (the Great North Museum). It has a fine collection of stuffed beasts. Perhaps the health secretary will be consigned there soon.

As health secretary, Hancock has kept up his cultural interests, despite the demands of the job. In his office, he has hung a Damien Hirst spin painting of the Queen. (Unrelated news: Damien Hirst borrowed £15m from the UK government to help his business through Covid-19; Hirst must be a ‘poor man’, too.)

And where did Hancock get his first shot of the vaccine? In a heritage hot spot, of course, ‘within the historic walls of the Science Museum’. Perhaps he should have stayed at culture after all.

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