Labour’s stance on Matt Hancock’s position is in disarray, after Keir Starmer called on him “to get on with the job” – hours after his deputy demanded his resignation.
Angela Rayner lashed out at the health secretary following the missing Covid tests fiasco. Asked whether he should quit, she replied: “Yeah, absolutely. I think he should hang his head in shame.”
But her boss – who has declined to call for other underfire ministers and aides to resign, to avoid Tory criticism of disloyalty during the pandemic – withdrew the demand in a TV interview.
“I think Angela was probably expressing a frustration deeply felt across the country,” the Labour leader said, adding: “I think it is time for Matt Hancock to get on with the job of delivering on the government’s promises.”
The move risks embarrassment for Ms Rayner, who is popular in Labour circles for her plain-speaking, in contrast to the perceived caution of Sir Keir.
Fiercely criticising Mr Hancock, she said: “He should be considering his position. He’s had multiple of failures ever since he took on the role.”
But Sir Keir said later: “What I want is for the government to concentrate on the job in hand and for Matt Hancock and others to get on and deliver what they are promising.”
In recent months, the Labour leader has stopped short of calling for any of Dominic Cummings, Gavin Williamson or Robert Jenrick to go – to the frustration of some in his party.
That was despite Mr Cummings flouting lockdown rules, Mr Williamson’s bungling of summer exam results, and Mr Jenrick unlawfully approving a housing development to favour a Tory donor.
Mr Hancock’s performance is in the spotlight again, after nearly 16,000 Covid-19 positive test results went missing, with nearly half of cases yet to be reached to ask for their close contacts.
The blunder – caused by an extraordinary failure to create spreadsheets large enough to cope with all results – sparked warnings that he was “putting lives at risk”.
Mr Hancock said the weakness had been recognised in the summer, with an upgrade ordered in August, but did not explain why the problem had continued through to October.
And, while arguing delayed contact tracing had begun “first thing Saturday’”, he admitted only “51 per cent of the cases have now been contacted a second time for contract tracing purposes”.
Under questioning, he was unable to say when the remaining people – around 7,700 of the 15,841 unreported positive tests – would be reached and their contacts informed.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies