At first, Newmarket residents say, they were sharing jokes and memes about their beleaguered local MP Matt Hancock, whose affair with his old university friend and close aide Gina Coladangelo was sensationally splashed across the Sun on Friday. But within hours, fury set in.
“It’s kicked off across WhatsApp and Facebook,” said Adam Pyke, 36, who revealed a stream of angry messages on his phone calling for Hancock’s to quit before he had announced his resignation.
“How can he spout off about social distancing and go on telly telling us what to do when he can’t follow the rules himself?”
Pyke was let go from his job as a baggage handler at Stansted airport 15 months ago, four weeks before his first baby was due. “I sent [Hancock] a letter by recorded delivery. Five hundred of us were sacked with no furlough, no support, and he couldn’t even email me back.
“I couldn’t get another job for months. I got depressed. We’ve had the roughest year but we followed the rules, and he doesn’t have to?” Pyke scoffed. “I hope his wife takes him to the cleaners.”
Hancock, 42, has been the MP for West Suffolk since 2010 and lives in a farmhouse with his wife Martha and their children, aged 14, 13 and eight, in Newmarket at weekends.
On Friday he had been due to visit a vaccination centre set up at the town’s Rowley Mile racecourse, but that trip was swiftly cancelled after grabs from CCTV footage of him kissing Coladangelo was published by the Sun.
“He has absolutely no shame,” said Carol Haverley, who was walking her dogs on the green alongside the racecourse on Saturday afternoon. “It’s not enough that he’s handed all those contracts and jobs to his friends and family – now we have proof he’s not even paying attention to such an important job because he’s too busy having it off with someone else’s wife.
“It’s disgusting. Everything about him is sleazy.”
In town, at the Guineas shopping centre, Hancock’s constituents were angry when asked what they made of their MP’s behaviour. “He’s lower than a snake’s belly,” said health and social care worker Claire O’Neill. “He’s rude, he’s inept, he’s self-serving. He managed to hang on because he’s so in with the local elite here, but he’s absolutely sickening.”
O’Neill, 37, lives with her 13-year-old daughter in Red Lodge, a few miles out of town, and has been staggered by what she deemed “the arrogance” of the government during the pandemic.
“It really is one rule for them and another for us,” she said. “Hancock has spent 17 months preaching and lecturing the country on rules, regulations, how to have relationships and sex and then he’s going ahead and doing this? Everyone’s entitled to a private life, but when it’s encroaching on your professional standards, no chance.”
On a local Facebook group titled Newmarket Free Discussion, the story had attracted almost 3,000 comments. Disgust was rife, with many pointing out Hancock’s hypocrisy in condemning the epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who resigned from Sage last year after it emerged he had broken lockdown rules when his girlfriend visited his home.
Stu Eric said: “We’ve been cheated and lied to by this government since it was voted into power. They should all have gone a year ago.”