INTERVIEWS: Secretary of State job for Matt Hancock as Jo Churchill becomes an assistant whip

Matt Hancock, new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, celebrates his 2012 race win
Matt Hancock, new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, celebrates his 2012 race win

West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has been promoted to the Cabinet while Bury St Edmunds’ MP Jo Churchill becomes an assistant whip.

Mr Hancock, 39, who was first elected in 2010, has been Minister for Digital and Culture since July 2016, so the Prime Minister has shown her satisfaction with his work by promoting him to head the department he worked in.

Jo Churchill, Bury St Edmunds MP

Jo Churchill, Bury St Edmunds MP

In his first interview as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Hancock told the Bury Free Press: “I feel like a round peg in a round hole – the things I’m now responsible for at Cabinet are things I care enormously about.

“From the broadband roll out I’ve been responsible for, through the internet and digital – which is what I did before going into politics – to being guardian of national cultural life, media and sport.

As a horse racing enthusiast, he won the Blue Square Cavalry Charge in 2012 and came second in the Newmarket Town Plate in 2016.

He admitted: “Not only do I represent the major horse racing centre in the country [as MP] but I also love horse racing.

“It’s important that I act in the interests of the whole country, though representing Newmarket means I’m well informed on the issues.”

He introduced a private member’s bill to ensure offshore betting profits benefit the British racing industry.

Mr Hancock’s experience in his department stood him in good stead when he had to give a statement in the House on BBC pay gender gap after less than 24 hours in post.

“I was acutely aware of it [BBC pay] having been junior minister responsible for that area of policy,” he said.

“My point is that we have public servants overseas in all countries: why should it be that the BBC employee overseas is paid so much more than the HM ambassador?

“It’s not just a case of levelling women’s pay at the BBC, it’s about appropriate pay.”

What does he see as his priorities?

“Completing the broadband roll out so everybody has access to decent broadband is a top priority, and pushing through the Digital Charter so the internet is not just a source of freedom but is a safe place to be,” he replied.

“Also, ensuring a sustainable future for quality journalism both nationally and locally.”

Mrs Churchill, 53, is one of six new assistant whips - all women and all elected in 2015. They will be responsible for ensuring the maximum number of Conservative Party MPs vote and vote the way the party wants.

Mrs Churchill, who was a parliamentary private secretary to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, said: “It’s an absolute honour but my focus is still the constituency. It will be business as usual and I will still be fighting for everything I think we need.”

There have long been rumours about the tactics of the whips’ office and former chief whip Gavin Williamson was known for keeping a tarantula on his desk.

“I don’t have a tarantula,” Mrs Churchill said. “I’m a junior whip and at the moment 24 hours in I don’t know so much about what the role will encompass. It’s a learning curve and I’m really grateful to have been offered the opportunity.

“The point of being in Government is that business goes through legislatively and we’re here to help that.”

She said there is a ‘pastoral element’ to the role because ‘like in life people need people to talk to’.