UK Tories Suspend Matt Hancock for Appearing on Reality TV Show
The former cabinet minister Matt Hancock has had the Tory whip suspended after it emerged he was entering the jungle for I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!
The politician will be the 12th contestant to enter the show, which features famous faces performing gruelling tasks such as being smothered in insects or eating kangaroo penis.
But the former health secretary faced a backlash from Tory whips and his constituency party over his decision to take part and will now sit as an independent MP. The show overlaps with time when the Commons is sitting.
The Conservative chief whip, Simon Hart, said: “Following a conversation with Matt Hancock, I have considered the situation and believe this is a matter serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect.”
Hancock was also criticised by the deputy chair of the West Suffolk Conservative Association, Andy Drummond, who said: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. You can quote me that.”
Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson criticised Hancock’s decision: “The prime minister believes that at a challenging time for the country, MPs should be working hard for their constituents, whether that’s in the house or in their constituency.”
This week, Hancock pulled out of the running to chair the Treasury select committee and announced a new book, Pandemic Diaries, on his experiences as health secretary during the Covid crisis.
Hancock has filmed another reality TV show this year, the Guardian understands. He is to compete in the next series of Channel 4’s Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Hancock resigned as health secretary last year after CCTV footage was leaked showing him kissing his closest aide, Gina Coladangelo, in his ministerial office, in breach of his own Covid rules on distancing.
One source close to Hancock said the show’s producers had agreed that his constituents could communicate with him on urgent matters while he was in the jungle.
They said Hancock did not expect to serve in the cabinet again. “I’m A Celeb is the most watched show on TV. Matt doesn’t expect to serve in government again, so it’s an incredible opportunity for him to engage with the 12 million Brits who tune in every single night,” they said. The source said there were “many ways to do the job of being an MP … Whether he’s in camp for one day or three weeks, there are very few places people will be able to see a politician as they really are.”
Hancock reportedly turned down an offer to appear on the show initially but reconsidered after the demise of Liz Truss’s premiership, with the government restored to a semblance of stability. Hancock backed Sunak in the leadership contest but was not asked to return to the cabinet.
“When he was first approached to take part, while he was flattered and naturally curious, it didn’t take him too long to turn the opportunity down because of the instability government was facing at the time,” the ally of Hancock said. “Now, though, the government is stable. Rishi Sunak has made a great start and the whole of the Conservative party is united behind him. Rishi has a big majority, so he can get his agenda through parliament.”
They said Hancock had talked to the whips “in the same way any MP would when going on a foreign visit, which happens all the time”.
The source said politicians “must go to where the people are – particularly those who are politically disengaged … Matt’s of the view that we must embrace popular culture. Rather than looking down on reality TV, we should see it for what it is – a powerful tool to get our message heard by younger generations.”
Hancock will make a donation to St Nicholas hospice in Suffolk, though not the full fee, which will be disclosed in the register of members’ interests.
But before the bushtucker trials begin, Hancock faces questions from Eric Pickles, the chair of the watchdog the advisory committee on business appointments. As Hancock left government in the last two years, he is bound by rules requiring him to consult the committee for permission for post-ministerial roles.