Matt Hancock lost the confidence of his constituency association just days before announcing he would not stand in the next election, according to a report.
The West Suffolk MP returned to Westminster last week from Australia following his controversial spell on the ITV celebrity show, where he finished third. Hancock has been paid £45,000 to appear on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins next year and recently released his book called the Pandemic Diaries.
However, the i newspaper has reported that his announcement follows a letter from his constituency chairman Terry Wood to Tory chief whip Simon Hart that local association officers believed he was “not fit to represent this constituency”.
According to the report the letter stated that a vote taken on 30 November ruled that the Officers Group of the West Suffolk Conservatives Association have “no confidence” in Hancock as the sitting MP. However an ally of Hancock told the i the letter wasn’t sent on behalf of the association and he had already decided not to stand when it came to light.
Hancock was stripped of the Conservative whip after it emerged he was joining the reality TV show, prompting speculation about his political future and whether he would stand again at the next general election in around two years time. He was the Health Secretary for much of the Covid pandemic. He resigned after he was caught on camera, having an affair in his office with aide Gina Coladangelo and breaching the coronavirus rules he brought in.
What’s been said about the constituency association letter?
Conservative councillor Lance Stanbury, who represents Mildenhall division for West Suffolk Council, said a letter, reportedly from the president of the local Conservative association to Tory chief whip Simon Hart, was sent without authority.
The letter, from Terry Wood, president of West Suffolk Conservatives, was reportedly sent on 1 December. Mr Stanbury said: “I’m a member of the executive of the West Suffolk association and no-one has approached any executive council members for their opinion.
“I also believe that this letter has not been produced with the agreement of the senior officers of the party and therefore I believe Mr Wood has no authority to send such a letter. There should be, on such a major issue, a discussion of this by the executive council. So I believe that they’re acting outside the authority and not truly representing the entire association.”
He went on to say: “I think that it was inevitable that Matt would probably not run after this election, because clearly he was heavily criticised by local party members and indeed lost the whip.
“For his own part I think he had to consider what his future would be in the party, and given there was no likelihood of him being back in the government, I believe that he’s made a decision that’s right for him.” He said he believed Hancock would have the whip returned to him and continue as MP until the next general election.
Meanwhile, West Suffolk Tory councillor Ian Houlder said: “I think he was up the creek without a paddle as far as not being the MP for West Suffolk was concerned. He was looking at his options quite rightly as anybody would and he’s gone for the money.
“He’s going to linger on until the next general election whenever that’s called, probably a couple of years if Rishi lasts that long, and that’s it.”
What did Matt Hancock say about standing down?
In a letter to the Prime Minister, he told Rishi Sunak he was resigning. Hancock said: “It has been an honour to serve in Parliament and represent the people of West Suffolk. I will play my part in the debate about the future of our country and engage with the public in new ways.”
In his letter, Hancock said that the Conservative Chief Whip had told him that the whip would be restored “in due course”. But the MP said that would be “now not necessary” and that he wants to “do things differently”.
He said that he was “incredibly proud” of the Conservatives’ achievements in government but told Sunak that he had discovered new ways of connecting with the public and urged his party to “reconnect” with people.
“There was a time when I thought the only way to influence the public debate was in Parliament, but I’ve realised there’s far more to it than that.
“I have increasingly come to believe that for a healthy democracy we must find new ways to reach people – especially those who are disengaged with politics. The revival of modern conservatism over the next decade will I suspect take place as much outside Parliament as in it.
“I have discovered a whole new world of possibilities which I am excited to explore – new ways for me to communicate with people of all ages and from all backgrounds.
Hancock, who also posted a video on the social media site TikTok announcing his decision, told the prime minister: “I look forward to championing the issues that are dear to my heart, including better support for dyslexic children who get a raw deal from the education system.” The decision means he joins other high-profile Conservative MPs, including former Cabinet ministers Sajid Javid and Chloe Smith, in stepping down at the next election.