Matt Hancock on I’m a Celeb: Covid-19 bereaved families call for ITV to remove former Health Secretary
The West Suffolk MP will be appearing on the reality show in Australia, prompting a Covid-19 bereavement group to argue he is “trivialising the monumental loss” the UK saw during the pandemic.
and live on Freeview channel 276
It was announced yesterday (1 November) that the former Health Secretary would be joining stars such as Boy George and Olivia Attwood in the jungle, with the MP claiming he would use the “opportunity” to “talk directly to people who aren’t always interested in politics” and use his appearance to promote his work on dyslexia.
But many did not take well to his decision to travel to Australia while Parliament is sitting. Just minutes after the announcement, Chief Whip Simon Hart announced that Hancock had been suspended as an MP, commenting: “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.”
Viewers, campaigners and other MPs felt strongly about the news too, with one group in particular - the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK - demanding that Hancock, who was Health Secretary at the time of the pandemic, be removed from the show.
The group said: “Matt Hancock isn’t a ‘celebrity’, he’s the former health secretary who oversaw the UK having one of the highest death tolls in the world from Covid-19 whilst breaking his own lockdown rules. The fact that he is trying to cash in on his terrible legacy, rather than showing some humility or seeking to reflect on the appalling consequences of his time in government, says it all about the sort of person he is.”
Hancock was forced to quit as Health Secretary in June 2021 after breaking coronavirus rules by having an affair in his ministerial office with aide Gina Coladangelo. He was widely criticised by the public and opposition parties for violating regulations that he had helped put in place.
The group continued: “Our families were ripped apart by Matt Hancock’s actions, and turning on the TV to see him being paraded around as a joke is sickening. If he had any respect for bereaved families, he would be sharing his private emails with the Covid Inquiry, not eating bugs on TV.”It concluded by asking ITV to do the “decent thing” and remove him from the programme.
One member, Lobby Akinnola, whose father Femi died of Covid-19, also spoke out about the news. He argued that Hancock appearing on the show “trivialises the monumental loss this country has seen”, something which took place “while he was Health Secretary.” He also argued that it was an attempt on Hancock’s part to “whitewash his legacy” and that it was clear his priority is “promoting himself” - not his duty as an MP.
Mr Akinnola continued: “It’s insulting that he believes we will forget what we’ve been through when he was supposed to be in charge of keeping us safe, [now we know] that he was breaking his own rules. It’s insulting that he thinks he can go on a reality TV show and then come out the other side forgiven.”
Hancock’s decision has also been criticised by some of his colleagues and fellow MPs. Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson and MP for Richmond Park Sarah Olney said: “Yet again we see a Conservative MP taking voters for granted. At a time when MPs should be supporting their constituents with the cost of living crisis, Matt Hancock is choosing instead to go to the jungle to feed his own ego.”
She argued that he should declare how much he is earning from appearing on I’m A Celebrity and forgo his MP’s salary for the duration of the reality show.
Those in Hancock’s constituency, West Suffolk, were less than impressed too. Andy Drummond, deputy chairman (political) of West Suffolk Conservative Association, said: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. Quote me. You can quote me that.”
Meanwhile, Ian Houlder, a Tory councillor on West Suffolk Council, remarked: “Everybody knows what he did during the Covid pandemic and he seems to want to rehabilitate himself all the time in the public eye. He’s got skin as thick as a rhinoceros, quite frankly.”
Kemi Badenoch, equalities minister, was amongst the few to defend Hancock. She said "we should let Matt be Matt" and claimed she is sure “he feels there are very good reasons that he can do this that will help West Suffolk.”
Another political ally of Hancock’s also defended him, but chose to remain anonymous. They said: “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.”