Last night (10 November), active MP Matt Hancock switched the backbenches of the House of Commons for the creepy crawlies and heat of the Australian jungle as he made his official debut on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!
Ahead of his arrival in camp, many viewers were rubbing their hands together at the thought of voting Hancock into as many gruelling Bushtucker trials as possible. These included Andy Drummond, deputy chairman of the Conservative Association of Hancock’s own West Suffolk constituency, who said he was looking forward to seeing Matt Hancock “eating a kangaroo’s penis”.
“Quote me,” he gleefully affirmed to reporters. “You can quote me that.”
So just why did the politician become the first name on top of many viewer’s lists to face Bushtucker trials upon the announcement of his involvement in the show. Why is he so disliked by such a large swathe of the general public? How long have you got?
Why is Matt Hancock so unpopular?
There are a litany of reasons behind Matt Hancock’s unpopularity among the British public.
For one, he’s a politician, a vocation often seen as untrustworthy, corrupt and driven by financial gain rather than the genuine needs of the people. It’s an image that has been dirtied even further by recent sleaze scandals in the Conservative Party.
As a member of said party - at least until he had the whip remove for appearing on the show - Hancock was part of an already divisive political institution that has seen public polling figures divebomb in the face of the cost of living crisis, the energy price crisis and the 49-day crises of Liz Truss’ lame duck premiership.
A Tory politician - more on that later - already has a tough task on their hands in appearing likeable to the public (current polling puts Labour a whopping 22 points ahead of the Conservatives), but Hancock hasn’t exactly done much to help his cause.
As part of his I’m A Celeb intro package, he proudly declared himself “best known” as being the former health secretary of the United Kingdom (again, more on THAT later too).
It would admittedly be hard to be envious of Hancock’s position, coming as it did at a time of global pandemic, but his response to the national coronavirus health crisis is one that is unlikely to be remembered fondly, and campaigners for families bereaved in the Covid-19 pandemic have accused Hancock of trying to “cash in on his terrible legacy”.
“Matt Hancock isn’t a ‘celebrity’,” said Lobby Akinnola from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign. “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.”
Why did he resign as health secretary?
Which brings us nicely back to Hancock’s claims of being “best known” as the former health secretary - arguably, he is now much more infamous for being forced to resign from his post in June 2021 after breaking coronavirus social distancing rules by conducting an affair in his ministerial office with aide Gina Coladangelo.
After months of imposing social distancing rules on the nation, bungled Covid testing targets, questions surrounding the handling of PPE contracts, and claims of hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths, Hancock was finally ousted with a public display of affection at work.
Is he still a serving MP?
But he remained as a Conservative MP, serving his West Suffolk constituents from the back benches. Active as a Member of Parliament to this day, Hancock’s involvement with I’m A Celebrity drew the ire of his political colleagues, and he quickly had the Tory whip removed, in effect banishing him from the party. He now serves as an independent representative for West Suffolk.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was “unlikely” Rishi Sunak would be watching the programme. “The PM believes that at a challenging time for the country MPs should be working hard for their constituents whether that is in the House or in their constituency,” the spokesman said.
Hancock had reportedly been given access to a laptop during his pre-show isolation, allowing him to continue working and to stay in touch with constituents, but being located on the other side of the world for the next few weeks hardly puts him in good stead to respond to the urgent needs of those in West Suffolk.
The House of Commons is in recess from 10 - 14 November, but celebrities could spend up to three weeks in the jungle – meaning Hancock would miss significant Commons business, including the Autumn Statement on 17 November, if he remains in the contest.
Then there are the socially-awkward faux pas sprinkled throughout his time in the limelight. Whether it was his crocodile tears on Good Morning Britain, brought on by the patriotic pride of Britain’s Covid vaccine rollout, or the bizarre moment he stood far-too close to Warrington Conservative councillor Wendy Maisey, Hancock hardly endeared himself as the “normal bloke” he was so desperately keen to portray.
But surprisingly, since his official entry to camp, Hancock’s popularity among viewers already seems to be steadily rising. According to Oddschecker, Hancock is a much stronger favourite to win the whole thing now than when his name was first announced.
He may end up doing the most challenges, but sometimes, that’s rewarded by viewers with a King of the Jungle win. Stranger things have happened.