The former health secretary Matt Hancock has lost the Conservative whip after announcing that he will appear on the next instalment of the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, filmed in New South Wales.
Hancock will join a list of other politicians who have appeared on the reality TV contest, including Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, Stanley Johnson, Boris Johnson’s father, and Lembit Öpik, the former Liberal Democrat MP. Shortly after the announcement Simon Hart, the Chief Whip, said that the government was withdrawing the whip “with immediate effect”.
I’m a Celebrity, in which contestants compete in frequently grotesque challenges, begins on Sunday 6 November, but Hancock will be joining part way through. His appearance would mean he would be away from his West Suffolk constituency while parliament is sitting, leaving his constituents without physical representation in the House of Commons at the time of a cost-of-living crisis that is only expected to deepen over the coming months.
Just last week Hancock, who resigned as health secretary in June 2021 after he was caught on CCTV kissing a colleague with whom he was having an affair, breaking social distancing guidelines, was campaigning to become chairman of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee. He withdrew from the race yesterday (31 October) afternoon, saying that “there are other things on the horizon that I want to do – including finding ways to raise the profile of my dyslexia campaign and upcoming bill in parliament”. Less than a day later it was revealed that he would be joining I’m a Celebrity.
Lobby Akinnola, spokesman for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, criticised Hancock’s decision. “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 while breaking his own lockdown rules,” he said. “If he had any respect for the families like mine, he would be sharing his private emails with the Covid Inquiry, not eating bugs on TV. Then again, perhaps if those emails came to light no TV station would touch him with a barge pole. ITV should do the decent thing and remove him from the programme.”
A source close to Hancock has defended his decision, telling Sky News that “there are many ways” to do the job of being an MP and that reality TV was a good way of communicating with younger generations. “Matt has an excellent team working with him in West Suffolk, but producers have agreed that he can communicate with them if there’s an urgent constituency matter.”
Other Tory colleagues have been less generous. Andy Drummond, deputy chairman of West Suffolk Conservative Association, told PA: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. Quote me. You can quote me that.”
Downing Street said it was “unlikely” that Rishi Sunak would watch the show. His official spokesman added: “The Prime Minister believes 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.”
Nadine Dorries similarly lost the Conservative whip when she competed in I’m a Celebrity in 2012. She failed to inform officials of her planned absence, and was eventually suspended. Dorries, who returned to Westminster ten days later after being the first contestant to be evicted from the show, had the whip restored in 2013.
Other contestants joining Hancock this year include the singer Boy George, the former England footballer Jill Scott and former rugby player Mike Tindall, who is married to Zara Tindall, daughter of Princess Anne.