From Westminster to the Jungle – What has Hancock done?
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
Matt Hancock, former Health Secretary and current independent MP for West Suffolk, has entered the jungle on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! But whilst he fishes for yellow stars amongst cockroaches and rats, outrage and opposition to his participation in the show remains strong, with questions of how appropriate his presence on our screens is, considering the controversy surrounding him.
The breaking of his own government guidelines in his affair with aide Gina Coladangelo, and his overall handling of the pandemic forms only part of a wider criticism of the UK government’s conduct during the Covid-19 outbreak. Groups such as Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice have campaigned against his participation in the show, even flying a banner over the show’s campsite with “Covid Bereaved say get out of here!”. They have stated “If he had any respect for bereaved families, he would be sharing his private emails with the Covid Inquiry, not eating bugs on TV”. This general feeling of disrespect is understandable when so many families are still feeling the effects of the pandemic, with roughly 210,000 total deaths in the UK from Covid. A petition opposing his entrance to the jungle also received 45,000 signatures, whilst Ofcom has already received 1,100 complaints about his participation in the show. With obvious opposition to him as a contestant, one is left wondering how right it is that the face of government pandemic failures appears on our screens every night.
In a statement explaining his reasons for joining the show, Hancock stated, “I want to raise the profile of my dyslexia campaign to help every dyslexic child unleash their potential — even if it means taking an unusual route to get there”. His Dyslexia Screening and Teacher Training Bill is currently in its second reading in the House of Commons but has only been mentioned once by Hancock since he entered the jungle two weeks ago. Although it must be considered that the show is heavily edited, it is difficult to see how the former health secretary is promoting awareness for something that has come up once, and only as he enters the final week of the show. Could it be that there are other, more effective methods for promoting his cause - some of which don’t involve him being on a different continent from government and his constituency? Actively gaining parliamentary support for his bill and spreading awareness of dyslexia in school environments, which is its main target area, would achieve far more than joining a show which has aired one discussion of it. Whilst it does have a wide audience and a high-profile, Hancock cannot claim it has helped his “cause”.
His payment fee of £350,000 also been a source of controversy. Whilst Hancock’s promise to donate some of this to a hospice in his constituency and to dyslexia charities is honourable, it does not resolve or compensate for his absence from a parliament that is still currently in session. When considering the economic state of the country, with the longest recession since before records began and the cost of living crisis, it is not surprising people are frustrated that he is not present in his constituency or in parliament. Andrew Stringer, Leader of the Opposition for the Suffolk County Council questioned, “How will going on a reality TV show help any one of these constituents in fuel poverty or those needing food this winter?”. Others have argued his appearance on the show is more to do with repairing his public image. After his affair and the consequent resignation in June 2021, Hancock’s public image has suffered significantly. His statement on the show that what he is “really looking for is a bit of forgiveness” may suggest that he is looking more to regain public favour. Hancock’s constituents have also expressed this view, with one stating, “It seems like a publicity stunt to clear his name and get him looking more human”. Yet one can’t help wondering that this may be a misjudgement. His public image is not being helped by his absence from parliament and the lack of discussion about dyslexia on the show. It appears to be incapacitating Hancock from dealing with more urgent political issues.
Perhaps Matt Hancock does want to raise awareness for dyslexia and his parliamentary bill, but with only one discussion of it (and without mention of his bill or dyslexia charities), it is debatable how much of a priority this is for him. Regardless of whether the show has edited out any mentions of his campaign, there is still the question of his absence from a still-sitting parliament, his own constituency and a job he is being paid to do. Not only is it doubtful how helpful it is for Matt Hancock to be winning bushtucker trials when his constituency and Commons seat are left unattended, but the reminder he provides for many people of the losses of the Covid-19 pandemic comes across as purely inconsiderate. Hancock should never had accepted his invitation onto the show in the first place.