By Sinead D
Matt Hancock, Conservative MP for West Suffolk and former Health Secretary, has recently confirmed his appearance in the TV series “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”: a British reality TV show set in the forests of Australia where celebrity contestants must complete gruelling physical challenges whilst having no contact with the outside world for several weeks. His overall defence for his participation is the desire to educate young people using “this wonderful tool” (the TV show in question), and to raise awareness about dyslexia which he himself is diagnosed with. Yet criticism has surfaced that Hancock’s latest move might be a breach of the MPs’ code of conduct.
In 2021, Matt Hancock resigned from his post as Health and Social Care Secretary due to a scandal involving his affair with staffer Gina Colangelo, which entailed breaking social distancing guidelines, namely the 2-metre distance rule. During a time of mental, economic, and social instability thanks to the pandemic, the former minister’s actions were seen as hypocritical, generating scrutiny of the government’s attitudes to its own ‘lockdown’ legislation. With the current economic crisis facing the UK in the wake of Liz Truss’s resignation as Prime Minister, having only lasted 44 days in the role (a life span shorter than that of lettuce), and with Rishi Sunak’s appointment as Prime Minister without a general election denying choice to the electorate, Hancock’s bid to be crowned ‘King of the Jungle’ could be seen as creating further instability within an already-divided Conservative Party. Arriving in Sydney during the early morning of Wednesday 2nd November, he has signed off absent from work as an MP for the next three weeks, at a time when energy costs are spiralling, with the ongoing war in Ukraine and wider economic challenges. When the Conservative Party should be projecting a united front to the nation, is Matt Hancock instead reflecting an image of the British government that is unserious and humiliating?
His local West Suffolk Conservative Association has said it is “disappointed” and accused Mr Hancock of a “serious error of judgement”, going as far to state that “MPs should be working hard for their constituents, particularly when we have a cost-of-living crisis and people are facing hardship”. Hancock’s attempts to attract sympathy on grounds that “it’s lonely being a politician in the jungle” have been met with little in return, and he now finds himself suspended as a Conservative MP, having the party whip withdrawn after announcing he was off to Australia to take part in the adventurous trials. He will, however, continue to be paid as an independent MP.
Most importantly, this falls short of the behaviour and sense of judgement that constituents expect from their representatives. The Code of Conduct for MPs (reviewed recently on the 14th October 2022) states that it “expects MPs to observe the principles (of respect, professionalism, understanding others’ perspectives, courtesy and acceptance of responsibility)” and especially that of “privacy”. Yet in a reality TV show that is all about scandal and dramatized gossip for viewing pleasure, can we guarantee that Hancock will display respect for privacy? His actions clearly defy the principles set out in the code, further tarnishing the Conservative Party with an evident lack of “professionalism”.
However, we might question whether Mr Hancock is simply trying to gain publicity with a view to standing in future elections. He has made statements which seem designed to appear charming to the nation: saying he will donate some of his fee for the programme – which he will have to declare in the Register of Members’ Interests – to a hospice in his constituency and to dyslexia charities, as well as genuinely wanting to raise awareness of a restraining condition. It may be that some people will view him more favourably as a character, perhaps seeing him as a rebellious and outgoing figure who would make a good leader. Or more realistically, he might prove to be one more reason for the downfall of his party.