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What’s Matt Hancock doing on ‘I’m a Celeb’? – Raising awareness for dyslexia or shamelessly promoting his new book?

Matt Hancock’s name is once again splashed on the front pages of the tabloids after leaving his constituents to enter the Australian jungle in an ITV-series that will see him earn £400,000. The MP’s decision has been widely condemned, from people who lost loved ones to COVID-19 to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. But who is Matt Hancock and why has this move garnered so much controversy?

Matt Hancock served in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care during the COVID-19 pandemic from the 9th of July 2018, and has widely been criticised for several actions he took during the pandemic in his former capacity as Health Secretary:

  • He awarded £40m of COVID contracts to a personal acquaintance who had no experience in manufacturing health equipment.
  • He personally referred four companies to the ‘VIP lane’ that won £1.6bn of PPE contracts.
  • He claimed that NHS healthcare professionals were overusing PPE on multiple occasions.
  • He stood by his decision as former Health Secretary to discharge untested hospital patients into care homes during the early stages of the pandemic, even when the High Court found the policy to have been in breach of the law.
“Failure of leadership” over affair

His tenure as Health Secretary came to an abrupt and memorable end on the 26th of June 2021 after The Sun newspaper published a photograph where CCTV in his Whitehall office caught him cheating on his wife of 15 years with his aide, married millionaire lobbyist Gina Coladangelo, in direct contravention of his own social distancing rules. Both Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo have three children with their respective marital partners. It was later revealed that Mr Hancock had hired the millionaire using £15,000 a year of public money to pay her for just 15-20 days of work. 

After a day of humiliation, receiving criticism in the press, from members of the public and MPs in his own party, Mr Hancock finally resigned from the Cabinet and returned to the back-benches of the Conservative party.

Raising awareness for dyslexia

This was the case until 1 November 2022, when he announced that he would be joining the ITV show ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!’, justifying his participation in these ignoble activities by saying that he sees the show as an opportunity to “engage with the 12 million Brits who tune in every single night.” 

A representative for Mr Hancock said; “By going on the show, Matt hopes to raise the profile of his dyslexia campaign and will use the platform to talk about an issue he really cares about in front of millions of people.”

However, since going on the show, he hasn’t spoken much about dyslexia; as of yet the only mention he has made of the condition was while attempting to solve an anagram alongside fellow contestant Mike Tindall. People on social media noted this, with one user saying: “So proud of Matt for bringing attention to Dyslexia by saying the word ‘dyslexia’ twice.” Another commented: “Did Matt Hancock just mention Dyslexia for the first time? Wasn’t he in there to bring awareness of Dyslexia?? #imaceleb.”

Backlash from Covid charities and campaign groups

Meanwhile, as one of the more high-profile contestants on this series of the show, he will receive £400,000 for participating, making him one of the highest paid campmates in the history of the show. A spokesman stated that “Matt will be making a donation to St Nicholas Hospice in Suffolk and causes supporting dyslexia – including the British Dyslexia Association, off the back of his appearance.”

Despite this pledge to donate some of his fee to charity, when Isabel Oakeshott, an associate of Mr Hancock in a Talk TV interview was asked by Piers Morgan how much of his £400,000 fee would be given to charity, she answered that: “One thing I know for sure is that the top tax rate is still 45p, so we know perfectly well that he’s going to be giving at least 45 percent of that to the state, so that’s a form of charity.” The response was met with incredulity and shock from both Piers Morgan and Christine Hamilton, who was also on the call.

More recently, national charity Covid Aid, which supports people affected by the COVID pandemic have urged Mr Hancock to donate the £400,000 fee to support victims of Long Covid patients and those left bereaved by the pandemic.

The founder of Covid Aid, Mr MacLennan said: “Millions have been battling with long-term symptoms as a result of Covid-19, and families who lost loved ones have been upset to see Matt Hancock on primetime TV moving on from the pandemic, while their struggle and anguish continues.”

“As a charity dedicated to supporting everyone whose lives have and are being changed by the coronavirus pandemic, we urgently require funding to provide support this Christmas – we welcome any donations which will boost our efforts, and which recognise that the fight is far from over, especially with people being newly affected on a daily basis.”

Alongside charities, campaign groups 38 Degrees and Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice flew a banner over the Australian camp calling for Mr Hancock to be removed from the show.

Lobby Akinnola, from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, 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 while breaking his own lockdown rules.”

Matt Hancock’s future in Parliament

Very shortly after announcing his intention to feature on I’m a Celeb, Mr Hancock had the Tory Whip suspended; he was effectively expelled from the Conservative party and so will sit as an independent MP. He has faced further backlash from members of his own party and the public, questioning how a sitting MP is able to leave their constituency during a cost of living crisis, when constituents arguably need their voice heard in the Commons more than ever.

Furthermore, Parliament’s watchdog Acoba has determined that by appearing on ITV’s ‘I’m a Celebrity’ and Channel 4’s ‘SAS Who Dares Wins’, Mr Hancock broke the Ministerial Code, as he failed to approach them for advice before taking up any job within three years of leaving government as required in his capacity as a former minister.

When asked about Matt Hancock’s decision to leave Parliament to feature on ‘I’m a Celebrity’, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he was “disappointed” in Mr Hancock and that it was not “noble” because he is failing to prioritise his “constituents and our country”.

How does this benefit ITV?

Meanwhile, ITV have also been criticised for allowing Matt Hancock on the program and have faced repeated calls from viewers for him to be removed from the line-up early. However, ITV are no doubt benefitting from the former Health Secretary’s appearance on the show, through both increased viewing rates and more publicity in the news due to the controversy surrounding him. According to ITV, an average of 7.9 million tuned in to watch Mr Hancock’s first appearance and Bushtucker trial, up 2.1 million viewers compared to the equivalent episode in 2021.

Criticism Online

The things Mr Hancock is saying on the show is garnering even more controversy and criticism. Max Balegde, a 23 year-old content creator with 2.8 million followers on TikTok posted a seemingly heart-felt video on the platform (12/11/22) explaining why he believed Matt Hancock shouldn’t have joined the show in the first place. “He [Mr Hancock] was the Health Secretary of this country who enforced and made the rules that we weren’t allowed to be with loved ones during lockdown; it was illegal to see your dying parents.” 

Mr Balegde then referred to the experience of Charlene White, one of Mr Hancock’s fellow contestants on the show. 

“My aunt died from Covid in the first wave,” she told Mr Hancock. “So, we couldn’t go to the hospital to go and visit her. I had to sit by myself in the church at her funeral. We couldn’t hug each other because we were following guidance… ‘Sorry’ for a lot of families like mine doesn’t really cut it.”

Promoting his new book

Mr Baledge then goes on to question Mr Hancock’s statement that he “didn’t break any laws, guidance is different,” arguing that “people were getting fined for that guidance,” before referring to Mr Hancock discussing his new book he’d written during a conversation on the program; “I’ve just finished a book – Pandemic Diaries. Does what it says on the tin.” 

Mr Baledge said: “He’s come on [I’m a Celebrity] and he’s promoting a book that he’s doing… That man is an attention seeker who has one goal and it is to make himself famous and relevant. The fact that he’s used our government and (indirectly) sacrificed people’s last relationships with their dying family [members] to do so is an absolute f****** disgrace.”

Meanwhile on Twitter, one viewer commented, “I’m in total disbelief that Matt Hancock has gone onto I’m a Celebrity essentially to promote a book he’s written about him breaking the law. Profiting off not doing his job properly and cheating. Unbelievable.” 

Another Tweet reads “So that’s why Matt is in here to sell his book! #ImACeleb #MattHancock #antanddec #w*****.”

Views

Many across the world have suffered as a result of the COVID pandemic and so will feel strongly about the Health Secretary during that period benefiting financially from any royalties made in the sale of his book about the pandemic. The recent and past questionable, sometimes illegal, actions of Mr Hancock and his former colleagues in the Conservative Party such as Suella Braverman, Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson bring into light an increasingly significant issue in politics – in a democracy where politicians should be upstanding citizens, how far gone is the British Parliamentary system when senior government ministers are free to break professional conduct and even the law without any major repercussions?

Written by: Joanna MacInnes

Edited by: Emily Gee

Hi! I'm a History student at the University of Leeds. I'm interested in Politics, Entertainment and Lifestyle. Go to linktr.ee/joannamacinnes for more of my works.