Once again, Matt Hancock has shown an uncanny ability to be in places he should not be. Only two years ago he was caught breaking social distancing rules, implemented by his former party. First, with his aide Gina Coladangelo, and again, with his ex-party members as they enjoyed a secret party at Downing Street. His career subsequently shifted into a subject of derision, and he was forced to resign as Health Secretary. It is unsurprising that one of the most popular searches about the politician is “what did Matt Hancock do wrong”. Now, after being ousted from the Conservative party, this Independent MP has decided to take the plunge into Australia’s jungle and onto our television screens.
This isn’t the first time that we have seen someone with political affiliation on ‘I’m a Celebrity.’ Over four political figures have preceded Hancock, including Boris Johnson’s father and former leader of the Scottish Labour party Kezia Dugdale, who specifically wanted to use the show as a platform to vocalise her concerns and challenge the stereotype that every politician is an ‘old white man’. Hancock himself has declared that he wanted to both engage with the public to promote his dyslexia campaign and to “peel [himself] back a bit”, to show us the ‘real’ Hancock. Noble as this may appear to be, most of the population and even his former colleagues think he has swung and missed by a considerable distance.
Rishi Sunak has admitted his disappointment in Hancock for appearing on the show, claiming that politics should be treated as a ‘noble’ profession; even fellow co-stars, including Sue Cleaver and Boy George, have expressed their discomfort. They find his presence to be salt in the wound, an embarrassment, especially for those like Boy George, whose family members were severely affected by COVID-19. Moreover, some believe that this is an opportunity for him to neglect his work; that he should be spending time cleaning up his mistakes. And yet, Hancock’s appearance in the jungle may be an attempt at reparation.
Throughout the show he has acted as the gruesome ‘bushtucker trial’ scapegoat. Constantly called upon to eat a multitude of animal parts including a camel’s penis and a sheep’s vagina, he has swallowed them down with a strong-willed stoicism. Hancock’s determination has surprised the public and even softened opinions about the former Health Minister. On Monday night, Moyles felt that he could separate this new version of Hancock from his political persona, rapidly shifting from a target of humiliation to a fan favourite.
Perhaps then the British public view Hancock’s self-inflicted suffering as a form of punishment for his failures during lockdown. By throwing himself to the wolves, or rather a coffin of snakes, he is trying to prove that he can follow through.
Yet, this public humiliation is compensated not only by the growing favour of the British public but by the £400k he will receive for appearing on the show. It also cannot be ignored that some feel the attempts to win back the public’s favour through this new persona trivialises the suffering of the British people felt throughout the COVID crisis. One Exeter student admitted that although it was “funny seeing the memes” now plastered across their twitter feed, it is “worrying that people seem to forget the more serious issues behind it.”
The lives lost during the pandemic due to delays, mistakes and false promises at the hands of Hancock and his superiors, are irretrievable. The choices made cannot be unmade, and even if Hancock’s intentions are pure, his presence on reality TV has served only to inflame an already fractured nation.