Matt Hancock fiasco: The kangaroo’s penis theory of British politics remains unproven

Donald Clarke: Matt Hancock’s unveiling by I’m a Celebrity could hardly have gone worse

With the current state of UK politics, one takes a risk writing about Matt Hancock’s foray into I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here. By the time the column is published, he could have resigned and we could be looking at unexpected replacement by someone evicted in the last series. Like ... um ... Where’s Wikipedia? Adam Woodyatt off of EastEnders. David Ginola off of football? Is that right?

The former UK health secretary’s unveiling could hardly have gone worse. Andy Drummond, deputy chairman of West Suffolk Conservative Association, won the race to make first mention of marsupial pudenda. “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis,” he remarked. “Quote me. You can quote me.” Happy to, Andy.

More seriously, Bereaved Families for Justice, a Covid-19 campaign group, tweeted: “he’s the former health secretary who oversaw the UK having one of the highest death tolls in the world from Covid-19 whilst breaking his own lockdown rules.” It took no time for the Conservative chief whip to speak up. Simon Hart (for it is he) remarked that the issue was “serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect”. So it is fair to say the announcement was not greeted with unqualified approval.

Politicians like Matt must go to where the people are – particularly those who are politically disengaged

Why would he do it? What is in it for the West Suffolk MP? Yes, yes, you’re all making the universal gesture for grubby lucre – rubbing your thumbs aggressively against your middle fingers. Speaking on The Rest is Politics podcast, former New Labour campaign director Alastair Campbell, who repeatedly turned down requests to appear, noted that the offer once got “close to seven figures”.


Hancock, who is paid £84,144 a year as an MP, let it be known that some of the money would go to charity. Like Smashie and Nicey, he was doing all the testicle mastication – or some of it anyway – for charidee. That’s all right then.

An “ally” of Hancock’s then tried on the old “getting down with the plebs” argument. “Politicians like Matt must go to where the people are – particularly those who are politically disengaged,” this mysterious Deep Throat remarked. Hancock is unlikely to slip much conversation about strategies for social provision between premature burial and limbo dances through raw effluent.

But this argument does allow his people to imply that anyone opposed to the move is (to use the vernacular they almost certainly prefer) a silly old stick-in-the-mud who doesn’t appreciate a hip 20-year-old series that crowned such countercultural heroes as Christopher Biggins and Carol Thatcher.

The UK has not yet reached the stage where covering yourself in poo and swallowing the outer organs of southern-hemispheric reptiles serves as qualification for First Lord of the Treasury

There is another possibility. Might he seriously see this as an attempt to relaunch his political brand? Hancock resigned after images emerged of him kissing and embracing an aide in his Whitehall office – a breach of Covid regulations among other embarrassments – but, in the current permissive age, politicians have recovered from worse. Rory Stewart, the former Tory MP who shares podcasting space with Campbell, quoted “the Trump effect” as he wondered if Hancock had decided “his only hope was to become really famous”.

The record of politicians on reality shows doesn’t offer much hope. With a few interesting exceptions, the dance-offs, ice-offs, penis-offs and bake-offs have, when successful, served to launch retiring politicos into careers well outside government. Hitherto seen as a bit of a bruiser, Ed Balls, former UK chancellor of the exchequer, tangoed his way to family favourite status on Strictly Come Dancing and on towards gigs on travel documentaries and panel shows.

Tory Anne Widdecombe did something similar. A decade and a half after licking imagined cream from Rula Lenska’s palms on Big Brother, George Galloway remains in politics, but he has not been an MP since 2015. Recall also Bangor’s Lembit Öpik (late of I’m a Celebrity ... and the Liberal Democrats) and Alan Johnson (The Masked Singer and Labour).

None of the exceptions quite fits the Hancock model. Nadine Dorries, who appeared in I’m a Celebrity ... in 2012 and also had the whip removed, was – unlike the flat-toned former health secretary – already a colourful semi-celeb before she travelled to the swamps. Penny Mordaunt, who came close to the leadership last month, appeared on the relatively restrained diving show Splash. That was little more embarrassing than doing celebrity sheep trials.

The UK has not yet reached the stage where covering yourself in poo and swallowing the outer organs of southern-hemispheric reptiles serves as qualification for First Lord of the Treasury. For all the clown shows happening across the water, that country has not fully tipped over into an episode of Black Mirror. Rory Stewart was right.

Trump did finesse his fame on The Apprentice into the White House. The populist wave is in such a surge that one can just about imagine a sitting MP building on popularity in a dumb TV show to win over colleagues nervous about their majorities. But not this MP. Not this show. Not yet. Right, Boris?