Ex-UK minister Matt Hancock loses Tory whip for entering I’m A Celebrity

Former health secretary loses Tory whip for choosing celebrity appearance over constituents

Fresh drama swirled around the British Conservative party on Tuesday as it suspended former health secretary Matt Hancock for joining the reality TV show, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!

The former cabinet minister is swapping Westminster politics and representing his West Sussex constituents in parliament for the Australian jungle and a part on the popular ITV programme.

Tory party management reacted sharply to the news that Mr Hancock will be the 12th contestant on the show, where he will face arduous tasks such as being doused in insects or eating ostrich anus or kangaroo penis in its Bushtucker Trials at a time when parliament is still in session.

Mr Hancock has flown out to Australia to quarantine before the show starts on Sunday and will be away from Westminster for weeks during the worst cost of living crisis in decades.


Conservative party chief whip Simon Hart said that after speaking with Mr Hancock he believed that his decision to join the celebrity show was “serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect”.

Local party management in his constituency also rounded on the former Tory MP. Andy Drummond, deputy chair of the West Suffolk Conservative Association, told PA he was “looking forward to seeing Mr Hancock eating a kangaroo’s penis – you can quote me on that.”

The loss of the Tory whip means that the 44-year-old politician, a sitting MP since the 2010 general election, has in effect been expelled from the party and must sit as an independent.

Mr Hancock served as health secretary during the Covid-19 pandemic but resigned last year after breaching lockdown rules when CCTV footage emerged showing him kissing his aide, Gina Coladangelo, in his ministerial office, ignoring social distancing guidelines in place at the time.

Relatives of those who lost loved ones during Mr Hancock’s stewardship of the Covid response described his decision to appear on the show as “sickening”. They urged ITV to remove him from the programme, which will also feature former rugby player Mike Tindall and singer Boy George.

Campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice tweeted: “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 whilst breaking his own lockdown rules.”

Spokesman for the group, Dr Lobby Akinnola, whose father died from the coronavirus disease, said the fact that Mr Hancock was “trying to cash in on his terrible legacy, rather than showing some humility or seeking to reflect on the appalling consequences of his time in government, says it all about the sort of person he is”.

Downing Street also criticised Mr Hancock’s decision as new prime minister Rishi Sunak and his chancellor Jeremy Hunt prepare to unveil tax increases and spending cuts to fill the £50 billion (€58 billion) fiscal black hole left by Liz Truss’s disastrous, short tenure as prime minister.

Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “The PM believes that at a challenging time for the country, MPs should be working hard for constituents, whether that is in the House or in their constituency.” He added that it was “unlikely” Mr Sunak would be watching the ITV show.

The former health secretary will appear on the show as he prepares to publicise a new book, Pandemic Diaries, on his time leading the government response to the pandemic. He is also due to appear on another reality TV show, Channel 4′s Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, next year.

Mr Hancock’s camp defended his decision to head to the jungle. A political ally of the former health secretary said the show’s producers had agreed that he can communicate with his West Suffolk constituents from the Australian jungle “if there’s an urgent constituency matter”.

The former Conservative has told Tory party whips that he planned to use his time on the show to promote his dyslexia campaign. Mr Hancock was diagnosed with dyslexia at university.

Appearing to acknowledge the end of the former government minister’s future political ambitions in favour of reality TV fame, Mr Hancock’s ally said: “I’m a Celeb is the most watched show on TV. Matt doesn’t expect to serve in government again, so it’s an incredible opportunity for him to engage with the 12 million Brits who tune in every single night.”

Mr Hancock is far from the the first politician to appear on reality television. Former MP George Galloway famously pretended to be a cat on Celebrity Big Brother 2006, while former Conservative politician Ann Widdecombe appeared on both Celebrity Big Brother and Strictly Come Dancing. One-time Conservative minister Edwina Curry appeared on both I’m A Celebrity and Strictly Come Dancing, a show that also featured former Labour minister Ed Balls.

The closest parallel to Mr Hancock’s situation was the censure faced by Nadine Dorries, a former member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet. She was suspended by the Conservative party for six months after failing to notify the party of her appearance on the I’m A Celebrity programme in 2012.

She was found to have breached parliamentary rules for failing to disclose her fee from the show. Her company declared an £82,000 profit for the period covering her appearance on the show.

Mr Hancock drew disdain and ridicule from outside and inside his party over his decision to join the show. Conservative MP Tim Loughton called the former government secretary an “absolute prat” and said his expulsion from the Tory party was “the least he deserves”.

Mr Loughton told Times Radio he was “completely disappointed and disgusted that he’s put his self and a so-called celebrity career ahead of serving his constituents”.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times