Matt Hancock: From pandemic health secretary to bushtucker trials

Joining I’m A Celebrity is the latest career twist for the former health secretary.

Dominic McGrath
Tuesday 01 November 2022 12:33 GMT
Matt Hancock, a former health secretary, will try to revitalise his career with an appearance on I’m A Celebrity (Victoria Jones/PA)
Matt Hancock, a former health secretary, will try to revitalise his career with an appearance on I’m A Celebrity (Victoria Jones/PA)

Already possibly one of the nation’s better known politicians for his role as health secretary during a once-in-a-century pandemic, Matt Hancock is about to encounter a whole new audience as he prepares to join I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!

Swapping the world of Westminster for jungle antics with Ant and Dec is certainly an unorthodox shift for the former minister, whose government career had an unfortunate ending after he resigned in the aftermath of his affair with an aide that broke his own coronavirus rules.

Only in recent days was Mr Hancock reportedly mulling a bid to become chair of the Treasury Select Committee, apparently opting instead for bushtucker trials instead of banks and bonds.

Appointed health secretary in 2018 after spending 18 months in the culture brief, he had been a prominent figure for the government during its handling of the coronavirus pandemic until his abrupt exit.

He had faced pressure to stand down after pictures emerged depicting the married minister appearing to kiss his adviser Gina Coladangelo, with CCTV images published in The Sun taken on May 6 when guidance on social distancing were still in place, with hugging between people from different households recommended against.

It was not the first time Mr Hancock had faced a negative headline during his time in office.

Around the same period, Boris Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings had shared text messages in which Boris Johnson was said to have called the health secretary “hopeless”.

Mr Cummings accused the senior minister of lying to the prime minister over promises to protect those in care homes during the first wave of Covid-19 infections by testing new residents before being admitted.

Mr Hancock dismissed claims he lied and called Mr Johnson’s “hopeless” jibe “ancient history”.

Mr Hancock, who in 2018 became the only MP in British politics to launch his own app, took only eight years to rise from West Suffolk MP to health secretary.

The Oxford and Cambridge educated father-of-three previously worked as an economist at the Bank of England and as chief of staff to George Osborne when he was shadow chancellor of the exchequer, before taking a seat in the Commons.

The Cheshire-raised politician first attended cabinet after being appointed Minister for the Cabinet Office in 2015 by then prime minister David Cameron.

Mr Cameron’s successor Theresa May later promoted him to the role of culture secretary.

The 42-year-old initially threw his hat into the ring to replace Mrs May in No 10 during the 2019 Conservative Party leadership contest but withdrew from the leadership race part way through and was quick to throw his weight behind Mr Johnson.

He was among the handful of ministers to retain his brief when Mr Johnson took power in July 2019, making him one of the most prominent ministers when coronavirus rocked Britain eight months later.

In his resignation video, he said that he was looking forward to “supporting the government and the prime minister from the back benches to make sure that we can get out of this pandemic”.

After Boris Johnson’s downfall this summer, he was an enthusiastic backer of Mr Sunak and speculation persisted that he still harboured a return to a Government role.

Even as Liz Truss’s government crumbled, his advice from the sidelines did little to dampen that speculation.

I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis

Andy Drummond

“There’s a huge amount of talent on the backbenches, I’m not talking about me, but there are many others that should be brought into Government,” he suggested as Ms Truss clung to power.

Once she resigned, he returned as a vocal Sunak backer – although his standing in the new leader’s camp was brought into sharp relief after the victorious Mr Sunak appeared to blank the former health secretary, who stood waiting to greet him at the front of the crowd at Conservative HQ.

His decision to join I’m a Celebrity has already prompted mockery, as well as swift repercussions politically – Chief Whip Simon Hart said the situation was so serious he should have the right to sit as a Conservative suspended.

Allies said he would use his appearance to promote his backbench work on dyslexia, as he tried to “embrace” popular culture.

“Politicians like Matt must go to where the people are – particularly those who are politically disengaged,” one ally said.

Others were less flattering.

Andy Drummond, deputy chairman (political) of West Suffolk Conservative Association, told PA news agency: “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis.

“Quote me. You can quote me that.”

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