I'm a Celebrity: Matt Hancock's jungle chums will hopefully ask what went wrong in care homes during Covid – Aidan Smith

How many of you, watching the opening night of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, were wishing it was Matt Hancock literally walking the plank?

Matt Hancock is in a hurry to get into the 'I'm a Celebrity' jungle, hoping for some reality-show redemption (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Matt Hancock is in a hurry to get into the 'I'm a Celebrity' jungle, hoping for some reality-show redemption (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

From the top of a skyscraper, edging out, one tiny, terrified step after another, until he was stranded 200 feet above ground so hard that even a politician nicknamed Tigger was most unlikely to bounce? Never mind, you’ll be able to have your fun very soon. Hancock should be entering the reality-show jungle tomorrow or the day after. Then you can vote to have him eat kangaroo anus.

How has it come to this? How has politics come to this? How have we come to resemble a medieval rabble, gathered round a set of virtual stocks, and so desperate to see the humiliation of the UK’s Health Secretary during the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War? And just how hard is the rest of the planet laughing at us?

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We used to laugh at America for being this monumentally frivolous – at Italy and some bonkers banana republics, too. But this is us now. This is the calibre of politician we’re producing. One who’s got questions of such era-defining importance to answer regarding Covid, and will have to answer them at the public inquiry, but first… automatic sunshine! Games and stunts! Campfire banter! No more constituency complaints about potholes for a while! Or noisy swingers’ parties!

There’s more… freedom from the PM’s snubs! Book-plugging opportunities! Milk Tray Man opportunities! That black turtleneck jumper wasn’t just a fashion choice – oh no! It signified action! Same with the parkour! Which wasn’t stage-managed even though there was a photographer handily present! Just like there was one present for that swim in the Serpentine – brrr!

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There are a few theories as to why Hancock is going on I’m a Celebrity... There’s the money: he’s reportedly being paid £400,000, one of the highest fees ever offered by the show. He says he will make a donation to charities promoting dyslexia awareness – he was a sufferer in his teens – but not the whole amount.

Another is that for him, regarding politics, it’s career over, so why not? Liz Truss didn’t give him a job and Rishi Sunak didn’t give him a hug. Why not just have one last, big, stuff-’em-all blowout?

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This was Alastair Campbell’s view on the podcast The Rest Is Politics, the former Labour spin-doctor revealing he himself had turned down a few jungle invites, even though they had got “close to seven figures”. But his sidekick, ex-Conservative cabinet minister Rory Stewart, wasn’t so sure, suggesting Hancock’s motivation might have been “the Trump effect: the theory that if you are going to make it now you have to be a celebrity”.

Post-Covid, post-tens of thousands of people dying needlessly on his watch, and post-kangaroo anus, surely though there is no way back for Hancock in politics and certainly not the high offices for which he was once predicted. I accept that the country has gone sufficiently mental to have engendered a culture whereby – in the words of Tory MP Tim Loughton – an “absolute prat” like Hancock can have the opportunity of some kind of reality-show redemption (though the man’s own hubris and vanity are largely driving this). I do not think, though, it will be mental enough to allow him any kind of second coming at Westminster.

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One thing all politicians say when they go on programmes like I’m a Celebrity is that it will afford them the chance to connect with the “yoof” – kids who wouldn’t otherwise engage with politics. It was one of George Galloway’s reasons for submitting to Celebrity Big Brother where in one unforgettable interlude – revived for Channel 4’s recent 40th anniversary celebrations – he pretended to be a cat lapping milk from Rula Lenska’s hands then purred words in the actress’s ear which, she confessed later, made her “bottom jump and tighten excitedly”.

Galloway at the time – 2006 – was flying the flag for the Respect Party. When I met him in his parliamentary office a few months after his turn on the show, he insisted it had been job done, connection achieved. “If you were to come with me you would see I achieved this,” he said. “At a motorway service station the other day a whole bus-load of youngsters took photos of me with them on their phones.”

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But he accepted there were times when he’d been “excruciating”, adding: “I went into the Big Brother House with the intention of composing an epic novel in my head about the Spanish Civil War. By the end I was falling out with Preston [pop singer, how quickly we forget] over the ownership of a bun.”

Excruciating? I must confess to rather enjoying the improbable bonding between Gorgeous George, US basketball wildman Dennis Rodman and scabrous scally pop queen Pete Burns, not least when the latter teamed up with Galloway for a robotic dance challenge in leotards, conveying “the emotion of bewilderment when a small puppy refuses to come to heel”.

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I cannot see me being similarly endeared to Tigger. Or, if politics is closed off, a career opening up for him in TV like it has for Ed “Gangnam Style” Balls. Hancock doesn’t possess anything like the same warmth.

But along with everyone else I hope he remains in the jungle for a long time, eats a lot of horrible things and is asked a lot of horrible questions. Why did he fake-cry for Piers Morgan? After being caught fondling his spad on CCTV is he now more camera-aware? And uppermost among them: tell us about what went wrong in the care homes, Matt…

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