I'm a Celebrity: Matt Hancock's jungle sabbatical adds to feeling that politicians are in it for themselves – Alastair Stewart

Long before Matt Hancock set foot in the I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! jungle, one George Galloway entered the Celebrity Big Brother House.

Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock will both face questions from the Covid inquiry next year (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock will both face questions from the Covid inquiry next year (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

If you were to ask me for a traumatic memory of that show in 2006, it is the sight of the former Labour MP pretending to be a cat, drinking imaginary milk out of Rula Lenska's hands. "Would you like me," purrs Gorgeous George, "to be the cat?" Galloway later claimed in a newspaper that his antics had "raised tens of thousands of pounds” for the Interpal charity and paid for an "extra caseworker in my constituency".

Whatever the motive, that particular vignette has stuck in most people's minds. Galloway was always excellent, lively entertainment in the early noughties. Big Brother was a titanic act that sank the significant international kudos he garnered when he gave the US Senate what-for the year before. Could there be any better reality TV than taking the Americans to task after the debacle of the Iraq War?

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Tell Hancock that he might learn something from Galloway, and he may flinch. But the former Health Secretary has no cause to be snooty. After finishing third in I'm a Celebrity..., one wonders what he will do with the modest recovery of his dwindling political capital.

But all has not been forgiven, even if Hancock acts as if it has. How serious was the public when we condemned his participation in the show? Is it possible audiences desperately wanted Hancock to be bullied by condescending, politically illiterate campmates as he endured endless Bushtucker Trials?

Hancock probably guessed this (or certainly any advisors worth their salt would have told him). “The more they hate you, the more they respect you when you survive” is Hancockian logic if ever there was such a thing.

However much the viewers at home tried and hoped for his eviction, he hung on to the end. But political rehabilitation does not come from a mere 18 days in the wilderness.

Hancock is undoubtedly one of the most controversial politicians of our time, and he does not seem to get why. His lack of judgement and his painfully puerile need for forgiveness proves that. It is clear for all to see that he is conflating his resignation for an affair (because he was caught) and the decisions he made as Health Secretary during a pandemic.

He made a lot of fuss about showing his human side and wanting absolution. At no point has he suggested he undertake actual penance to earn it. Professing one's sins on TV and lamenting the awfulness of government office during an emergency is not the same as that which he seems determined to avoid – accountability.

His appearance and performance at times came across as someone sent out to deliver the lines that might get him back into the good graces of Rishi Sunak (who skipped over his handshake when entering Conservative party headquarters). Neither the new Prime Minister nor viewers at home can be so fickle.

For all the talk of finding the real Matt Hancock, rumours abound he is considering a move to showbiz. Such a gratuitous left turn after leaving his constituents in the lurch, losing the Conservative party whip would be entirely in keeping with those who did not see this as an innocent jaunt.

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Indeed, very little about his jungle stay suggests it was ever anything other than a conceited springboard to launch a new career. When one considers that Hancock will need to return to actual political public life and the House of Commons after unceremoniously ditching his duties, you might not blame him for staying in the jungle a bit longer.

Looming on Hancock's list of things to do is an appearance before the UK inquiry into handling the Covid pandemic. Rather aptly, the inquiry started investigating decisions made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his senior advisers in early 2020 when Hancock was playing in the jungle. Johnson and Hancock are likely to appear in person at hearings next summer.

At the crux of all this is motive. It’s about whether you, at home, believe that Hancock went on this show in an ambitious bid to clear his reputation or whether he did so in utter ignorance of what he did to earn people's ire. Or, and much more likely, he participated for a significant cash fee, hoping for a bit of reputation restoration, but praying he could succeed well enough to warrant more TV work.

It is a depressing and damning indictment of public service today. Britain suffers from the twin evils of needing strong, robust, empathic leadership while refusing to imbue politicians with anything resembling trust. Cynicism and accountability are not the same, and while there will forever be rotten apples, it is a long road back to trusting the political class to serve honourably.

This is tragic, but not as sad as it is for our sake. While petty and petulant, Hancock's actions are damaging any hope we can move past the prevailing feeling politicians are in it for themselves. That he does not see that, that he put his interests ahead of his constituency, his party and his government, is precisely why he should never be in government again.

Hancock's West Suffolk constituency could do no worse by deselecting him in favour of a candidate who will perform their duties diligently and constantly.

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