Matt Hancock announced he will not be standing as an MP in a letter that suggested he’d undergone a political epiphany during his spell in the I’m A Celebrity jungle, though it’s not clear whether this came while munching on camel’s penis.
The former health secretary’s missive to Rishi Sunak reflects on how he’s discovered a “whole new world of possibilities” and is anxious to spread his gospel of Matthew away from parliament.
The letter – in common with his influencer-aping TikTok post – characterises the decision as voluntary, and his political career as one garlanded with achievements.
But reading between the lines it’s far less clear whether he’s the Messiah, as presented, or a very naughty boy (with apologies to Monty Python).
1. He was caught breaking his own rules
Not mentioned at all is the reason why Hancock fell down the political pecking order in the first place, awakening a mission to take the good word of politics elsewhere.
Hancock broke coronavirus social distancing rules during the pandemic by having an affair in his ministerial office with aide Gina Coladangelo, which was exposed by The Sun newspaper.
And it appears Hancock’s first instinct was not to quit.
In the latest extract of his pandemic diary, Hancock said then prime minister Boris Johnson had assured him he could carry on. “Well, you haven’t broken the law,” Johnson replied. “The guidelines aren’t binding – they’re recommendations. So I will stand by you.”
It was only after he found himself “increasingly isolated” politically he said he was left with no choice but to quit. How honourable.
2. Overlooked by Rishi Sunak
In his letter, Hancock expresses his zeal to “reconnect with the public we serve” and “find new ways to reach people”.
“I have discovered a whole new world of possibilities which I am excited to explore,” he wrote, giddily.
What he fails to mention – again – is the political reality that prompted his infamous effort to “reconnect” by eating camel’s penis, sheep’s vagina and cow’s anus on I’m a Celebrity.
When Rishi Sunak became prime minister, he brought back into the cabinet many of those relegated to the backbenches in the dog days of Johnson’s leadership and Liz Truss’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it time at No. 10.
But Hancock was not one of the comeback kids, effectively drawing a veil over his career on the Tory frontline. A viral clip of Sunak giving his former cabinet colleague the cold shoulder just after winning the Tory leadership contest underlined how Hancock now resides in a political Serbia.
3. Jumped before he was pushed?
Hancock was stripped of the Tory whip after it emerged he was joining the reality TV show, meaning he was suspended from the parliamentary Conservative party and had to sit as an independent MP.
In his letter, Hancock claimed that the Conservative chief whip, Simon Hart, had told him that the whip would be restored “in due course” – suggesting that he would be able to stand as a Tory if he wished.
But the i newspaper reported soon after the letter was published that Hancock’s decision came after his local constituency chairman wrote to Hart saying that the MP is “not fit to represent this constituency”. It reported Hancock’s local newspaper was expected to publish the letter on Thursday.
Allies of Hancock have pushed back against the idea that he had lost a vote of confidence, and that the sitting MP would have been de-selected as the party’s candidate for West Suffolk at the next election.
Still, it’s clear there is deep unease about Hancock among local activists.
West Suffolk Tory councillor Ian Houlder said: “I think he was up the creek without a paddle as far as not being the MP for West Suffolk was concerned.
“He was looking at his options quite rightly as anybody would and he’s gone for the money.”
4. Covid success questioned
In the jungle, Hancock breezily defended his handling of Covid-19 to campmates, and the unwavering sense he got the big decisions right are echoed in the letter.
“The first vaccine in the world, and a shorter lockdown, fewer jobs lost, and lower mortality than comparable countries” features in his list of “incredibly proud” achievements.
But let’s remember, figures show more than 200,000 people with Covid have died in the UK to date, and the government’s decision to delay a first lockdown has been described by MPs as a “serious error” and part of one of the “biggest health failures the UK has ever experienced”.
A public inquiry into the government’s handling of Covid will not begin until next year, but Hancock has already been using his diaries to get his side of the story into the public domain.
Hancock claims he was told by chief medical officer for England, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, in January 2020 that in a “reasonable worst case scenario” as many as 820,000 could die.
However, he said that when he passed on the warning to fellow ministers at a cabinet meeting three days later, the reaction was “shrug shrug” as they did not really believe it.
Hancock does not record whether he was “incredibly proud” of this.
5. Didn’t he say he wouldn’t quit yesterday?
Hancock’s letter also seems to fail a cursory smell test based on his insistence up until very recently that he would stand again – with the political editor of the Daily Mirror suggesting this was the position just 24 hours ago.
Ahead of his return to Westminster a week ago after his stint in the jungle, his team said Hancock has “no intention of standing down or stepping away from politics”.