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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Marina Hyde

What’s more cringey than a Matt Hancock bushtucker trial? The Tory MPs voting for it

Matt Hancock on I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, 9 November 2022.
‘Matt Hancock is a fugitive from self-reflection; a flight risk from the truth.’ Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

What drives Matt Hancock? What propels the erstwhile health secretary to fly home after getting trench foot in Thailand on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, then to almost immediately fly out to the Australian rainforest, pausing only to update his out-of-office bounceback in case West Suffolk constituents want to contact him about boring little things like their problems? Is Hancock himself right when he answers that question by identifying as “an adventurer”: the hero of his own story – and perhaps yet the world’s?

No. No, he is not. To watch I’m A Celebrity’s latest campmate for more than two minutes is to know what was already abundantly clear from his career as a minister: Matt Hancock is driven by the urge to resist self-knowledge at all costs. Matt Hancock is a fugitive from self-reflection; a flight risk from the truth; a guy compelled to loudly self-narrate in order to drown out the real story. There is a chasm between thinking you’re a good person who made mistakes, and accepting that things were always going to end the way they did because of who you are. Matt Hancock’s greatest fear is not snakes, as he told the show producers, but of crossing that chasm.

Thus we learn from Matt that it is only possible for him to be on the show at all because the government has regained stability. “Rishi’s great,” Hancock explained reassuringly to one campmate. “He’ll be fine.” At this point I reflexively sought to cover my eyes with my hands, only to realise they were already there. Yet they were somehow insufficient. No disrespect to ITV, who have pulled off one of the greatest reality TV bookings of all time, but they should provide a second set of hands for all viewers.

You don’t so much want to hide behind a sofa as get an entire DFS superstore between you and the various Hancockisms unfolding on screen. Asked by another contestant to give an example of a conspiracy theory, Hancock claimed: “One said Bill Gates and I conspired to create the vaccine for Covid in order to put microchips in all the vaccines in order to control people.”

Wut? I think we’ve all heard the Bill Gates one, but has any human heard a variant where the microchipping is a double-act masterplan cooked up by the Microsoft founder/fifth richest person in the world and … Matt Hancock? This feels like a version of the Kennedy assassination conspiracies where Matt Hancock claims some people believe the second gunman on the grassy knoll was Matt Hancock. Or Matt Hancock claiming there’s a 9/11 theory that Matt Hancock melted steel beams. It didn’t happen – in any sense.

Matt Hancock would like you to think he is a good sport, much more than he would like you to consider the fact he has three children: two teenagers and one towards the end of primary school. Last year, when he learned the story of his affair was going to break, that youngest child was got out of bed and brought downstairs to be told the news along with the others, followed by the revelation that Hancock was leaving the family home.

In general, I think it best never to even mention the children of politicians – but in this case, it feels like the entire point. How can a parent who put them through the pain and indignities of “that” photo and its immense fallout – barely 18 months ago – now be actively choosing to make an arse of himself on an immensely high-profile ITV reality format night after night? Surely his children would have preferred him simply not to have done this? Who could possibly be so sociopathic?

The answer, yet again, is Matt Hancock. Those of us not related to him, though, should be glad he did sign up to the show – because it’s already producing a spectacle of shameful rarity. Namely: an emotional public debate with a few real people who lived through his failures. (As you’ll recall, tens of thousands of real people ended up needlessly dying through them.)

Two and a half years after the start of the pandemic, it says something about the utter absurdity of our politics that the ONLY place we have seen even mild confrontation of this type happen is on a jungle-based light entertainment format. Our pandemic overlords’ lack of accountability to people who aren’t fellow politicians has been so total that we’re now reduced to hoping ex-con Boy George or tax dodger Chris Moyles sticks it to Hancock and gets some answers.

I’m sorry that they have to be celebrities, and I’m sorry that they end up doing it between complaining about their food rations, but in the absence of anything other than the odd defensive select committee appearance by Hancock, let the record state that this was all the ordinary people of this country have thus far seen by way of a reckoning.

Which brings me to the other horror show on offer: Conservative MPs queueing up to pour scorn on Hancock now. Have you clocked this tendency? It’s exemplified by an actual secretary of state, Chris Heaton-Harris, repeatedly going on telly yesterday to smugly claim that “hundreds of MPs and peers” were downloading the I’m a Celebrity app and voting for Hancock to face unpleasant trials.

To which the only possible response is: oh NOW you’re voting against him, is it? Sorry, but where were you lot before? Where were you lot every time it turned out one of Hancock’s mates had got a PPE contract? Where were you when he threw “a protective ring” around care homes, which was an odd way to talk about discharging untested residents from hospital back into them, resulting in a vast death toll? Where were you when he lied about this? Where were you when he lied about the fact there had been a PPE shortage? Where were you when Dominic Cummings was writing to Boris Johnson about Hancock’s hopelessness, saying “I think we are negligently killing the most vulnerable who we are supposed to be shielding and I am extremely worried about it”? Where were you for any of this? Where were you when it mattered?

The fact that these people have discovered what they imagine is a backbone only when Matt Hancock is washed up and doing reality TV tells you everything about their calibre and conviction. MPs who troop obediently through the government lobbies for any old shit currently imagine themselves to have the moral high ground because they’re voting on an app for Matt Hancock to face a bushtucker trial. DO ME A FAVOUR.

I can’t think of anything more pathetic and depressing – it’s literally worse than Hancock going on the show. So spare me so much as one further barb about Hancock from the people who kept shtum when it was a matter of life or death. They’ve got even fewer balls than the kangaroo he’ll be tucking into.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

  • A year in Westminster with John Crace and Marina Hyde
    Join John Crace and Marina Hyde for a look back at another chaotic year in Westminster, live at Kings Place in London, or via the livestream.
    Wednesday 7 December 2022, 7pm-8.15pm GMT, book tickets here

  • What Just Happened?! by Marina Hyde (Guardian Faber, £16). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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