West News Wire: The Conservative Party on Tuesday suspended Matt Hancock, the former health secretary of the United Kingdom who oversaw the country’s response to COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic. Hancock had signed up for a reality TV program.
Hancock, a former government official who is still a member of Parliament, will take part in “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of This Place. The program brings a number of well-known people often C-list celebrities to the Australian rainforest where they are put through tests involving spiders and snakes before being eliminated one at a time by the audience.
Boy George, a member of the Culture Club, and Mike Tindall, a former rugby player whose wife Zara is a niece of King Charles III, are among the other competitors this year.
Conservative Chief Whip Simon Hart called Hancock’s participation in the program “a matter serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect.” That means Hancock will not be part of the Conservative caucus in Parliament but will sit as an independent.
Hancock quit as health secretary in June 2021 after breaching coronavirus lockdown rules by having an affair with an aide in his office violating a ban on different households mixing.
Hancock said he planned to use the show to raise awareness about dyslexia.
A group that campaigns for relatives of people who died during the pandemic said Hancock should be “seeking to reflect on the appalling consequences of his time in government.” The U.K. has recorded almost 178,000 coronavirus deaths.
“My family was ripped apart by Matt Hancock’s actions, and turning on the TV to see him being paraded around as a joke is sickening,” Lobby Akinnola, a member of the group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union for senior civil servants, also was unimpressed.
“Oh, to have a job where you can decide for yourself you’re taking a month off, abandon your work and responsibilities, get paid shedloads and face little consequence,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be an inspiration to other public servants.”
Max Blain, the spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, said “the prime minister believes that at a challenging time for the country, MPs should be working hard for their constituents.” Blain said it was “unlikely” Sunak would watch “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.”
Still, a political comeback for Hancock is not out of the question. Conservative lawmaker Nadine Dorries was suspended in 2012 for appearing on the same show. Nine years later, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed her to his Cabinet.