STRIPPED of the Government whip, and chastised and mocked by MPs and his local Tory party, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock today writes exclusively in HOAR to explain his decision to swap Westminster for the jungle . . .
Next week I’m going into the jungle, as part of this year’s I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here.
Some may think I’ve lost my marbles or had one too many drinks, swapping the comfortable surroundings of Westminster and West Suffolk for the extreme conditions of the Australian outback, going where there will be few creature comforts, not enough food, and a load of physical tasks involving snakes, spiders and plenty of other creepy-crawlies.
While there will undoubtedly be those who think I shouldn’t go, I think it’s a great opportunity to talk directly to people who aren’t always interested in politics, even if they care very much about how our country’s run.
It’s our job as politicians to go to where the people are — not to sit in ivory towers in Westminster.
There are many ways to do the job of being an MP. Whether I’m in camp for one day or three weeks, there are very few places people will be able to see a politician as they really are.
Like you, politicians are human, with hopes and fears, and normal emotions just like everyone else.
Where better to show the human side of those who make these decisions than with the most watched programme on TV? And there are many ways to communicate. It’s one of the many important things I learnt during the pandemic.
While lots of people tuned in to the Today programme or listened to me, JVT and Professor Chris Whitty at the daily Downing Street press conferences to get the latest, there were many who didn’t.
There were those who got their news from brilliant shows like This Morning, Loose Women and Gogglebox. It’s popular TV shows like these — and I’m A Celebrity . . . , of course — that help to deliver important messages to the masses.
It’s as clear as day that politicians like me must go to where the people are — particularly those who are politically disengaged. We must wake up and embrace popular culture.
Rather than looking down on reality TV, we should see it for what it is — a powerful tool to get our message heard by younger generations.
In fact, I think it’s patronising to hear some say reality TV is beneath a politician. We all know that many people are turned off by the aggressive ‘gotcha’ questioning and insider presumptions of political news.
Reality TV is a very different way to communicate with the electorate — it’s both honest and unfiltered.
For example, while most people will know me for being the Health Secretary during the pandemic, what you probably won’t know is that I am dyslexic, and I’ve been campaigning for better identification and support for dyslexic children.
Far too many people in Britain don’t find out they’re dyslexic until they’ve left school, and tragically don’t get the support they need. I was diagnosed at the age of 18, after I left school.
My diagnosis was a lightbulb moment and after many years of thinking I just wasn’t very good at reading, I finally understood why I didn’t always understand.
As a backbench MP, I have the freedom and time to champion causes I believe in and care about — including dyslexia.
I want to raise the profile of my dyslexia campaign to help every dyslexic child unleash their potential — even if it means taking an unusual route to get there . . . via the Australian jungle! I’m A Celebrity . . . is watched by millions of Brits up and down the country.
I want to use this incredible platform to raise awareness, so no child leaves primary school not knowing if they have dyslexia.
By talking about dyslexia on prime-time TV, I hope to not only increase support for my Dyslexia Screening and Teacher Training Bill (which receives its second reading in Parliament just days after I’m A Celebrity . . . finishes), but I aim to help the public better understand this very common condition, that affects around one in ten people.
I thought long and hard about this — in fact I turned down I’m A Celebrity . . . twice this summer, but when they approached me for a third time last week, I had a change of heart.
And no, it wasn’t the cheque that changed my mind. I will be making a donation to St Nicholas Hospice in Suffolk and causes supporting dyslexia off the back of my appearance. I will, of course, also declare the amount I receive from the show to Parliament to ensure complete transparency, as normal.
When I was first approached to take part — while I was flattered and naturally curious — it didn’t take me too long to turn the opportunity down because of the instability government was facing at the time.
Now though, the government is stable. Rishi Sunak has made a great start and I know he has got what it takes to be a superb PM.
I’ve talked to the whips, in the same way any MP would when going on a foreign visit, which happens all the time. I don’t expect to serve in Government again, but I can support Rishi and the Government in different ways.
As an MP, my first priority is to my constituents. I have agreed with the show’s producers that I can be reached at any point on any urgent constituency matters.
While my excellent team in West Suffolk will continue to oversee matters relating to the constituency, like they already do when I’m in Westminster.
As soon as my time in camp is up, I will return to Suffolk to hold a surgery where I will catch up with my constituents and discuss matters of concern.
While some will say reality TV should be beneath a politician, I think we’ve got to go to where the people gather.
So, the truth is, I haven’t lost my marbles or had one too many pina coladas. It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to. I was elected by the people, and it’s important to engage with voters, especially younger voters, no matter where they are, and show the human side of politicians.
That’s what I hope to do.