Matt Hancock in demand as guest speaker for local Tory events, say MPs

<span>Photograph: Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters

Conservative associations are clamouring for dinner and fundraising appearances from Matt Hancock, according to MPs, despite Hancock no longer holding the Tory whip because of his appearance on I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!

Multiple Conservative MPs said they had inquiries from their associations to book Hancock for the “rubber chicken circuit” of talks given at fundraising events and local party dinners where cabinet ministers are usually the hottest ticket.

The potential for Hancock to raise funds for the party’s coffers creates a dilemma for party officials after the whip was withdrawn from the former health secretary who technically sits as an independent.

“We have been surprised and delighted by the number of approaches Matt’s had. There are only so many evenings in a week,” a spokesperson for Hancock confirmed.

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During his 18 days in the Australian jungle for the ITV show, Hancock won over new fans and came third in the competition but it also prompted his suspension from the parliamentary party and criticism by colleagues including Rishi Sunak.

The prime minister said he was “very disappointed” in his colleague’s decision to leave behind his constituents to appear on the reality show for three weeks. MPs who had been deeply scornful of the decision by Hancock to join the show said they had softened towards him.

One MP whose local party has asked to see Hancock said: “Perhaps it is a bit out of touch to say that politicians can’t use this kind of device to connect with the public. I think colleagues are likely to have calmed down once he returned.”

Party sources said Conservative campaign headquarters was likely to be “relaxed” about Hancock’s appearance at fundraising dinners, even if the whip had not yet been restored.

Hancock returned to the UK in time for the serialisation of his book, Pandemic Diaries, in which he asked the public for “forgiveness” over breaking Covid rules during his affair with Gina Coladangelo. He told the Mail the fallout of the revelation of his affair had been “absolutely horrific, especially for Gina”, adding: “I’ve had an absolute bucket of shit poured over my head.”

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He still claims he went on the show to close the gap between the public and politicians, despite initially stating he wanted to raise awareness of dyslexia, a condition he was only shown mentioning on the edited show a handful of times.

Hancock also claimed Sir Chris Whitty had told him two months before the first lockdown that Covid could kill as many as 820,000 people in the UK as part of a “reasonable worst-case scenario”. However, he said 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.

The former cabinet minister stressed in the Mail interview he was not asking for forgiveness over his handling of the pandemic as he “woke up every single morning” determined to do his best in “impossible” circumstances.

The former health secretary has already filmed another reality TV show – Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins. He was paid £45,000 for the show, which he declared on the MPs’ register of interests published today, but it attracted less controversy as it was filmed when parliament was in recess, between 24 September and 8 October.

The Liberal Democrats have tabled a parliamentary motion calling for rules to be updated to prevent MPs from taking part in reality TV programmes abroad while parliament is sitting. The early day motion also asks MPs give up their regular MP’s salary during the time they are not in parliament.

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The Lib Dem’s Cabinet Office spokesperson, Christine Jardine, said: “Matt Hancock abandoned his constituents to fly to the other side of the world to perform in I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! for a substantial fee. When he should have been helping constituents facing a cost of living crisis and rampant energy bills, he was doing bushtucker trials for the TV cameras.

“Having the whip removed was the least his constituents should expect for having let them down. For the Conservative party to restore it now would set a dreadful precedent when they should be saying … if he wants to be a celebrity then he needs to get out of here.”