Matt Hancock taking part in a Bushtucker Trial.
Tony Blair has defended Matt Hancock over his appearance in the I’m A Celebrity jungle – suggesting that his decision to park his political responsibilities for a spell in Australia “took courage”.
The former health secretary has faced a cross-party backlash and questions about his future in Westminster after coming third in the ITV show.
The West Suffolk MP, who explained he was “looking for a bit of forgiveness” by appearing on the show, reached the final but came behind the winner, Euro 2022 champion Jill Scott, and Hollyoaks actor Owen Warner in a public vote on Sunday night.
Hancock broke coronavirus social distancing rules during the pandemic by having an affair in his ministerial office with aide Gina Coladangelo, and has told campmates it was caused by the fact he “fell in love”.
But even though prime minister Rishi Sunak said Hancock’s decision to enter the jungle was not “noble” because he was failing to prioritise his “constituents and our country”, he seemed to have support from the former Labour PM.
Blair, who said that he had not been watching the popular TV show, told The News Agents podcast: “When you’ve been through the wringer as he has, and you know, as a politician who’s got to a certain level in politics, he’s probably got quite a lot of courage to go and do something like that.
“And I mean, people can attack him or whatever. But I always say this to (former Labour frontbencher) Ed Balls, who reinvented himself in this extraordinary way after leaving politics, and literally this is the most surprising thing I ever came across in terms of a post ministerial career.
“But, you know, it takes a lot of courage to go do something like that.
“I wished him well, from the outset. I worked with him a bit during the pandemic. And, you know, he was working hard, they were all working hard on it.”
The former Labour leader suggested that Hancock, who said entering the jungle would allow him to reach out to voters in a new way, might have had “a point”.
“I don’t think people’s political views are going to be changed one way or another.
“But I think the problem with politics nowadays is how do you communicate with people when you’re going into fragmented, media, social media, and when it’s quite difficult to get a message across to people who aren’t in your circle, because the way the media works today is essentially, it works by developing a constituency of people and essentially appealing to that constituency.
“And if you’re not careful, you don’t break out and go and talk to the people who disagree with you. So, I guess in that sense, he’s got a point. But it’s quite an extreme way of reaching the public.”
Earlier, business secretary Grant Shapps suggested that Hancock’s time on the show indicated he may have come to the conclusion his career in Westminster is “pretty much done”.