Voices: Stanley Johnson: I’ve been in the I’m A Celeb jungle – and this is how I think it will end for Matt Hancock

I was delighted when I heard that Matt Hancock, MP and former health secretary, had had the Conservative whip removed for going to the jungle in Australia this month to participate in the latest series of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here!

With many others, I have been campaigning hard for the government to drop its proposed Retained EU Law Bill, which, if adopted, could lead to more than 500 of the UK’s environmental laws, and thousands of others, being scrapped by a deadline at the end of 2023. Hopefully Hancock, whip-free, will not be voting for the government on this one.

But my interest in Hancock’s presence “down under” goes beyond this party-political point, crucial though it may be.

As a contestant on I’m a Celebrity in 2017, I have been totally gripped by the way Hancock has dominated the first seven days.

Paradoxically, the fact that the public – judging by the media coverage – took a dim view of his decision to head for the antipodes at a time when he was a serving MP has been immensely helpful to him in his new jungle career. Time and time again, he has emerged as the favoured candidate to participate in the dreaded Bushtucker Trials.

Hero or villain? Less than halfway through the show, the jury is still out. Judging by the overheard conversations in the “camp”, and the monologues in the Bush Telegraph confessional, his campmates at the start did more than a little probing.

One or two of them – like Charlene White and Sue Cleaver – were frankly sceptical about Hancock’s presence down under, and let it show. But the challenges were half-hearted. Hancock seems to be emerging relatively unscathed – at least as far as his campmates are concerned. That might change, of course. With almost two weeks still to run, these are still early days.

But I would not be surprised if Hancock doesn’t in fact win his campmates over entirely by the time the show finishes.

I have been there, and I know what it’s like when the gong sounds and it’s time to get going. I challenge anyone – SAS veterans included – to fault the sheer brilliance of Hancock’s performance the other night in the Tentacles of Fear trial, when he had to dive deep underwater in an octopus-shaped, reptile-filled cage to retrieve the maximum total of 11 stars – all against the clock.

All in all, Matt Hancock has already been voted by the public so far to do no fewer than five Bushtucker trials, and tonight he faces a new one: The House of Horrors. Ugh!

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Among his campmates, desperate for the meals that Hancock’s sheer guts and ability in earning the coveted stars has made possible, I have no doubt that Hancock’s star will continue to rise. Would you bite the hand that feeds you?

Whether the nation will feel the same way remains to be seen. My own hunch is that the nation, when all the votes are in, will want to give Hancock the benefit of the doubt – just like his campmates. He might even emerge as the winner of I’m A Celebrity 2022 and get to wear the coveted laurel crown.

Will Matt Hancock have the gumption, the up-yours determination to re-enter the chamber of the House of Commons wearing that laurel crown on his head? Matt Hancock has surprised us once. I am sure he will surprise us again.

At the very least, I am counting on a “jungle-invigorated” Hancock to help defeat to help us defeat the government’s ill-conceived Bill to review and potentially scrap all those environmental and other rules by the end of the next year. If the “Rees-Mogg” Bill passes into law, the prospects of our meeting national and international targets in the environmental and other fields, will be vanishingly small.

Stanley Johnson is the international ambassador of the Conservative Environment Network