Rishi Sunak has suggested that Matt Hancock is demeaning the “noble” calling of politics by taking part in ITV gameshow I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!
The prime minister made clear he was not won over by Mr Hancock’s argument that the jungle-based show offered an opportunity to get messages across to a wider, insisting instead that politicians needed to “earn people’s respect” through their actions.
He said he was “disappointed” at his former cabinet colleague’s decision to fly to Australia for filming, and stood by the decision to strip him of the Conservative whip in parliament.
Mr Sunak said he had not yet seen a second of the hit contest, which has featured Hancock being forced to endure a series of “bush-tucker trials” involving eating disgusting meals of fish eyes, worms and camel’s penis.
Speaking as he flew to his second foreign engagement of his first three weeks in office – the G20 summit in Indonesia – the PM told reporters: “I’ve been busy, I’ve barely seen my children or anyone else for that matter over the last couple of weeks, so no, I haven’t seen it.”
The last few days have seen the former health secretary defending his performance during the Covid crisis, but told campmates he was looking for “forgiveness” for the mistakes he made in breaching social distancing guidelines to have an affair with an aide.
Asked whether the public should have sympathy for the MP, Mr Sunak replied: “I think the British public will make up their own mind.
“I was disappointed when he went on the show, as I said, and I thought the chief whip was right to suspend the whip from him.”
Mr Sunak said MPs from all parties were currently trying to deal with a number of serious challenges, adding: “I think that’s what we should be focused on and that’s why I was disappointed he went on the show.”
Asked if Hancock’s TV appearance was encouraging the denigration of politicians, Mr Sunak said: “I think politics at its best can and should be actually quite noble.
“I think most people who get into politics, from whatever party, do it because they care about public service. They want to make a difference to their communities, they want to make a difference to their country. When that works well, it’s a special thing.
“But you have to earn people’s respect. It is not given just because you are a politician. It is incumbent on all members of parliament to do the things that earn people’s respect.
“That is serving your constituents really well, making a difference to them in surgeries, it is how you conduct yourself.
“Everyone is going to do it in a slightly different way, but I think it’s important that we have our constituents and our country at the forefront of what we do when we go around our day-to-day lives.
“We are privileged to have these jobs and we should take that privilege seriously and we should give it the responsibility that is owed.”
Mr Sunak later declined to say whether he thought Mr Hancock should quit as an MP.
“Ultimately it’s a question for his constituents at an election,” the PM told ITV. “It’s right that the chief whip removed the Conservative whip from Matt Hancock. It’s a decision I supported and I was very disappointed that he decided to go on the show.”