As Matt Hancock faces more TV trials, his constituents face real-world problems

If he harboured any doubts about his decision, Matt Hancock gave little hint this week when challenged by a fellow I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! contestant about his decision to abandon his duties as an MP.

“Rishi’s great. We’ll be fine,” came the breezy reply from the former Health Secretary as he reclined on the jungle set ahead of being covered in slurry and insects during the first of the show’s bushtucker trials.

He must surely have wished he was elsewhere by Thursday, when the public once again selected him to endure a second trial, but the most likely alternative would be his more serious duties: dealing with the concerns of his West Suffolk constituents, preparing to give evidence at the Covid-19 inquiry and fears over avian flu.

At the top his to-do list in that parallel reality might well be the need to start poring over notes, locating diaries and refreshing his memory about his time in government after Lady Hallett, the retired judge overseeing the public inquiry on the government’s handling of Covid-19, issued requests for evidence on Monday.

“We would have hoped that the man who was the health secretary during a really critical time of the pandemic would be focusing on the requests that have been sent out by Lady Hallett,” said Fran Hall, a spokesperson for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Campaign.

“She would be asking for a huge amount of records and we would expect that anyone who was in his position would be focused on making sure she has the material needed to do the job,” she added.

Hall said that many of those bereaved in the pandemic now also find themselves being triggered by his near omnipresence in the media.

“It’s impossible to ignore him at the moment, unfortunately, and many of us would just wish he was invisible, to be honest,” she added.

Another group iirked by Hancock’s decision are his constituents, who are venting their anger on social media – including on the MP’s Facebook page.

In West Suffolk, which Hancock has represented since 2010, pressing worries range from the daily impact of the cost of living crisis through to the spread of a new strain of bird flu which has kept all poultry and captive birds inside from Monday.

There has already been a call for Hancock to resign in a letter signed by councillors straddling the political spectrum in the largest town in his constituency, Haverhill, which warned him that “unprecedented cost of living pressures on your residents are causing real hardship to them.”

Other priorities he was reminded of included “a failing health service locally, with appalling ambulance response times,” along with the pressure on schools from the energy crisis.

As the MP started another trial on Thursday, councillors were meeting to digest a report covering the need to restructure local hospital services and Suffolk’s reputation, in common with other parts of England, as a “dental desert”.

“I could give you a list of problems, whether it’s the lack of NHS dentists right across Suffolk, the lack of GPs in many areas and public transport, which is not good right across Suffolk, and totally inadequate in some places,” said Diane Hind, leader of the Labour group on West Suffolk Council.

She added: “We’re also seeing an increase in demand for food banks. There are people who used to donate to them but who are now having to use them. The saddest thing is that nobody can see any sign of it getting better. Even if Matt Hancock doesn’t feel there is anything he can do, he ought to be trying. Otherwise, what’s he here for?”

Aside from families bereaved by Covid-19 and Hancock’s own constituents, a third group likely to feel aggrieved by his absence are Tory MPs as the parliamentary calendar enters a momentous week.

On Monday, Hancock will miss debates on Ukraine and trade deals. On Wednesday, he will miss prime minister’s questions and the report stage of the national security bill.

He will also miss the second readings on Friday of private members’ bills which could well benefit from his input, including one on terminal illness and another relating to Covid-19 vaccines.

However, the moment when his colleagues might well curse his absence as the Conservative party attempts to form a united front is Thursday, when chancellor Jeremy Hunt will unveil his long-awaited autumn statement.

The nightly vista of Hancock in the jungle is likely to yield plenty of ammunition for opposition leader Keir Starmer, although Labour backbenchers have already let loose.

As Labour’s Neil Coyle told heckling Conservative MPs this week in a contribution to PMQs: “they can all go and eat kangaroo testicles, for all I care.”

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