Tony Blair has praised former Tory health secretary Matt Hancock for his “courage” in taking the controversial decision to spend three weeks in the Australian jungle filming ITV’s I’m A Celebrity while remaining an MP.
British public opinion saw Mr Hancock come third in the TV show – but now he returns to Westminster to face angry peers and voters after being publicly reprimanded by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and stripped by the Tory whip for attending.
The pandemic-era minister resigned after being caught flouting his own health guidelines during a romantic affair with a councilor and has caused consternation among the hundreds of thousands left bereaved by Covid-19 with his decision to enter the jungle as a contestant “celebrity”. next year.
However, Blair, the former Labor prime minister, sought to defend Mr Hancock and suggested there might be a “point” in his claim of going into the jungle to show voters the “human side” of the politicians.
“When you’ve been through the shouting like he has, and you know, as a politician who’s reached a certain level in politics, he probably has quite a lot of guts to go and do something like that,” Blair said. News agents podcast.
“And I mean, people can attack him or whatever… But, you know, it takes a lot of guts to go do something like that. I wished him well from the very beginning.”
As health minister at the height of the pandemic, Mr Hancock faced public fury over the government’s “illegal” decision to discharge Covid patients to care homes without testing them for the virus and handing out supply contracts . protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.
During his time on the programme, Mr Hancock said he had no regrets about his handling of the pandemic, insisting the problems were “caused by the virus, not by people trying to solve the problem”.
In an apparent defense of his efforts as health secretary, Mr Blair said he had worked with Mr Hancock “a bit during the pandemic”, adding: “He was working hard, everyone was working hard on it”.
“The government did not cause Covid,” he added. “You can argue whether they should have handled it better or not and so on, and you can criticize any country just as well. The truth is we’re in the middle of the pack in terms of how we’ve done.”
Blair, whose legacy in office is often overshadowed by public anger over his role in the Iraq War, added: “I’ve also reached the stage in life where – there’s a certain level of meanness that I don’t find appealing when people talk about anyone in public life.”
In his justification for attending the show while parliament was in session, Mr Hancock argued that going into the jungle would allow him to reach voters in a new way.
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The former Labor leader suggested Mr Hancock may have had “a reason” – but added it was “quite an extreme way” to go about it, adding: “I don’t think people’s political views will be changed in a one way or another.
“But I think the problem with politics these days is how do you communicate with people when you go into fragmented social networks, the media, and when it’s quite difficult to get a message across to people who aren’t part of your circle, because the way mass media works -media today is essentially, it works by developing a group of people and essentially appealing to that constituency.
“And if you’re not paying attention, you don’t burst out and go talk to people who don’t agree with you. So I guess in that sense he has a point. But it’s a pretty extreme way to reach the public.”
Earlier on Monday, Business Secretary Grant Shapps suggested Mr Hancock’s decision to attend the show indicated he may have concluded his Westminster career was “pretty much done”.
“Why would you go and spend all this time in the jungle if you were going to continue in parliament? I’m just speculating,” Mr Shapps said. “But I think the right place for him is in parliament, looking after his constituents. It’s a very hard job to do if you’re completely out of touch.”
Elsewhere in News agencies podcast interview, Blair said he believed it was time for Keir Starmer’s Labor Party to admit that “there is a problem and it needs to be fixed” with the current Brexit arrangement.
“I think as a Labor Party we can afford to go to the next stage, which is, ‘there’s a problem, here are practical ways of fixing it that don’t disrupt the overall Brexit settlement’, but we just recognize that in today’s world , you have to have a relationship with the continent you belong to.
“Because you can change your political and legal relationship with Europe, but you can’t change your geography, your values or your interests.”