Business is brisk at a local Newmarket butchers where the town’s famous trademark sausages are a big seller. Less popular is tripe. “But that’s exactly what he’s been dishing out, pure tripe,” said Dave Diaper, 75, of his local MP Matt Hancock.
“I hope they feed him a whole kangaroo. Tail first,” he added. “There’s a few things in there I’d like to see him eat raw,” he said nodding towards the offal section and contemplating a more local Bushtucker Trial.
Hancock’s decision to appear on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, has not gone down well with the retired police officer, who until recently also acted as presiding officer at local elections. “I just think politics in general has been devalued so much recently,” he adds.
Leaving his West Suffolk constituents without parliamentary representation at this economically rocky time jars others too, judging from the comments of local shoppers.
Hancock’s justification, that he will bring politics to a younger, previously less engaged audience, “is a load of drivel,” said Anne Rogers, 65, an administrator. The way the show is edited, and its format, doesn’t lend itself to political discussion, she said. “It’s not the sort of programme where people talk politics.”
He might fare better with his other stated aim, raising awareness of dyslexia, she thought, “but I am disappointed”. There are pressing local issues, she said, including the recent axing of some local bus routes and a battle over plans for a giant local solar farm, that should command his attention.
To Matt Le Cocq, 25, who with colleague Oli Winfield, 30, is promoting an organic food business in the town’s Guineas Shopping Centre, Hancock’s decision merely confirmed a continued debasement of politics. “I am disappointed with politics in general,” he said. “It’s dumbing down politics for increasingly dumbed down voters,” added Le Cocq, who lives in a village 10 minutes from Newmarket. How did he feel? “Disillusioned”, he replied.
Brian Parsley, 75, a Remembrance poppy seller, voted for Hancock in the past, and would vote for him again, even though he believes “the man is an idiot”. “But look at the alternative”, he said.
He thought Hancock did “quite well in office”, as health secretary. “But I think the nail in the coffin was when Sunak walked right past him,” said Parsley, referring to the moment the newly appointed prime minister failed to shake Hancock’s hand outside No 10.
“I think he’s finished. There is talk of deselecting him, I’ve heard,” said Parsley. But he believes Hancock going into the jungle “is a brave thing to do”. “People will want to see him suffer in those Bushtucker Trials,” he added.
Labour councillor Pat Hanlon said Hancock should resign “so that the West Suffolk constituency can have a byelection and try to solve some of the problems in his largest town of Haverhill”. These included the axing of local bus routes, the bird flu epidemic affecting local turkey farms and issues over a local anaerobic digestion plant.
Andrew Stringer, the opposition Green party leader of Suffolk county council, said: “Boiling it down, this is more about self-serving than serving the public. Are we terribly surprised? I think there’s just a feeling of being let down frankly.
“Most insulting is when he said it was because he no longer has a job in frontline politics. Well, I’ll be in a village hall tonight, explaining policy to people. And I bet that my job will be made harder by the ridicule this clown is bringing upon politics.”