The head of Matt Hancock’s local Conservative party asked the chief whip not to reinstate him as a Tory MP almost a week before the former health secretary announced he would not run for his seat again.
Mr Hancock confirmed his plans to stand down at the next election earlier today, having returned to Westminster from his stint on ITV reality show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here – a move that saw him stripped of the party whip.
In a letter to the prime minister, the MP said he wanted to “do things differently” after discovering “a whole new world of possibilities” and “new ways for me to communicate with people of all ages and from all backgrounds”.
He also wrote that he had spoken to the chief whip, Simon Hart, last week “in which he made clear he would restore the whip in due course – but that is not necessary”.
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But a letter published on the West Suffolk Conservative Association’s website showed its president, Terry Wood, had written to Mr Hart himself, asking him to keep Mr Hancock out of the party,
“At an officers group meeting held on 30th November 2022 a vote was taken that ruled that the officer group have no confidence in Matt Hancock, our sitting MP, and we would request that the whip is not restored to him,” he wrote.
“This vote was brought about following feedback from the constituents in West Suffolk, advising that by virtue of recent events they consider Matt Hancock not fit to represent this constituent.”
A source close to Mr Hancock dismissed the letter as “irrelevant”, adding: “It hasn’t been sent on behalf of the association, and the chief whip told Matt he was going to get the whip back.
“Matt had already decided not to stand again when it came to light.”
But there were other signs of a tense relationship between the MP and his local party after he announced he was standing down, with Tory Cllr Lance Stanbury saying it was “inevitable” after he had been “heavily criticized” by members.
Another councilor, Ian Houlder, also described Mr Hancock of being “up the creek without a paddle”, adding: “He was looking at his options quite rightly as anybody would and he’s gone for the money.”
The former health secretary’s local news outlet, Suffolk News, had last week reported that Newmarket Town Council was to send a letter to Mr Hancock asking him to resign following a vote.
It reported that before the vote, independent Cllr Lisa Crissall, said: “We, the constituents of West Suffolk feel extremely let down by our MP Matt Hancock in his decision to take part in this reality TV show.
“This decision would lead us to believe that this is the career path he would prefer to take, as a celebrity instead of fulfilling his role as Minister of Parliament for West Suffolk.
“We would ask that he resign his seat and allow someone who cares about their constituents to fill the role.”
Mr Hancock was stripped of the Conservative whip after it emerged he was joining the reality TV show, prompting speculation about his political future and whether he would stand again at the next general election which must take place before January 2025.
The former health secretary is currently sitting as an independent MP in the House of Commons.
Just a few days ago Mr Hancock’s spokesperson told the Telegraph newspaper: “He has no intention of standing down or stepping away from politics.”
The MP for West Suffolk has held his seat since 2010 and in the 2019 snap general election increased his majority to 23,194.
He becomes the latest in a growing list of MPs who have announced they will not seek re-election when the country next heads to the polls.
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How does the number of MPs stepping down compare to previous years?
Those who have announced their intention to leave parliament in the next few years range from the longest standing female MP, Labour’s Harriet Harman, to one of those only elected at the last election in 2019, Conservative MP Dehenna Davison.
Conservative MP Sajid Javid is another former cabinet minister to have announced his intention to step down.
Mr Javid, who was unsuccessful in his bid for Conservative Party leadership earlier this year, said in a statement: “It has been a decision I have wrestled with for some time.”