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Can TV humiliation redeem a reputation?


Those trying to repair a damaged reputation must weigh-up the benefits of quick fixes against longer-term rehabilitation by re-earning credibility and trust the hard way.

We have often visited the topic of reputation rehabilitation; it permeates our everyday advice as the core of crisis survival. For our corporate clients who encounter crisis we touch on this issue in terms of operational resilience for the business and securing a stable future trajectory.

For our individual clients we advise on personal and professional reparation; the right to be forgotten online, if appropriate, and going forward with the right balance of hindsight contrition and foresight dynamism. But crisis survival isn’t linear and those with reputations to repair may approach the task in a variety of ways.

Cue stage left Matt Hancock, incumbent Member of Parliament for West Suffolk, who last year resigned as Health Secretary after breaching the Covid-19 social distancing regulations he imposed on the nation. Fresh from being snubbed for a handshake from Rishi Sunak on the steps of 10 Downing Street and failing to land a job in his Cabinet – and with only 4 precious weeks to go until his book launch – what else to do except spend three of those weeks in front of a home viewing audience of 9 million as the latest campmate in I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

The weighing-up process is evident; he will have known that the public sentiment against him is so strong – touching as it does on so many collective raw nerves of individual sacrifice in the name of social distancing – that there was to be no swift rehabilitation unless the public sees him for long enough that they decide that his breach of trust was rogue for his good character.

Having the chance to be on screen for 3 weeks will, he will have rationalised, give him the chance to show the biography-purchasing-public that he’s “a good guy really”.

Hancock’s circumstances are a curious mix of individual-but-belonging-to-us-all; not only has he lost a senior public-serving role in circumstances involving the breach of public trust, but also he still retains a senior public-serving role as MP for his constituency. Quite the conundrum. Was he free to go or not? His voting electorate did not authorise him to take a reality TV sabbatical or to wilfully lose the whip and become an independent. While he eats witchetty grubs and takes slime showers to prioritise his personal agenda, he has severed the link of his West Suffolk constituents to have their problems raised in the Commons. A segue from politics to celebrity is not a given.

Hancock is chasing some sort of shooting star of reputation recovery; that magical moment where hearts and minds are changed via the edited medium of reality television, but in doing so he has dismissed the idea of solid, careful, longer-term reputation repair by way of hard graft. If he can line the coffers while the sun shines and grow his nest egg out of controversy, then who would deny him? But if he is signing-up to this as a route to longer-term credible employment opportunities he should not be under the illusion that reality television decontaminates equally.