Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 30 October 2012

What Ed Said...

Yes I did read Ed Milliband’s speech to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and I’m not sure how impressed they must have been by it, either.

Talking is cheaper, so let’s talk, seemed to be at the thrust of his policy for improved mental health care.

He also seemed to be saying that Jeremy Clarkson’s a tw*t and Janet Street-Porter is a cynic; well, I think we probably had an inkling.

I suppose it’s to be expected for politicians to tailor their speeches to their audiences to some degree or another, but I can’t think of a single audience, and certainly not one as educated and sophisticated as a bunch of mental health professionals, who’d want to hear a politician of the calibre that a leader of a major political party ought to be spouting generalisations on the subject that audience really ought to know inside-out. 

I think this speech was, at best, ill-judged, and, at worst, insulting. Did Milliband honestly think that he could tell these men and women anything they didn’t already know, more intimately than he did, in more detail, in a more nuanced and much subtler way?

Of course, the truth is that this speech was not intended for this audience; this speech was intended for reporting in the national press for the domestic voting audience. This was Ed Milliband having a crack at the popularity contest, and he probably won some decent people over in the process.

This thing isn’t black and white.

People don’t turn to drugs or become criminals simply because they’re mentally ill, and it’s irresponsible to suggest that’s the case. People are not unemployable, unproductive or a liability simply because they have mental health issues, and yet that idea is reinforced in several paragraphs in Ed Milliband’s address, yesterday. Life is almost always much more complicated than that.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the consensus must be that mental health issues must be dealt with effectively by the individuals affected by them and by the healthcare professionals they interface with, and there are still taboos, and there are still gaps in that care. I believe those gaps can be plugged by a clearer understanding and acceptance of mental health issues, and there is, of course, work to be done to ensure that people’s needs are met, and that people are looked after and made well.

I don’t want to hear Ed Milliband talking on this subject or, for that matter, on any other subject that makes me wonder what the hell his motives are. I want him to talk like the leader of the Labour Party. I want him to talk like a political leader of the first water. I want him to talk in grand, sweeping terms. I want to hear about ideas. I don’t want him to fuss over one thing this week and another the next. I want him to talk consistently about the big things. I want to hear about the singular ideology that matters.

When did our leaders stop surrounding themselves with specialist advisors and cabinets full of people who knew what they were supposed to be focusing on and begin to try to be Jacks of all trades? When did our leaders stop trusting themselves to delegate and stop trusting the people they delegated to?

I wonder if they stopped doing those things when they stopped being trustworthy? I wonder?


  1. One of the things that bothered me was the examples he used. Now I know Clarkson is a divisive character, but what he actually said did not bear much resemblance to what Miliband reported. The point of Clarkson's complaint against railway suicides was that in putting yourself in front of a train, huge amounts of harm have been done to the drivers of those trains and has even led to the suicide of train drivers in the past, having never been able to fully recover from having a person burst against their windscreen.

    He even went out of his way to state his sympathy for depression, and while of course anyone is free to agree or disagree, a politician who one day expects to be PM should never take a person's statement, whether satirical in nature or not, and take it out of its actual context for the sake of point scoring.

    It's lazy, it's weak and it's anti-intellectual, three things I certainly do not want in a Prime Minister.

  2. to some degrees it's also a shame to see how easily mental illness is bandied around in the public arena too. I often hear about people being described as crazy or insane, or treated as if they're "mental" because of what they do, when it's not related in anyway to mental illness. now we have to say things like "clinically depressed" because people talk about being depressed just because they're sad, which isn't quite the same thing. I guess it's no surprise that the average person can be so flippant. it's another one of those situations where it's easier to reach for a cliched stereotype than actually learn something, or heaven forbid, think it through rationally.

    don't even get me started on how often the legal system tries to use it as an excuse for crimes committed ...