Stamping out dirty election tactics
Posted Wednesday 24 March 2010
I joined MPs and leaders from the mental health world on 22 March at the launch of the first ‘mental health election compact’.
In the glitzy surroundings of Speakers House, we celebrated another step forward in the battle against stigma and discrimination – this time focusing on the behaviour of MPs during the run up to the general election.
The compact effectively bans politicians from making slurs about opponents’ mental health while campaigning. Those who sign promise not to make discriminatory comments to score political advantage, and to challenge ‘canteen culture harassment’ which sees negative comments made in the course of everyday conversation.
Mind, along with other mental health organisations, has been lobbying for months to make this happen, and we are delighted that Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have all signed up.
In an ideal world, such a compact wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. As Mr Speaker pointed out at the event, politicians wouldn’t dream of referring to their opponents’ gender, race, sexuality or physical health in their election campaigning. So why should it be acceptable to make remarks, however subtle, about opponents’ mental health?
Of course, it’s not acceptable – but it does happen. Who can forget the car-crash of an interview in which Andrew Marr quizzed Gordon Brown about his mental state? And this was not a one-off; political blogs and websites on all sides are full of speculation and innuendo, and I have personally overheard many an inappropriate comment made, particularly after hours at the political party conferences. Let’s hope the compact helps stamp out this poor behaviour.
And let’s also hope that it will go some way in encouraging new MPs to speak openly about their own mental health. As I’ve pointed out in previous blog posts, MPs are just as susceptible to mental health problems as the rest of us, but I could count on one hand the number that are willing to talk about it publicly.
At the event, comedienne Ruby Wax rightly pointed out (in a far wittier style) that voters need MPs they can relate to - people who have experienced the same things as them, and who represent them in the truest sense. So MPs that pretend to be immune to mental ill health serve neither themselves nor their constituents. With a bit of luck the next generation will be brave enough to recognise this.
Louise Kirsh, Parliamentary Officer
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