Not relegated to the fringes?
Posted Friday 5 October 2012
Politically, it may turn out to have been an important Labour party conference. Ed Miliband’s notes-free speech has now been dissected by the politicos and the media, and his performance was widely considered to be competent, confident, and emotive. Many commentators now consider him to be an authoritative leader of his party and potentially a future prime minister. Well, we’ll have to wait and see how things develop.
Again, we will need to see how things develop, but when we talked and debated with MPs and shadow ministers at conference this week, there was certainly reason to be hopeful that our message is getting through.
One of the issues everyone seemed to know about was welfare reform. MPs had many stories from their own constituency surgeries about people who had been declared fit for work, when they were obviously anything but.
These backbenchers were clearly angry at what they saw as a terrible attack on the legitimate income of people at their most vulnerable. One MP reported that he had even set up his own welfare rights adviser to help people with their appeals because other services weren’t available locally.
We heard Ed Miliband too, in his leader’s speech, say it was: ...incredibly important that, to be One Nation, we must show compassion and support for all those who cannot work - particularly the disabled men and women of our country.
And yet Labour as a party has been too quiet about what’s happening to disability benefits. It is as if the ‘scrounger’ rhetoric, the ‘we must reduce the wasteful welfare budget’ narrative that we see in some of the papers has put them on the back foot. As one of the backbench MPs that we spoke to said:
It is a question of leadership – this is an issue that Labour need to speak up on.
We encouraged all of the MPs we met to challenge the rhetoric locally, to raise it in the Labour Party, and to join us in fighting for a better Work Capability Assessment.
On the healthcare front, it was interesting to hear Andy Burnham’s developing plans for the NHS and mental health. Andy Burnham was Secretary of State for health before the election, and he has shown a growing interest in mental health. In our meetings with him at conference, and in his big speech on Wednesday, he said he wants to see:
...an NHS with mental health at its heart, not relegated to the fringes but ready to help people deal with the pressure of modern living.
And he is starting to develop ideas about how this could be done.Well, again we’ll have to wait and see what comes – the next election is still a long way off, and at the moment it’s hard to say which party will come out on top.
Either way, we have made some useful contacts to follow up on and we’re pleased to see that mental health appears to be something that more MPs are interested in.
I’d encourage you to contact your MP and ensure that he or she is also taking up the issues that matter to you.
Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations, Mind
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