The last time I went to the House of Lords, just before the summer break, it was for a mental health event hosted by Lords speaker John McFall. I am off there again this week, this time too for a mental health event. Perhaps the Lords are trying to tell MPs something, namely that mental health matters a lot more than they seem to think.
That is without doubt the central message of the Rethink Mental Illness survey and report I am helping to launch. The parties would do well to study it as an election nears.
What will surprise nobody here in Crumbling Concreteland, where practically everything the government touches turns to rot, is that only one in five people believe mental health services are working well, and by a huge majority they hold the government, rather than the NHS, responsible. What might surprise some is that so far as the general public is concerned, they want mental health far higher up the political agenda, and that it is far more of a vote-influencer than the politicians might believe. Four in 10 people say mental health policies will be an important factor in making up their mind on who to vote for at the next general election.
Overall, mental health ranks sixth in the list of issues identified as important by the public, behind things like the cost of living and the NHS but ahead of crime, education and (whisper it) Brexit. For younger generations mental health is an even higher priority – the fourth top issue for people under 40.
The report, by More In Common, is based on a series of polls over the last three years studying the views of seven segments of the population, the names of which give you a fair idea of whom they are talking about. Progressive Activists (I think that might be me, and a fair few of you), Civic Pragmatists, Disengaged Battlers, Established Liberals, Loyal Nationals, Disengaged Traditionalists, and Backbone Conservatives.
What should interest Labour, in their pursuit of Red Wall voters, are the attitudes of the group called Loyal Nationals, the segmentation with the highest proportion of ex-Labour voters who switched to the Tories in 2019. Almost half say mental health will be an important factor in deciding who they vote for next time round. For ex-Tories currently saying they will vote Labour they are even more likely (57% versus 40% average) to say mental health is an important deciding issue. Only we Progressive Activists feel more strongly about it.
Labour are well ahead on mental health already – 61% to 39% – but a really clear, radical plan to put it centre stage before the election could reap enormous political dividends. The key is to expose the damage done by the Tories, and the repair required to turn the mental illness crisis service we have into a proper, preventive mental health service.
In other heartening news, the polling shows that if the Tory culture warriors and their media lapdogs try to add mental health to their “woke” narrative, it would backfire with all but the Backbone Conservatives. They are the ones likely to vote Tory no matter the damage done by the likes of Johnson, Truss and Sunak.
Can you even begin to imagine the outcry if, under a Labour government, ex-leader Neil Kinnock had spoken in support of people who were committing criminal damage aimed at undermining a policy that had been democratically delivered? Yet former Tory leader Iain Duncan-Smith did exactly that, saying he was happy for his constituents to damage the equipment needed to monitor the new ULEZ measures in London, with barely a squeak of outrage.
Meanwhile, Duncan-Smith was also out and about on the issue of China, condemning the foreign secretary’s visit to Beijing as “Project Kowtow”, and insisting his Tory colleague was indulging in appeasement.
You can listen to one of the many interviews he did on the subject on LBC’s website. I think the online headline writer was in full troll mode: “‘We are a country that believes in the rule of law’ – Sir Iain Duncan-Smith on trade with China.” We believe in the rule of law… except when we don’t.
Alan Haworth, the Labour peer who died last week when he and his wife, Maggie, were on a cruise off Iceland, was without doubt my favourite son of Blackburn. I am ashamed to say that in my diaries, I mis-spelled his name – Howarth not Haworth – which is especially annoying because he was responsible for some great moments. “An ordinary house in an ordinary street” became our usual greeting – “hello” is so boring – because that was my description of his and Maggie’s house in Hackney, where we had what the papers like to call “secret meetings” with Princess Diana.
Maggie, you see, was Diana’s divorce lawyer, Alan was secretary to the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Diana had wanted to meet up with us ahead of the 1997 election. So dinner in their kitchen it was. “She helped clear the table – very ‘mucking in’, she said, laughing – and Alan Howarth (sic) said ‘Imagine a lad from Blackburn like me having his plate cleared away by Princess Diana.’’
He also had a caustic analysis of how TB was managing the evening, saying that I was “cutting through the crap” whereas his old mate the party leader was “behaving like a dickhead, telling her how wonderful she was in Angola.”
Interviewing the boxer Anthony Joshua last week, inevitably our shared love and admiration of Muhammad Ali came up. Was there ever a greater physical specimen, a more beautiful fighter, a more poetic trash-talker? No. As AJ said, there has never been anyone like him, and there never will be again.
We agreed that Donald Trump was no slouch when it comes to trash-talking either, though on balance this is a skill I would prefer to see in a boxer with a fight to promote than a candidate for the White House.
It seems, however, that their skills in boastful bombast are not the only thing that the world’s greatest-ever boxer and America’s worst-ever president have in common. In his prime, Ali was six feet three inches tall and weighed 214 pounds. And guess what Trump said his vital statistics were in the paperwork for his pending court case in Georgia? His measurements happened to match those of the man regularly voted the greatest sportsman of all time.
Not only is Trump now the perfect shape. He is also, surely, the greatest dieter of all time. When he was indicted in New York five months ago, he weighed in at 240 pounds. Oh, and he was an inch shorter in April, too. Quite something though, isn’t it, that even when filling in a basic form, he is incapable of telling the truth?
Trevor Phillips badgered me to be on the panel for his first Sunday morning show on Sky News, where I found myself sitting next to Rachel Johnson. MP turned prisoner turned priest Jonathan Aitken was also on the show, and when Rachel said it would be a good thing if all MPs spent time in prison, my “especially your brother” was surely the most open of open goals, especially as I had made clear in the green room beforehand that Boris Johnson surely deserved a spell behind bars for his many misdemeanours in public office.