When you start a fight, you should choose to fight the side who is damaging you or the cause the most. You should also make sure you have the right backing and tools at hand to win the fight.
Luciana Berger has decided to both ignore the current Government’s reneging on spending for mental Health, whilst also choosing to attack Norman Lamb who has done more to put mental health on the political radar than anyone, whilst she has…well…what, exactly?
The point-scoring attempt this week to blame Norman for the continuing crisis in mental health services finally broke the straw that I’ve been carefully balancing for a while now.
For years, and still now, Norman has talked of the outrageous discrimination against people with mental ill health in our health service, due to the way funding was set up to prioritise physical health treatment. Norman and the Liberal Democrats, in coalition, introduced the first ever waiting times and gave “parity of esteem” to physical and mental health within the NHS. They are rarely separate issues anyway.
Norman, the party, I or others involved never once claimed this resolves all the issues with mental health services. There was no claim this was a one-time fix that cured all the problems, nor was there a claim that money thus magically appeared to resolve the funding crises.
What it did do, however, is finally put mental health on the political radar. For decades, charities, campaigners and activists in all parties and – perhaps more important – those of no party have been screaming for politicians to accept mental health services need better support and funding, and that stigma for those with mental ill health need to be allowed to seek help without fear of being turned away or ridiculed. The 1 in 4 statistic is not one I personally promote, as I think it’s 3 or 4 out of 4!
Norman is highly respected in the health service by service providers, users and charities. They quite rightly campaign for more funding, better access to treatment and reducing stigma. They quite rightly challenge all of us in politics, including Norman, to do better and to do it now. Norman and others opened the door, and many are eternally grateful for this. This doesn’t mean the fight is ended – it means the fight gears up.
I value my friendship and professional work with Norman. I advise Luciana to consider strongly that her fellow party members and the public would be best served by her seeking to work with people like Norman (and Alistair Campbell, within Labour) to hold this government to account for reneging on its funding agreements for mental health from the March coalition budget and to seek to improve services and reduce stigma.
Political point-scoring on the NHS must come to an end. Trying to score points on mental health services when you have no real credit to your name yet in the field is disappointing, hurtful and helps nobody. If Luciana truly cares about mental health, she’ll help the fight, not set it back.
Collaboration is needed. Sniping in an attempt to build up your own political career is not.
* Lee Dargue is a Vice-Chair of the West Midlands Regional Executive and an honorary Vice President of Liberal Youth.