Swept to power with a massive 59% of the votes, Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the UK official opposition on Saturday 12th September. A wave or resignations followed because of his traditional left wing views on many things (spelling the end of Blair’s more centrist New Labour).Yet his Shadow Cabinet including one pleasant surprise for mental health campaigners and others who feel that previous Parliaments have done little to address growing awareness of mental illness. What was that move? For the first time, there is a politician in Parliament whose job it is to fight for rights of people with mental illness, to propose policy on mental health services and to treat mental illness as just as important a problem as physical illness (we have always had a Health Secretary and Shadow Health Secretary).
Note: For the Americans here, a Shadow Cabinet is the selected inner circle of people who act as the opposition’s counterparts to government ministers. That means it will be their job to analyse, scrutinise and challenge policies of their equivalents in government. For example, when George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer – basically the countries accountant) announces cuts to public services, the welfare fund or increases in tax in the annual budget, it will be the job of the Shadow Chancellor to challenge his figures and make alternate suggestions behind which the opposition party will unite. They “shadow” government ministers in the same jobs.
That Shadow Mental Health Secretary is Luciana Berger (pictured right) and it will be her job to develop policy up to and including the next General Election (assuming she stays in the job for the next 4-5 years) on how the NHS will define and deliver on mental health issues. For many, the acknowledgement that there would even need to be a dedicated mental health minister has come at the right time. It was one of the platforms of Nick Clegg election campaign; as we know, the junior partners in the last Parliament’s coalition were giving an (unfair) kick in the gonads and punished for bending over backwards to too much Tory policy.
Had the Lib-Dems entered into power in a coalition with red or blue this time around, we may now already have a Minister for Mental Health. Alas, we must now wait until the next election in 2020.
Corbyn, for his part, seems incredibly astute to those who have mental health needs and are being failed by strict budget cuts to the NHS in this area.
All of us can go through depression; all of us can go through those experiences. Every single one of us in this Chamber knows people who have gone through it, and has visited people who have been in institutions and have fully recovered and gone back to work and continued their normal life… I dream of the day when this country becomes as accepting of these problems as some Scandinavian countries are, where one Prime Minister was given six months off in order to recover from depression, rather than being hounded out of office as would have happened on so many other occasions.
Jeremy Corbyn Feb 2015: The Independent
It may also prove a key battleground against the unpopular DWP which earlier this year was ridiculed and attacked for passing as fit for work several thousand people who subsequently died within a few months of being told to get job, some within just two weeks. It must be noted that most died of severe illness (more info here).