I’ve suffered from depression for about two years now. I have a similar story to most – some days are better than others, but the treatment does wonders and helps me identify triggers that are not always so evident. I had a late diagnosis and spent much of the early part suffering the typical debilitating symptoms. My personal hygiene dive-bombed and my confidence was severely chipped. I used to be a councillor, I spoke at national party conferences and I was no stranger to the heated and cut-throat nature of politics, yet suddenly I found myself unable to take the bins out on a Tuesday.
Rightly, political leaders are starting to take mental health seriously. Gone are the days when the remedy to illness was to “pull yourself together” and legislation now protects those who are suffering. Defending those with mental health is slowly becoming in vogue and not a moment too soon.
Ken Livingstone’s comments today towards Kevan Jones MP, a Parliamentarian who suffers from my affliction, have not just highlighted his attitude towards mental health, but the Labour leadership’s disparity in how they treat stigma. Had this been a homophobic comment, Ken would be suspended. Had it been misogynistic, he’d be suspended. Had it been racist… you get the point. Yet Ken is not suspended, he had to be dragged kicking and screaming before made an apology and he will still hold a key role in the upper echelons of the party.
I’ve experienced a lot in my years involved in politics, even homophobia. Today was the first time a politician said something that went beyond inciting my passions. Ken Livingstone’s comment wasn’t just something that made me angry, it’s the first time in a long time that a comment has actually made me feel hurt. There are many reasons for this, some of which should be obvious, but mental health is my weak spot. It’s the one impediment that is constantly with me, that gets in my way in my every-day life, that even occasionally makes me lose control. Yet according to Ken, insults attributed to people suffering from my condition are fair game.
Ken initially excused his lack of apology by pointing out that people in South London grew up to be rude to people who are rude to them, yet an experienced politician such as he must know that it wasn’t just Kevan who would have been upset by what he has said. A black person being rude to you would not excuse being racist; a gay person being rude to you would not excuse being homophobic. This is because that by using such language, you’re not just attacking them, you’re attacking every member of that group. You are abandoning your personal individual objection and committing an assault on an irrelevant attribute that person happens to hold. With his incendiary language, Ken has nonchalantly insulted every person suffering from a mental illness and he didn’t care about that, because the one person he directed it at wouldn’t say sorry to him.
An apology is not good enough. I don’t accept it, because it isn’t sincere. Ken said sorry because he was told to, not because he was. An apology would not be good enough if a senior party member had used racist or homophobic language, so why should it be good enough for those who use stigmatising language on mental health? If Corbyn is truly serious on mental health, or equality in general, his Labour party will put Ken Livingstone under the same disciplinary process that any other member would be subjected to in the same situation. If he doesn’t, then not only does that emphasise how he has one rule for his friends and one rule for everybody else, but it will make it abundantly clear that his words on mental health and equality are nothing more than hollow rhetoric.