Lamb majors on mental health and trumpets hope. Is that wise?

Yesterday I covered Tim Farron’s new publication setting out his political credo; today it’s time to look at Norman Lamb’s most recent statements. For Lamb, his record on mental health continues to feature heavily as with his piece for Politics Home:

I want Liberal Democrats to lead the way in giving those suffering from mental ill health and those with learning disabilities and autism the right to make meaningful decisions about their care and support – to take control, not to be treated as second class citizens. For those who are terminally ill, surely it should be for them to decide when to end their life, not the state. Liberal Democrats in Local Government want to put power in the hands of communities rather than doing things to people. Giving hundreds of thousands the choice of decent housing.  And making sure that when people choose whom to vote for, their vote will actually count for something.

His repeated references to mental health are both a strength and a weakness for his leadership pitch. A strength in that Lamb has a good record in government to point to, including helping change the national agenda on such issues and with many heartfelt individual stories from people he’s helped.

There’s also a more subtle subtext about the fact that he was in government with the unspoken message that he was ready to get stuck in whilst Tim Farron preferred to stay out with clean hands.

But it’s also a weakness for Norman Lamb because the general election result has just demonstrated that having very popular policies on mental health for which the party secured a fair amount of press coverage didn’t really work for winning votes.

Which is where Lamb’s references to highly controversial issues such as the right to die come in. They’d certainly provide a high profile campaigning platform for the party that captures our belief in personal control over our own lives. But would they also, like mental health, not really be what the party needs to win votes? That’s an important question for members.

Of course, Lamb’s pitch is wider than this and it’s good to see that (unlike, oddly, Tim Farron) he’s been making the case for campaigning for individuals against overweening power both in the public and private sectors:

Nearly a decade ago, I won a long battle with the Labour government to force the then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to publish lists of the individuals he met.  That principle now extends across all government ministers – and is crucial in holding ministers to account for the way that decisions are made.

And as Business Minister under the Coalition, I campaigned to secure agreement across Europe to force big corporations in the extractive industry to publish details of their payments to Governments, to tackle corruption and hold companies to account.

Lamb has also made some good points about learning from Nigel Farage:

Lamb told [Lib Dem] activists: “There are remarkable things happening these days, just look at the rise and fall of corporations. The big companies that are household names one day and disappear the next. The startups that suddenly catch fire and become enormous new organisations.

“The same is happening in politics. Look at what happened with the SNP, look at what happened indeed with a different force, one we reject entirely. Nigel Farage communicated a view to people in a way that got people listening,” Lamb said.

He adding: “Now, his message is one of division, ours is one of uniting people.

“There are so many people out there ready to hear from us. And actually wanting to hear a progressive liberal voice in opposition to a right-wing Conservative government. With the the Labour Party in a state of internal turmoil themselves and likely to face many years, I suspect, of infighting, the responsibility of us to step up to the plate and make the case for progressive liberal politics, the politics of hope not the politics of fear, is overwhelming.”

It’s a political cliche in such contests as this to talk about hope being good and fear being bad, so I hope those last comments about hope and fear are just some throwaway rhetoric because the reality is that Fear is inevitable. Fear is respectable. Live with it or don’t fight elections.


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