Andy McSmith's Diary: An MP revealing his depression? It hardly seems like news any more


Slowly, the stigma of mental illness is falling away. Lunacy, as it was then called, used to rank alongside imprisonment and bankruptcy as automatic grounds for disqualifying an MP from remaining in the Commons.

The Lunacy Act was invoked to remove an MP in 1916. One post-war member who had a breakdown took the precaution of getting a signed affidavit from his psychiatrist saying that he was cured before returning to Parliament. Afterwards, he would boast that he was the only MP who could prove he was sane.

In the USA, during the 1972 election, the Democratic candidate for the vice-presidency, Senator Thomas Eagleton, was revealed to have been treated for depression several years earlier. He was dropped from the Democratic ticket soon after.

Today, John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, was a visible presence around the House of Commons, receiving the good wishes of almost everyone who stopped to speak to him. The reason that he drew so much goodwill was that he had posted a blog that morning which declared: “My latest ailment shouldn’t be treated any differently from physical injuries. I am just going to come right out and say that I am clinically depressed. I went to see a doctor this week who prescribed me medication.”

That disclosure follows a remarkable debate on mental health in the Commons last year, during the course of which the Labour MP Kevan Jones spoke publicly for the first time about a bout of deep depression he had suffered 17 years earlier, and the Tory MP Charles Walker, who has obsessive compulsive disorder, came out with the startling statement: “I have been a practising fruitcake for 31 years.”

Mr Woodcock said that by the end of the day he was “overwhelmed” by the kind comments of others.

Mind the gap

The Sun’s second-day coverage of Tom Daley’s decision to come out focused on the man in his life, Dustin Lance Black, who, the paper noted, is “20 years older”. You can see why The Sun might think that a problem, when you recall the recent case of an ageing media mogul marrying a woman 37 years younger than him, which did not work out so well.

From the jaws of defeat...

It takes a politician’s skill to find the words that make a serious setback sound like victory.

In January, the executive of the Thirsk and Malton Conservative Association voted not to adopt the sitting MP, Anne McIntosh, as their candidate for 2015.

It was up to her to decide what to do next, but months went by with nothing happening, until the Conservative Party’s national board ruled that her future will be decided by a ballot of local party members.

She then issued a press release proudly proclaiming that she had been “invited to put her name forward as Conservative candidate”.

That only made the president of the local association, James Holt, a farmer from Hutton-le-Hole, even more cross than he already was. He is quoted in the Northern Echo calling her statement a “travesty of the facts”.

She responded: “My statement is factually correct according to the rules. Of course I have my detractors: don’t we all?”

Bad sex, but worse ignorance

The most shocking thing about Tuesday night’s Bad Sex Award ceremony in Westminster was not the explicit words and racy descriptions read out deadpan by the actors, nor the failure of the winner, Manil Suri, to be there in person to receive his trophy: it was that the night’s compère, Alec Waugh, did not know who Woody Guthrie was.

That is like meeting an educated American who does not know that Waugh’s grandfather wrote satire.

Guthrie may have written a bad sex passage in a forgotten novel, but he also wrote a lovely lyrical tribute to the actress, Ingrid Bergman – “This old mountain it’s been waiting all its life for you to work it, for your hand to touch the hard rock, Ingrid Bergman.”

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