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Huge thanks to the BBC3 audience of mentally ill youngsters for re-igniting my passion

Posted on 22 October 2014 | 6:10am

Oh my Lord, it is more than a month since I posted a blog, the morning after the Scottish independence referendum. That has to be the longest – yes, it definitely is the longest – I have ever gone without sticking a few thoughts down here.

Lots of reasons. Been working overseas a fair bit. Also trying to finish my next book on Winners, and getting the next batch of GQ interviews done. But the main reason, to be honest, is because of how hacked off I have been about political debate since the referendum.

The referendum actually posed a huge opportunity to harness that amazing energy that came from two sides having a passionate argument about something that matters. Instead, what did David Cameron do? Come out and launch a silly, short-term self-serving, long-term self-defeating ploy about ‘English votes for English laws.’

There he stood, having just managed to win the referendum largely thanks to non-Tories, and he comes up with a short-term plan to inflict more long-term damage on the Union.

Then there has been the debate on Europe and immigration as a result of a couple of Tory MPs defecting to UKIP. More pandering to the Little Englanders. More narrow, small-minded politics. More evidence that Cameron will sacrifice any national interest to Operation Pander. It is pathetic, and it all started when he gave in on the referendum thinking it would silence UKIP, when what it actually did was put booster rockets under them. This was, as I and many others said at the time, blindingly obvious to anyone who knows that Strategy begins with S, and Tactics begin with T.

Then there is the debate on the economy, where as several economists and commentators but alas too few Labour politicians have pointed out, the Tories are setting out their latest big lies about debt they have not controlled, a deficit on which they have failed to meet their own objectives, justifying their massive cuts to public services on the basis of a recovery that few outside their own gilded circle of bankrolling bankers and hedge funders actually feel.

So there you go. I was down on politics. And I want to thank the young people in the BBC Free Speech audience last night for getting me back up again. Well done BBC3 for having a programme which in terms of energy, and quality of contributions from the audience, was streets ahead of BBC1’s Question Time. The programme deserves a transfer.

Janan Ganesh in the FT had a brilliant piece in the FT yesterday about the ‘miserablism’ that drives so much of political debate in the UK. Last night restored my faith that when it comes to young people, they have lost none of the passion for debate that politicians are meant to inspire rather than drown.

The entire audience was made up of young people with an admitted mental health condition. That in itself created a fantastic energy. Young people, in a world where mental illness still has so much taboo and stigma attached to it, prepared to be open and proud of themselves, and in so doing every single one of them is helping bring down the walls of taboo and stigma.

The panellists – Zoe Hardman, writer Jon Ronson, Sarah Wollaston (fast becoming my favourite Tory MP) and I – also had mental health issues, and mental health was the main focus for over half the programme. There were some sad cases, but it was wonderful to be  in a place where these youngsters could talk so openly, so movingly, so articulately about their conditions and what they thought of the way adults in the health services and political world made of them. At one point, virtually every hand in the room was raised as the entire audience tried to get involved.

I got a bit of a kicking when we got onto the subject of convicted rapist Ched Evans, and whether he should be allowed to play again, and I was defending the fundamental principle of restorative punishment. Even my daughter who had come along for the evening was howling me down. But the kicking was worth it just to feel that energy and passion for debate once more. I had to run out to rush to a dinner for my son’s birthday, but frankly Grace and I could have stayed all evening to talk to these young people from South London who made the programme so fresh, so different to the miserabilism that abounds whenever the middle ages and over are in charge.

Nick Clegg is on next week. He is bound to get a tough time over tuition fees and much else besides. But I bet he leaves the place feeling glad he went. Those at the top in Britain, whether in politics, business, media or whatever, tend to a caricatured view of the young as a problem. Whether the 16 and 17-year olds who energised the debate in Scotland, or the audience last night, it is pretty clear to me they are the solution.

For those who didn’t see it, here is last night’s programme.

Here is what I said about Scotland the morning of the referendum result, and Westminster’s handling of the issue bears me out.



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  • Michele

    I know AC is confident with trusted prescribed meds but I never was during a few years when I was down. I was possibly prescribed the wrong stuff, could it ever have seemed that what I needed was speed?

    Spices are what I put my improved mindset down to, they’ve knocked up my metabolism and obviously brought out the serotonin, I always wondered during all the years spent working back and forth in India how so many of the poorest people spend their lives grinning – it couldn’t all be down to obeying the gods and displaying satisfaction in this incarnation?

    Get yer chilli oil and flakes out people 😀 mine stopped me ever waiting for a bus even though home’s up a 45 degs hill ….. :-l

  • Michele

    Off the main topic but mentioned elsewhere (AC twitter?) and relevant to yoof and the risks ‘out there’.

    I don’t believe his employers should let Ched Evans (underline following) represent them (end underline) again.
    Yes he has ‘served his time’. Yes the girl was drunk. Yes she should have avoided being helpless and not protecting her body and her self.
    Yes HE decided she was available (but not valued) because her silly recklessness erm ….. should be 100% for his advantage?

    But most of all YES he thought his status AT that time entitled him to do what he wanted with someone who did not value her self as much as he valued his self.
    He can never ‘clear’ his name.
    He decided his fame and ability made his value higher than hers and that her being drunk would/should serve her right,
    I doubt he would think differently if the same conditions presented themselves to him again any night (soon or not) but hopefully despite his vile lack of empathy I wonder whether ‘he’ thinks the same way when drunk blokes get beaten up and if he has ever taken part and if not why not?

    • reaguns

      Have to agree. When you think of the things that people in football talk about as a big deal, sacking offences in their own rights, such as being “disloyal” and what not, then what about this?!

      Gordon Strachan, wish I could find the link, made a brilliant statement about this once, talking about players and managers talking about disrespect and disloyalty, talking about players diving and so forth, talking about morals and players being role models, when far worse things were going on – Strachan pointed out that there were players doing far worse things, such as sleeping with teammates wives.

      Can’t remember the examples given, but I would say look at John Terry who slept with his mate and teammate for club and country’s wife (immoral and surely bad for team morale) who got off lightly, yet when Wayne Rooney said his teammates weren’t good enough players (a blatant TRUTH) that was the end of the world?!

      Now we have a person convicted of a genuinely evil act. I suspect his treatment will have nothing to do with morals but Sheffield United will make a judgement based on:
      1. How good a footballer Ched Evans is.
      2. What they think they can get away with it.

      Ie if a vauxhall conference journeyman committed this crime he would be a pariah, but if Messi or Ronaldo did it, their employers would not just let a £100m asset get taken off their hands for free, regardless of “morals”.

    • Michele

      Re the abuse in this case and elsewhere and the need for education about ‘consent’.
      It has to come from someone conscious and competent as well as old enough. Not an opinion of mine, it’s a fact.

      It;s also irrelevant if parents ‘allow’ a relationship, an under-age person is subject to the protection of the state so a sexual act is still illegal. Lots of countries, even in Europe, have lower ages – go there freaks …..

      Maybe it’s time that knowledge about it was reminded to everybody every single day, printed on till receipts and wage slips …… all along toilet rolls!?

      It doesn’t matter how old someone looks or says they are, it’s a legal requirement to know for sure and unless a ‘defendant’ is actually able to convince their ‘honest’ barrister how they were misled none should stoop to take their case (but we know some will).

  • Gillian C.

    An interesting programme. Thanks for putting up the link to it AC.

    Can’t say I was surprised at the remark Jeremy Hunt made to you regarding depression. There’s a word that describes people that have no empathy and probably no sympathy either towards other people. I’ve long suspected that JH fits the profile of a sociopath, to put it mildly.

    This Ched Evans thing is a minefield. Regarding what he was convicted of i.e. rape, part of me thinks well what the hell did his ‘victim’ think was going to happen when she went to his hotel room? Did she think they were going to have a nice game of tiddly winks or watch TV?
    But, on the other hand she may have been stupid and naive as well as drunk and this I believe is the important bit, a gentleman (remember them) would never have taken advantage of a drunken woman. Maybe he should have had the foresight to know it would end up in court, given the number of foot-ballers who have found themselves in the same situation.

    Whether he should return to his job as a high profile foot-baller, I don’t see why he shouldn’t. He’s served his time in prison. Having said that though, if he was a policeman or a school teacher he wouldn’t be allowed to return to his former job. It’s a tricky situation.

    • Ehtch

      Ched Evans should go and play in Europe, to get away from it all. She was plastered, he no doubt he was half-plastered, and things happened. How crossed the wires were, most probably they both can’t remember in the heat of the moment. The days of pop groupies getting bed notches must be over, just in case…

      • Michele

        I honestly don’t believe that women infatuated with famous ‘men’ are looking for what you call ‘bed notches’.
        I’m sure it’s more about them feeling ‘status’ for having been chosen by a person with :-s multiple choices and ‘look at meeee he chose meeee’.
        Having not read much about the incident itself till now I’m puzzled as I don’t understand the term ‘non-violent’ that’s been used.
        Even if there was no slapping or tripping or actual brutality the term ‘rape’ re a woman over AoC must surely have involved the use of differing body weights and force – let’s not ameliorate that word by disguising it as ‘not violent’.

        • Ehtch

          I don’t want to say too much Michele, since I was only a brylcream young lad in the RAF, but…. say no more Huw!

          • Michele

            Does it not occur to you that sex on a first-date (or pick up) is less about a notch for yourself than about you being used? We know women are less prone to ‘hand relief’.

            The man in this case probably thought he was being ‘led on’, maybe he was, till the woman thought better of it with a stranger.

            As for all the garbage about ‘paid his debt to SOCIETY’ – every time I hear that I could WAIL. There is nothing more literally invasive than forced sex and if you’d ever felt just the risk of it you’d be finding the situation less right for your braggy joshing.

          • Michele

            Sorry about the bad temper next one up or down Ehtch ….. can;t have had enough daylight 🙁

    • Michele

      Upped for what I read before I read the last para 🙁

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  • reaguns

    Of course Alastair, heaven forbid that the little people should be given an actual say on what happens, doesn’t Cameron realise that he, Osborne, Boris Johnson, Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Ed Miliband and Alastair Campbell all know better than any pesky plebs who need to be told what’s good for them?!

    I shall not be voting for Ukip for obvious reasons (still too unsavoury as a group, even if I agree with them on Europe) – and as things stand I will not be voting for the tories or lib dems (who have both promised referendums in the past then gone back on their word), and obviously I cannot vote for Labour who will not even offer a referendum. But should we get a referendum, I will vote for out.

    However I have to say that I do not see us ever getting a referendum, which is depressing, but if we do I can only see the rich and the establishment winning it, and continuing to be able to hire cheaper staff than if they had to pay a british oik to work for them.

  • reaguns

    “big lies about debt they have not controlled, a deficit on which they have failed to meet their own objectives, justifying their massive cuts to public services on the basis of a recovery that few outside their own gilded circle of bankrolling bankers and hedge funders actually feel.”

    Good old AC eh, he never fails to give ammo to the right, lying himself whilst accusing them of lying in the same sentence! So let’s put down a few facts to counterbalance the words of Balls, Miliband, Cameron, Osborne and Campbell.

    1. It’s true, debt and deficit have not been controlled. So then Alastair, does that mean you agree that the deficit is A Bad Thing, in which case you must think your own lot are even worse? Or does the deficit still not matter, in which case who cares whether Cameron controlled it or not? If you can’t be honest, at least be consistent man!

    2. You then tell us in the next breath that Cameron has made massive cuts to the public services! Well sorry to tell you Alastair but Cameron and Osborne had two options – control the deficit and make the massive cuts you speak of, or not control the deficit and not make the cuts. It is not possible that they could make cuts without controlling the deficit, that is what controlling the deficit is. This is doublethink, ie only one of those things can be true. And the true one is: they have not controlled the deficit. Therefore, neither have they made the massive cuts. They have made tiny cuts, and therefore made a tiny cut in the deficit. You can’t have it both ways AC!

    • Ehtch

      The cuts have been self-defeating, since day one of this government, when they got rid of education maintenance allowance for 16-19 year olds, and the other cuts onwards. It removes money from the economy, therefore resulting in less taxes such as VAT getting to the treasury.

      For goodness sakes, many people can’t afford to shop in Tescos anymore, look at their results and books cooking, so head to Aldis/Lidl, or to the nearest food bank. And many people can’t afford to invest in themselves, let alone get a bank loan to do something. People are stuck in mud with these shower of shits in Westminster governing us.

      The underline economy was strong in 2010, but it is now being destroyed. The bank crash of 2008, imported from the US, it was all about, not overspending in the day-to-day economy of “normal” UK.

    • Michele

      You seem to be ignoring the importance of how the deficit is being reduced.
      Is it good iyo that its reduction might be coming from people’s benefits (many of whom – I do know not all – will have paid in unquestioningly for years) instead of coming out of tax allowances?
      Is it even sensible iyo to be talking about ‘more people in work than ever before’ when so many are on restrictive 0hrs contracts and confined to one ’employer’?

      They mean that a person who, a few years ago could be temping for varied agencies and thereby likely getting more bookings is now likely to be missing more days which happen to be contracted through an agency different to theirs.

      Do we know about the collusion or coercion that might be going on re ’employer’ perks?
      Just what is the reason for exclusivity? Anybody working through a legit agency or freelance for an actual employer does so on their NI number and is able to exploit all offers of work while not hiding earnings from IR.

      It seems designed to make people feel even smaller than so many unemployed already do ……. ooooer…… have I just twigged the reason?

      • reaguns

        There is a lot going on in this post Michele, I will try to reply in categories.

        Yes it matters how the deficit is being cut, but the amount also matters. A tiny reduction in the deficit goes along with tiny cuts, a massive reduction with massive cuts. You can’t have a tiny reduction along with massive cuts as Alastair claims, that is just lazy partizanship.

        Do I think the deficit cuts should be partly funded by benefits cuts, yes I do. I don’t think unemployed people should have enough money for sky tv, mobile phones, alcohol, cigarettes etc, which they do. Moving to a card system whereby the card can only buy food, clothes, etc is a measure I agree with.

        You say that a lot of them were former workers who paid in? Well I am with Frank Field and many past and present labour people who believe that, like most of Europe, you should get paid a higher benefit based on how much tax you have paid over the years.

        Now on to the zero hours contracts and so forth, well basically I agree with you on that. I don’t think it is true that a massive percentage of the jobs that Cameron/Osborne have created are this type of jobs though, but whatever percentage is too much. I would attack the jobs they have created from another angle – any fool can create jobs, this is what the right said about labour’s (and Ted Heath’s) “full employment” in the 1970s. Creating productive jobs that pay more and increase standard of living is the hard part, and just as Labour and Heath didn’t do that in the 1970s, and were rightly attacked by the right for this, neither have Cameron and Osborne done it now, and they should be attacked now on the same basis.

    • Michele

      Sorry to be back on this one but it really irks that people claiming to be explaining the bigger picture while only detailing another parameter vs that used earlier are being disingenuous.

      We CAN babble on 24/7 just about debt or just about the deficit or about how either was achieved and how it therefore affected the other and how it amortises per head of whole population or just the number of working age or oooooh am off to count butterflies :-s.

      What matters is how we feel and this bunch of opportunists who sneakily killed off the right of the no-confidence vote don’t seem to me to even know what ‘fairness’ means. I doubt they’d lose a NCV vote anyway when we look at the alternative, it’s surely time that Labour held its own.

  • reaguns

    Ok not quite right to spend so much time talking about economics, but I must because AC had a dig, and a disingenuous one at that, which had to be countered.

    However regarding the comments on political debate and mental health, I fully agree. I don’t know the other panellists, but I am also a fan of Sarah Wollaston. Didn’t know she had mental health issues herself, but it is quite common in the macho environment she worked in – not houses of parliament, but medicine. I am much more of a fan of hers than Cameron is. I will certainly watch this programme, then maybe be back with more comments.

    Re youngsters and political debate, I implore anyone to watch Alastair’s appearance on Jamie’s Free Schools programme or whatever it was called, Jamie Oliver’s reality show about reforming schools. The rest of the celebrity teachers struggled to engage the class. Alastair asked them about politics and they were all shrugging, bored, chewing gum, staring at the floor, eyes closing, said they weren’t interested. AC said something like “Ok that’s good so you agree then that politics doesn’t matter, and hence it was kind of pointless giving women and black people the vote.” Straight away the kids, many of whom were black or female, got up in arms. “What?!” “You said you didn’t care about politics. You wouldn’t have got involved when Emily Parkhurst or Martin Luther King were out seeking equal rights?” All of a sudden everyone in the class was going “I’d have been out there with them man!” and a lively debate ensued, even extended to almost fisticuffs (bolted on by the producers no doubt, but anyway) brilliant!