Karl Turner told a packed House of Commons that his 25-year-old nephew, Mattie, had recently died while waiting six months for a ‘talking cure’ appointment to help him handle depression. He said these treatments were often a dangerous waiting game and a postcode lottery, and asked what Theresa May was doing to sort it out.
She stuttered through a non-answer about having established parity of esteem between physical and mental health treatment but accepted there was more to do, and moved on – only to be stopped in her tracks by Labour’s Alison McGovern, who wasn’t satisfied.
The Conservative manifesto promised shorter waiting times for people with mental health problems, but prescriptions for anti-depressants are on the rise and waits for treatment are lengthening, she said. Was the Tory manifesto just words, or would the PM ever deliver?
Mrs May, out of her depth, reiterated her previous statement.
Help came – too late, from Tory MP Helen Whately, who quoted Mrs May’s commitment to improved mental health on the day she became prime minister, and asked a hastily-prepared planted question about the Tory government’s five-year plan for mental health.
Mrs May responded with words from a piece of paper that had been slipped to her, showing an increase in appointments of 40 per cent since 2010, but the damage had been done. If she needs a planted question and the help of hastily-scribbled statistics to get her out of a hole, she won’t hold public confidence.
There were other disasters. Fellow Conservative Dr Tania Mathias backstabbed Mrs May over her decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow, when air pollution standards were already being breached.
Mrs May said air quality standards could be reached, but bizarrely reached toward road transport to help justify herself. Apparently electric vehicles on the roads will help Heathrow airport meet its air quality requirements!
It wasn’t all grim, though. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn enjoyed rubbishing Mrs May’s strategy on Brexit. After hearing her stuttering about “being very clear” on her aims for Brexit (while being about as opaque as she could be, he said: “I thought for a moment the prime minister was going to say ‘Brexit means Brexit’ again. I’m sure she’ll tell us one day what it actually means!”
Some commentators have accused Mr Corbyn of missing an open goal by neglecting to ask her about her speech to Goldman Sachs bankers, in which she outlined her concerns for business of the UK were to leave the EU after the referendum that, at the time, had yet to be held. But Mr Corbyn was skilful to avoid that; critics would only have attacked him on the grounds that times have changed.
A much better tactic was to say: “When you’re searching for the real meaning and the importance behind the prime minister’s statement, you have to consult the great philosophers. The only one I can come up with is Baldrick, who says, ‘Our cunning plan is to have no plan’.”
Mrs May’s attempt at a riposte – that the actor playing Baldrick (Tony Robinson) was a member of the Labour Party – was subsequently torpedoed by her own supporters, who gleefully undermined their leader by showing that Sir Anthony does not support Mr Corbyn.
Mark Wallace, executive editor of ConservativeHome, showed how far out of his depth he was by re-tweeting this comment from Sir Anthony:
To those tweeting me about 'MSM', Corbyn faces no more hostile media than every Lab leader in history. He's just inept at dealing with it
— Tony Robinson (@Tony_Robinson) October 17, 2016
It will be interesting to see what the media make of today’s events.
Faced with such a disastrous collapse by Theresa May, any attempt to spin the exchange into an attack on Mr Corbyn will be unrealistic – making Mr Wallace’s choice of quote doubly wrong.
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