Saturday, June 24, 2006 

Criminal justice.

I posted this as a comment yesterday on the Comment is Free site. This is a slightly revised version.

Blair's speech, which is worth reading in full, is a lot better than he'll probably be given credit for. Yet nowhere in it, despite all his talk of the civil liberties and human rights of the victim and rebalancing does he talk about the presumption of innocence. The one right which a lot of people would consider to be absolutely inalienable is to be innocent until proved guilty. Nowhere does Blair state that he agrees with this. That is the problem with the proposed increase in summary justice and interim anti-social behaviour orders; the use of which will no doubt soon be given to the usual suspects, whether they actually are committing the supposed offences or not. Once you've been fingered, it leaves the problem that you become known, and it's far easier to go after them.

Take the story I was told today: A friend of mine who works on a market stall has a son who's known to the police. His son smokes, and there's very little that he can do to stop him from doing so. A police car drove by his son and saw him smoking, and as they know he's 15, the officer jumped out and ordered the teenager to give him the tobacco. He threw it to a friend who is over 16, but the police officer was having none of it. He grabbed the 15-year-old, and put his arm behind his back. The boy proceeded to tell him to get off and told him to "fuck off". The officer said right, that's disorder, you're under arrest. He kneed the teenager in the back of his legs to put him to ground and cuff him, but kept holding his arm. The result? The officer broke the boy's arm around the elbow, and he's had to have pins put in to correct the break. All because the person in question, who was minding his own business, was "known". Somehow I think that the police have a lot more important things to be doing than trying to stop 15-year-olds smoking.

Anyway, I digress. Blair's speech is delivered in the usual way in that what he says is so compelling and seems balanced and right that it's difficult to disagree with. Yet while he makes some welcome points about easy solutions, such as those advocated by the Sun, the repeal of the Human Rights Act, naming, shaming and blaming judges as completely missing the point, he only recognises the instances in which the current ASB legislation has worked. He doesn't admit to the sufferers of mental illness and behavioural problems who have been criminalised, the beggars and prostitutes served them that have done nothing illegal. And he goes back to his age-old excuse of blaming the opposition and those who have dared to "water down" his legislation, when all they've done is do exactly what their job is; to review legislation and stop the government of the day from abusing their powers.

Most people recognise that there are problems with drug dealers and crack houses, and few people have disagreed with those parts of the legislation which have gone through. Yet the emphasis on "shaming", which itself is part of the tabloid agenda he rejects is nearly always counter-productive. Where local police forces, like Thames Valley introduced softly-softly approaches to crimes such as shoplifting, where they made offenders meet managers of supermarkets, they are criticised for being politically correct by the same newspapers that Blair does so much to woo. As a result the shops themselves introduced civil recovery schemes, demanding huge sums from those who stole in the first place because they have little money or other problems. The likes of Tesco demanding money in the regions of hundreds of pounds from teenagers who stole a couple of chocolate bars isn't decried as greed. It's rather common sense.

Blair points out that those with drug problems and mental health problems litter our prisons. Yet he doesn't suggest that prison isn't the best place for them, and that more secure hospitals should perhaps be built to house them instead. While drug treatment programmes have admirably been much better funded in recent years, more still needs to be done. Blair's point that they need to made compulsory and with repercussions if they're broken is welcome, but there need need to be as many carrots as there are sticks. As for those with mental ill health, he seems more likely to bow to the tabloids and build yet more prisons. He talks of the voluntary sector being given more involvement in the probation system, without mentioning the attempt by Charles Clarke to privatise that exact system, which would have left companies deciding whether it should keep offenders in prisons run by themselves for profit. There is no acknowledgement of the conflict of interest in such a scheme, which still has not been ruled as dead.

He deserves to be listened to. He makes some salient points. But while he continues to criticise those who suggest that we should stand back, let the current reforms to the system settle and become more rational about the debate on crime, he continues to play to those who he denies pandering to: the hysterical tabloid press. Blair's allegiance to Murdoch is going to end in tears, but he can't accept that inevitability yet. His moves should be seen in that light, and the most objectionable should be rightly rejected.

Other posts on same subject:
Tales from the real world - Big Stick Small Carrot
A decent (*shock*) article by Martin Kettle
The Great Law 'n' Order Debate - Lenin's Tomb

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Friday, June 23, 2006 

A troubling survey.

There's a deeply troubling and depressing survey reported on by the Guardian today. The Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed both Muslims and non-Muslims across the globe. It suggests that British Muslims are the most anti-western in Europe.

The poll found that 63% of all Britons had a favourable opinion of Muslims, down slightly from 67% in 2004, suggesting last year's London bombings did not trigger a significant rise in prejudice. Attitudes in Britain were more positive than in the US, Germany and Spain (where the popularity of Muslims has plummeted to 29%), and about the same as in France.

Less than a third of British non-Muslims said they viewed Muslims as violent, significantly fewer than non-Muslims in Spain (60%), Germany (52%), the US (45%) and France (41%).

By contrast, the poll found that British Muslims represented a "notable exception" in Europe, with far more negative views of westerners than Islamic minorities elsewhere on the continent. A significant majority viewed western populations as selfish, arrogant, greedy and immoral. Just over half said westerners were violent. While the overwhelming majority of European Muslims said westerners were respectful of women, fewer than half British Muslims agreed. Another startling result found that only 32% of Muslims in Britain had a favourable opinion of Jews, compared with 71% of French Muslims.

Across the board, Muslim attitudes in Britain more resembled public opinion in Islamic countries in the Middle East and Asia than elsewhere in Europe. And on the whole, British Muslims were more pessimistic than those in Germany, France and Spain about the feasibility of living in a modern society while remaining devout.

The Pew poll found that British Muslims are far more likely than their European counterparts to harbour conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks. Only 17% believed that Arabs were involved, compared with 48% in France.

There was general agreement that relations are bad, but Britons as a whole were much less likely than other Europeans to blame Muslims. More Britons faulted westerners (27%) than Muslims (25%), with a third saying both are equally responsible. British Muslims were less ambivalent. Nearly half blamed westerners. By comparison, in Germany and France both communities blamed each other in roughly equal measure.

Unlike the rest of Europe, a majority of Britons declared themselves sympathetic to Muslims offended by the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in the European press last year. But most Britons said the outbreak of violence was the result of Muslim intolerance for western freedom of expression. Only 9% of British Muslims agreed with that view. Nearly three-quarters blamed the controversy on western disrespect of Islam.
That so many Britons still have a good view of Muslims is reassuring, especially in a climate which has at times been oppressive, in particular following the 7/7 attacks and the government's campaign for terrorist suspects to be held for up to 90 days without charge. Both Britons and British Muslims are pessimistic about relations between each other, as 28% of Britons think relations between Westerners and Muslims are generally good, with 61% thinking them generally bad. 23% of British Muslims think relations are good, compared to 62% who think relations are generally bad.

What's most worrying is that even after 7/7, (15% sometimes, 9% rarely) 24% of British Muslims still think suicide attacks are in some way justifiable against civilian targets. This won't have been helped in recent weeks by the likes of George Galloway saying that an Iraqi carrying out a suicide attack on Tony Blair could be morally justifiable. This doesn't necessarily mean that they support such attacks here in Britain, but they may do in Israel. British Muslims are also most likely to see unpleasant traits in people in Western countries, such as being selfish, arrogant and violent. By contrast, non-Muslims in Britain are at the bottom in the survey for seeing Muslims as fanatical and violent among countries in Europe, and Germany is the only country below Britain where non-Muslims see Muslims as arrogant. A shockingly low figure, 17% said that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs, compared to 56% who disagreed. Conspiracy theory seems to abounding among Muslims, the reasons for which aren't clear.

Some of these feelings among British Muslims will no doubt have been aroused by the fact that the UK was the main coalition partner in launching the Iraq war. The 90 days distraction of last year was also likely to have affected relations. Even so, in Spain, which was also part of the "coalition of the willing", Muslims were much more optimistic about relations, and saw westerners as being much more respecting of women. 71% of Spanish Muslims saw no conflict between being devout and living in a modern society, compared to 49% in Britian, where Muslims were almost evenly split on the issue (47% saw a conflict.)

What is to be done? To start with, there needs to be a re-opening of government talks between the chief Muslim organisations, over all aspects of the policies affecting them, especially the police in the aftermath of the Forest Gate fiasco. Such talks should be transparent and transcripts should be placed in the public domain. Both the government and the media need to listen more to what Muslims are saying, and what they're worrying about. At the moment there's an obvious disconnect and a thinking within the Muslim community that they are dismissed as terrorists and fanatical. This survey shows that the majority of the British public clearly do not see them as such. Whether the police do is a different matter.

However, such a dialogue cannot be one-sided. Muslims need to explain why almost a quarter of them think that suicide bombings against civilians can be justified. Britain is not Israel, and London is not the West Bank. Even there suicide bombings can only be barely justified as legitimate resistance against the occupying troops, and even that is a hugely counter-productive and wrong way to go about things. What is so bad about living in Britain that such actions would be necessary or justified? Why are so few prepared to admit that the 9/11 attackers were Arabs? There's a difference between thinking that more could have be done to prevent those attacks and thinking that Mossad did it, or that it was an inside job. The poisonous falsehood that Israelis were warned not to go to work at the twin towers on that day still seems to have quite a grasp on British Muslims. We need answers. While the likes of Melanie Philips and her acolytes seem to think that all Muslims view themselves as "victims" of western foreign policy, this survey tends to suggest that some do think that way. Such views need challenging, especially by the Muslim organisations which are springing up to speak for them. It is down to them to do so, not for the government.

The survey suggests that things are not as bad as the doom-mongers would have us believe, but they are neither as rosy as those on the other end of the debate would like to think. There's a disconnect between the two communities. Whether this is down to the increasing segregation amongst Muslims and non-Muslims, the increase of religious schools, the hatred of the likes of the BNP or simply a divergence of opinion between the two groups, something has to be done if things are not to get worse. Unless we all try our best to find out why things have reached the stage they have, then multiculturalism might yet fail. We have to stop that from happening.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006 

Nuking the "debate".

There's something deeply unpleasant and undemocratic about the way in which Gordon Brown last night more or less said that he supports the replacement of the trident nuclear missile system, or rather in the Newspeak type way in which it is referred to, as "our nuclear deterrent". It says something that rather than expressing his views in an interview, say with a newspaper, or actually in parliament, that he decides that the best place to announce his intentions once he becomes prime minister is in front of a gathering of London businessmen in Mansion House. Not that he actually devoted the speech to his reasons why the British government should write a cheque for up to £25bn for something we'll never use. He starts with a few words about the 7/7 attacks, before reeling off the usual amount of economic guff that his speeches are peppered with. Here's what he said that's relevant:

And I mean not just stability by securing low inflation but stability in our industrial relations, stability through a stable and competitive tax regime, and stability through a predictable and light touch regulatory environment - a stability founded on our strength to make the right long term decisions, the same strength of national purpose we will demonstrate in protecting our security in this Parliament and the long-term - strong in defence in fighting terrorism, upholding NATO, supporting our armed forces at home and abroad, and retaining our independent nuclear deterrent.

In an insecure world we must and will always have the strength to take all necessary long term decisions for stability and security.
6 words then, but six which have predictably caused a storm among the "Labour left", as the Times puts it on its front page. That the Times leads on it itself speaks volumes, as Brown's speech is part of his continuing fawning attempts to woo the Murdoch tiger. You can imagine the outrage of the Sun (Kelvin MacKenzie let the cat out of the bag earlier in the week when he rather absentmindedly said on Newsnight that Rebekah Wade and Brown had recently shared dinner.) if Brown dared even to think that it might be worth waiting a little longer to see if any credible "state" enemy emerges on the scale of the Soviet Union - after all, while the decision supposedly has to be made in this parliament, the submarine system itself isn't scheduled to become the name of this blog until 2024. 18 years is a long time in politics. No, the decision is urgent because it concerns our "stability" and "security".

Like Blair did in front of the CBI just over a month ago, when he said that "nuclear was back with a vengeance", which conjured up visions of Bruce Willis killing terrorists daring to disagree with the concept of nuclear power, what Brown said amounts to pre-emptively dismissing the supposed debate which is meant to occur on the issue. While the Guardian leader talks about being politically naive, it itself is being naive when it states:

This is a big decision. It needs time. It needs debate. And it needs honesty.
All of which are things that those who are in thrall of US power will never allow it to become. While the argument being articulated by those in complete opposition to Trident is that it sends a message to the likes of Iran that while it's perfectly OK for us to upgrade and replace our nukes, the likes of you can't even have them to begin with is reasonably sound and has a point, something few still seem to question is in what situation would we ever use the missiles unless the US ordered us to, or unless we asked the US's permission first. What threat would emerge that threatens us, but not the United States? Aren't we still interdependent, despite the end of the cold war and 20th-century military strategy? In other words, what point do the missiles serve, except looking all shiny and nice and making us look bigger on the world stage than we deserve to? At the amount they cost, they're a hugely expensive way to secure our stability and security.

Not that the government is averse to spending huge amounts of money which will do little to secure our stability and security. In the other Guardian leader of the day, it highlights that ID cards might cost £10bn or even £20bn. That was a decision that was rammed through the House of Commons and House of Lords, which admirably made a stand until it reached a feeble compromise. In the resulting fued triggered by Brown's remarks, Jack Straw has stepped in and pledged that there will be a white paper. Apparently the House of Commons will be shown "proper respect", although what that means is anyone's guess, as Straw stopped short of promising a vote on the matter.

If there's one thing that isn't naive, it's believing that Brown's political ambition knows no limits. The decision has already been made. Thinking anything else is foolish.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006 

Mail-watch: The hounding of Colin Stagg.

For years, the Daily Mail suggested that the murderer of Rachel Nickell was Colin Stagg. Stagg, who was tried once for the crime, had no forensic evidence linking him to her murder. He was flagged up as a potential suspect because he matched the psychological profile of her killer that esteemed forensic psychologist Paul Britton had drawn up. (Britton is supposedly the man on whom the criminal profiler Fitz in the ITV series Cracker was based on.) To try to trap Stagg, the police, in consultation with Britton, set up a plot involving a female police officer. She offered Stagg friendship and sex, hoping that he would reveal the sexual traits that Britton thought that the suspect had. Instead Stagg throughout the operation denied involvement in the crime, and did nothing to suggest that he was "deviant" in any way. So desperate were the police that the woman recorded a tape in which, on orders of other officers, she fantasised about being dominated, and even using a knife in apparent sex sessions she was promising. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Ognall, called it the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind".

Instead of accepting that Stagg was not the killer, the paper continued to lead a low-level campaign for the law against double jeopardy to be changed, so that Stagg could be tried again. In October 1996, the Mail published an article by Chester Stern, a former Scotland Yard press officer, based around quotations from supposed evidence that the police would have used against Stagg, had his trial not been stopped at an early stage by the judge. Another article in the same month, with more of the same, added that "Stagg cannot stand trial for Rachel's murder again, even if new evidence came to light which incriminated him". Four years later in July 2000, the Mail printed another series of articles about Nickell's murder. These were based on a book by Keith Pedder, the detective inspector who led the murder inquiry. Pedder's book is based around the premise that Colin Stagg "got away with murder", and appears to be have been revised at least once since then. Another year went by, and the Mail then carried an interview with Nickell's former boyfriend. He desperately wanted the government to abolish the double jeopardy law. This is just a selection of the most damning articles; no doubt there were others, including opinion pieces, which made similar allegations or insinuations against Stagg.

Today the Mail appears to be running an exclusive interview with Stagg, as it turns out that a Broadmoor inmate is now being questioned over Rachel's murder. The man, if it turns out to be the same one who has been previously fingered, was first accused of being her murderer back in 1995 by err, the Daily Mail. When he was sent to Broadmoor, the next day's Mail led with "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?". Is there an apology in the article then, from the interviewer that the Daily Mail likely got it horribly wrong for over ten years? Err, no. Stagg does however intend to claim damages from the police for his treatment. He might want to look back over past issues of the Mail and consider whether he has grounds against them, and indeed Pedder, to sue for either defamation of character or libel.

(This post couldn't have been written without Private Eye 1120, once again showing the Eye's record in campaigning for the victims of miscarriages of justice. Thanks to them for the sources, and the new issue is out today. Go buy it.)

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006 

Welcome to paedogeddon.

Back in those halcyon days of 2001 before the whole world fell apart, the spoof documentary show Brass Eye returned for a one-off special dealing with paedophilia and the media hysteria surrounding it. In 2000 the "newspaper" the News of the World, alongside its campaign for a law to be drawn up allowing parents to be informed when a sex offender moved into their area, "named and shamed" known paedophiles. The government at the time managed to persuade the newspaper that such methods were counter-productive. While the satire in the resultant show, obviously influenced by the hysteria of the Screws was a lot broader and less humourous than that which had been in the previous series shown in 1997, it resulted in a predictable furore, which was what the makers of the show knew would happen and wanted. Ministers queued up to denounce the show despite not watching it (Home Secretary David Blunkett criticised it, despite definitely not being able to view it) and even the Guardian suggested that the show had gone too far.

5 years later, and we've learned nothing. Following last week's attacks on judges in the Sun newspaper, and the resultant anger after a judge followed the "formula" which meant a paedophile who was given a life sentence could be freed after 5 years, John Reid gave in to 6 years of campaigning from the News of the World. Alongside its report that hostels which held offenders near schools were apparently full of slobbering sex offenders waiting to pick up kids on their lunch hour, it showered praise on Reid, who has decided to look into how a "Megan's law" (the campaign for similar legislation in the UK has been renamed Sarah's law, after the schoolgirl, surname Payne, murdered by paedophile Roy Whiting), the legislation enacted in America following the rape and murder of Megan Kanka, would work over here. He's therefore decided to send the prisons minister for a summer holiday (surely fact finding trip? Ed.) to America.

Not all is well though with the government's apparent capitulation to the agenda of certain tabloid newspapers. One brave police officer, the chief constable of Dyfed and Powys, Terry Grange, no doubt soon to be christened as a politically correct lunatic, told Radio 4 that:
"The last three years has been a litany of abandonment of any real strategic design in the Home Office in the management of sex offenders, in favour of trying to find out what one particular tabloid newspaper wants and then complying with their wishes."
Which is a bit over the top. The real rush to find out what the tabloids want has been since the beginning of this year, as scandal after scandal has rocked the Labour party. Grange then added:
"Anybody who has watched the last six months in all forms of the debate on public protection, whether it's our own home-grown criminals, foreign criminals, the immigration and nationality department, sex offenders, violent offender orders - one of my favourite on-the-hoof policies - all brought about by the media putting pressure on the government and the government responding.
He certainly has a point. We only have to look back on the last 2 weeks to witness how the government has responded to a tabloid campaign. With most attention being on the World Cup, there hasn't been much hard political news. In the resultant vacuum, the Sun launched its shameful attacks on judges for being "soft". Just hours after the paper had hit doorsteps across the country, John Reid had decided to write to the Attorney General over the sentence given to Craig Sweeney. It seems unlikely that the two things are unrelated. As the Sun built up the storm further with more outraged and distorted editorials, the reality became clear: that judges are getting harsher, that life sentences are getting longer and that because of the constant crack-downs the prison population is close to bursting point. Despite this, with the News of the World breaking its story that sex offenders were being kept in hostels near schools, John Reid, apparently determined to be the worst in a long line of bad home secretaries, decided that "Sarah's law" is worth a look after all.

All of this is resultant of a constant barrage of tabloid headlines about human rights laws favouring criminals, that our police are in the apparent clutches of a bunch of polticially correct idiots who couldn't run a tap, and that the criminal justice system is collapsing around our eyes. None of which is true, but it sure makes for something to moan about as the red-top tabloids continue to haemorrhage sales. In the last ABC figures, it was only the Sun and Daily Mirror that were losing readers (The Financial Times was also down, but the FT has long sold the majority of its copies outside the UK). Almost every other newspaper for a change had increased its sales. Labour's response to this has not been to criticise the agenda of certain newspapers, or to question whether they're right or not. Instead it has been to take their criticism on board. After all, the tabloids don't just do whatever the editor or proprietor wants; they do what their readers want, and they're reflecting their views. Or that's at least what their argument is. Blair's spokesman, in response to Grange said:
"I'm not aware of the law which says it's wrong to reply to a media organisation's questions... There's nothing wrong in meeting representatives of the press.
Well no, there certainly isn't. It's just strange that after six years of disagreeing with the way the News of the World has demanded that paedophiles be revealed that suddenly John Reid thinks that it might be worth a go. After all, Beverly Hughes back in 2001 said:
it was "unworkable" because "it drives offenders to ground".
80% of sex offenders comply with their orders in the US following Megan's law, compared with 97% in the UK. At the moment, MAPPA, which monitors sex offenders in the community, decides on a case to case basis whether parents and schools should be notified when a sex offender moves into their area. Their hard (and good work, which goes unnoticed, it has to be said) graft is being undermined by ministers who give in to the whims of the tabloids for short-term political gain. This is what Labour is now desperate for. The polls have gone against them in favour of the Tories now for 6 months, and the debacle surrounding the Home Office has been a huge reason for it. The party's response has been to ask a load of leading questions under its hideously monikered "Let's Talk" iniative, handled by the similarly unlikeable Blairite robot Hazel Blears.

There's no doubting that there is public unrest about the criminal justice system in some cases, especially about the foreign criminals wrongly released without being deported. The rules regarding guilty pleas and the resultant reduction in sentences also need to be looked into again. What has been happening instead has been the knee-jerk reactions of a party which is already looking forward to years in opposition, probably to rebrand itself as New New Labour. When a judge breaks his silence to talk openly, itself a very rare occurrence, and is especially forthright about the attacks on his colleagues, by politicians and newspapers alike, there has to be something wrong with the current atmosphere. Everyone needs to step back, examine what will actually work as opposed to being a quick fix that will please newspapers that were formally supporters of the government, and then decide how to proceed. More new laws and more new initiatives will only make the public more cynical, and they will be right to be.

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Monday, June 19, 2006 

Tackling depression.

Richard Layard and the Mental Health Policy group have today published their report on depression. Its main conclusion is that there needs to be a major extension in what are often referred to as "talking therapies", the likes of cognitive behavioural therapy, or in some cases just simply to talking to someone about how the person feels. It estimates that for this to happen in every part of the country, 10,000 more therapists will need to be trained by 2013.

The first point should be that such a major report is welcome. Statistics show that 1 in 4 people during their lifetime will experience a form of mental illness. It of course does not just affect that one person; it can lead to the breakdown of families, the inability to the work, and the effects which one sufferer can inflict on those around him or her. Depression and mental illness is shown to be rising, although whether this is down to better diagnosis, drugs companies coming up with increasing numbers of supposed disorders or to the effects of consumer society could be argued about for hours. What is certain is that mental illness makes people prisoners in their own bodies, affects aspirations, inhibits expectations and can be far more destructive than physical illness can be.

The second is that the actuality of the government supporting this and recognising that mental health is such a problem is unlikely. The fact of the matter is that mental illness just isn't, well, sexy enough. It also can't be treated with a panacea, and there is no sign of any "wonder" drugs that so perk up the tabloids being around the corner. The initial effect of the the emergence of the SSRI class of drugs, of Prozac, that depression could be kept under control just by popping a pill has long since passed, and with it so has the safety of the drugs, especially Seroxat (Paxil). The side-effects, especially the immense difficulty which emerges when people attempt to come off them, have in some cases left the drugs with few people other than the drugs companies continuing to be rapturous about their worth. When it comes down to it, the danger of women losing her life to breast cancer is always going to be the story which leads the newspapers, not that of someone committing suicide, unless they happen to be famous. While the NHS faces huge bills for drugs which are little better than the current ones available, but which have been built up by the media to work "miracles", such as Herceptin, the first services that face the chop in the resultant cutbacks are often those which treat mental illness. Obsolete's local NHS trusts first move to trim its deficit was to cut the cognitive behavioural therapy groups. Even worse, most mental health trusts are already the runts of the litter when it comes to getting funds in the first place.

What needs to happen is a sea change in the attitude towards mental illness, by the media, health professionals, the government, and the public at large. The reaction to when the Sun led its first edition a couple of years back with "BONKERS BRUNO LOCKED UP", has not changed its policies in regarding mental illness more carefully. The likes of Pete in Big Brother, who suffers from Tourettes syndrome, are still alliteratively referred to as "Potty Pete". A Sun leader referred to them as a "house full of loons" and "nuts in may". Doctors, fed up with having to listen to many of those complaining of mental ill-health, have little option other than to prescribe an SSRI and fob them off. Sadly, it isn't their fault. Referrals to psychiatrists, unless the case is urgent, takes longer. Places on CBT groups are even rarer. Perhaps more dangerous though is the sad way in which mental ill-health may well be the last real taboo in British society. Brits have often had problems relating their emotions, and that hasn't changed in the decades since the 60s. Talking to each other, much as we do it about other things, still doesn't extend as much to about how we actually feel. It can be difficult trusting people enough to let them into your mind, but we often feel better for it afterwards. It's through this however that the problems themselves can often be nipped in the bud. We should be quicker to lend an ear, but we should also learn to recognise when things may well be getting serious. There is nothing that substitutes talking to a trained professional. The availability of such rightly needs to be extended quickly.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, although those who do suffer often suffer alone. While there will remain no cure-all, and the likes of Polly Toynbee, who is quick to jump on a passing bandwagon, in this case CBT, should be more careful about how much they talk it up, it can be lived with in almost all cases. As well as talking therapies there needs to be more mental hospitals which can handle in-patients in secure accommodation. Those who are severely mental ill are at the moment increasingly locked up in prison, unable to get the treatment they desperately need. The Guardian should also be careful of dismissing the rise of the consumer society and the link with depression, especially in the way it casually quotes a poet and philosopher talking of their own experiences as evidence that depression is not a modern problem. The concept of wage slavery, the problem in modern society of alienation, and the increasing lack of empathy are all precursors to depression and mental ill-health. What now needs to happen though is for a political consensus to emerge; Cameron, with his recent speech on happiness should sign up to the the Policy Group's conclusions. Whatever political party is in power, those who come down with mental illness, or who are born with it through no fault of their own should be able to rely on the services being there to help them. The policy group's recommendations should be just the first step.

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