Back in January of this year I was invited on to the Victoria Derbyshire program for a discussion about the NHS. I was nervous about speaking about my past battle with depression but decided that I had to use my own experience to tell others present (including two MPs) what had happened to me. I wanted to remind them that every 90 minutes someone commits suicide in our country.
It was a very cathartic experience, and it taught me a valuable lesson about how our system of democracy needs the human touch more than ever.
Politics is largely tribal. Showing human weakness to your opponents in debate is not very common. When Jo Cox was murdered there was a brief spell of gentler politics, until the referendum and its bitter aftermath brought any lasting change to a shuddering halt.
And yet those MPs who show their human side or talk about painful past experience can drive public debate.
Recently before my own “public therapy” moment John Ashworth, the Labour Shadow Health Secretary had talked in Parliament about his father’s experience of alcoholism. Telling the world that his father hadn’t felt able to come to his wedding must have been extremely painful. But he was able to do it because he wanted people to know about how alcoholism wrecks lives.
This week Tory MP Heidi Allen was moved to tears as she listened to fellow DWP select committee member Frank Field talk about a family who had been invited to eat left over food at a funeral. As she spoke, she said “I am not very good at this am I”. Well I would argue that an MP who has been on the government’s back for months and months to get Universal credit fixed and has been able to show her raw emotion in the Commons is a very good MP.
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Our elected representatives showing that they care about the suffering of others is what matters – you don’t have to have been through it yourself to feel empathy.
Other MPs have been similarly brave in bringing up painful family problems, like Norman Lamb who lost his sister to suicide. He has been a tireless campaigner for change on mental health and is respected on all sides of the house.
Tory MPs Will Quince and Antoinette Sandbach have been equally courageous in talking about the loss of their babies.
Any MP who is prepared to wear their heart on their sleeve and show their human side provides a valuable connection to those they serve. The next time I go canvassing in a General Election and someone tells me “politicians are all in it for themselves” I will show them one of these examples to prove them wrong.
To see MPs from one party shed tears about what an MP from another party has said shows our parliamentary democracy at its best.
Chris Key is a freelance writer, specialising in mental health