Tuesday 19 April 2011

Eternal Summer

I write sitting at my desk in blazing sunshine. Once in a while the weather lives up to that seemingly eternal summer of early childhood which most people happily if falsely recollect. This sensation of early youth is reinforced by wearing shorts (don't worry, no pictures) and drinking orange squash. It is serendipity that the torrent of bank holidays is also almost upon us. I hope your cup is as full as mine as I go home to oil my bike chain and extract fishing tackle from the depths of the cwtch-dan-star.

However, it would be an exaggeration to say that Wales is sweltering because of election fever. One of the drawbacks of devolution (among many benefits) is the proliferation of elections with the attendant risk that any one election may seem less important. Add to that the continuing assumption of many (to judge by turn-out) that the Assembly election is less important than the General Election - not of course wholly without reason as undevolved matters like taxation and declaring wars do matter.

But we need to show people how much hangs on the Assembly elections and it is good to see that Hafal's Service User Champion Sue Barnes has used the opportunity of her latest column in the Western Mail to flag up the relevance of the forthcoming poll for people with a serious mental illness and their families (see Sue's full article on this link).

Meanwhile Hafal's manifesto is getting a tremendous response from candidates of all parties, many of whom have responded supporting patients' and families' call for them to...

(1) Protect funding for mental health
We need candidates’ assurance that they will fully protect resources for
mental health, both NHS funding and funding provided to local authorities for
mental health social care. We are calling on all candidates and all political
parties to ensure that Health Boards and Local Authorities are held to
account for their spending on mental health services, that any efficiency
savings are re-invested back into mental health and that there is clear and
transparent financial reporting of this.

(2) Deliver on new Mental Health law and regulations
The Mental Health (Wales) Measure (the new mental health law) was passed
last year with cross-party support. We need candidates’ assurance that the
Measure will be delivered in full and that the Regulations and Code of
Practice are developed with our rights in mind, ensuring that every person
with a serious mental illness has an holistic care plan covering all areas of life.

(3) Put patients in the driving seat
Service users and carers know that positive change is only possible if we roll
up our sleeves and take charge both of our own circumstances and of wider
services. We need candidates’ assurance that they will empower us to
choose the services we personally receive and also to have a full say in
developing policy and commissioning mental health services.


Weaselly cynics concerning democracy like Karl Marx mock the "pointlessness" of being able occasionally to "choose your oppressors" at elections and of course it's true that democratic systems don't automatically lead to freedom and equality. But the answer to those cynics was worked out long ago. Aristotle wrote: εἴπερ γὰρ ἐλευθερία μάλιστ' ἔστιν ἐν δημοκρατίᾳ, καθάπερ ὑπολαμβάνουσί τινες, καὶ ἰσότης, οὕτως ἂν εἴη μάλιστα, κοινωνούτων ἁπάντων μάλιστα τῆς πολιτείας ὁμοίως (rough translation - It's widely recognised that democracy is the best system for achieving freedom and equality but to really work it has to mean maximising equal engagement of all citizens in the continuing business of government).

What the ancient philosophy wonk was driving at is that the elections are important but you've also got to sustain people's involvement all the time, keeping the politicians as our servants not our masters. That's what point (3) above is all about.