Labour health team criticises Sun front page on murders by "mental patients"

A spokesperson for Andy Burnham tells The Staggers that the paper's headline is "a disgraceful reinforcement of the stigma against those with mental illness".

At the start of a week in which press standards will come under scrutiny again (the Privy Council will meet on Wednesday to decide whether to approve the industry's proposed system of regulation or that backed by Parliament), the Sun has shamed itself with its front page today.

The paper's headline reads "1,200 killed by mental patients", a shock figure (printed in blood red) created by compiling 10 years' worth of data and perfectly designed to encourage further prejudice against mental health sufferers. In reality, since around a quarter of the population experience mental health problems each year, the number of murders committed by patients is disproportionately low. Around 95% of homicides are committed by people who have not been diagnosed with a mental health problem, but you wouldn't know that from the Sun's headline. The greatest threat that sufferers pose is to themselves; 90% of those who die through suicide experience some form of mental distress. 

Labour's health team rebuked the Sun on Twitter last night and a spokesperson for Andy Burnham told me:

This is a disgraceful reinforcement of the stigma against those with mental illness. The paper will face serious questions on Monday. Archaic attitudes still define our approach to mental health - we must challenge them.

In addition, Alastair Campbell, who is campaigning for better public understanding of mental health problems, wrote on Twitter: "Will the Sun tomorrow do exclusive investigation on numbers killed by what they would call 'normal people'?"

He added: "Constant media linkage of violence and mental illness leads to violence against the mentally ill rather than by them."

Copies of the Sun on February 13, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.