I’ve got mixed views on Bristol Mayor George Ferguson’s description of his political opponents as “lunatics”. The dictionary definition of a lunatic is “someone who is mentally ill”, which does bring into question Ferguson’s judgement about the comments he used and explains why Labour’s excellent mayoral candidate Marvin Rees felt moved to comment: “This disgraceful use of language is inappropriate at any time, but even more so coming just 24 hours after Time To Talk Day, when people are encouraged to break the silence and stigma that exists around mental health issues.” But I can’t help feeling, as a lunatic myself, that we might just be taking this a bit too far here.
As the alleged Jesus of Nazareth might have put it, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Who amongst us can genuinely claim to have never called someone a nutter, mental, a sandwich short of a picnic or a lunatic? I’m afraid I have, which unfortunately casts me in same light as the mayor himself. I don’t think I have ever knowingly referred to anyone who actually was a lunatic as one, but I cannot vouch for that 100%. If I did, then I apologise because I didn’t mean any offence. I doubt that Ferguson did either.
I do not think Ferguson was actually suggesting that his political opponents would probably suffering from a mental health condition if they were to dare to disagree with him. I don’t know the actual context or whether he had lost his temper when speaking. You could argue that he could have chosen a better form of words, but come on: we know that Ferguson is a bit of a narcissist with an ego to match, but no matter how much you dislike him – and he is, let’s be honest, a polarising figure – I don’t think he would stoop low enough to use mental ill health as a weapon with which to attack people.
It is not difficult to see the inconsistency and indeed contradiction of my argument, having said forever – well, it seems that way – that we all need to think more and understand more about mental health to end the stigma that exists and then defending some careless words by a political figure but in persuading people I think it’s important that we don’t overdo things. For instance, to overcome stigma and indeed prejudice, we need to win over hearts and minds. I suspect many people will feel, as I do, that at the very worst, the mayor has not fully engaged brain before speaking and more likely he has done little wrong and certainly nothing that many people do all the time. We don’t want to drive people to think they daren’t comment regarding mental health for fear of saying ‘the wrong thing’ and cause offence. We may even alienate people if they think we are forcing them to walk on eggshells.
And it’s an argument us lunatics are, slowly but surely, winning. The message is out there that mental health is a problem and we need to address it to improve things. Even the prime minister, through words but not action, recognises the problem.
I don’t care much for Ferguson who I feel has been an embarrassment to the city and I very much support Marvin Rees who would be a worthy successor. Neither are wrong in what they say but let’s keep this in perspective. Most of us have probably said a lot worse than Ferguson. Let’s stick to the main arguments and issues. Anything else is a likely distraction.