Alastair Campbell calls Walsall vote over mental health 'disgusting'

Alastair Campbell has labelled a decision to block a Walsall councillor becoming deputy mayor over mental heath issues as “disgusting”.

Alastair Campbell said the Tory vote in Walsall was 'disgusting'
Alastair Campbell said the Tory vote in Walsall was 'disgusting'

Tony Blair’s former spin doctor tweeted his thoughts after being made aware of Monday night’s full council meeting where the ruling Conservative administration voted against Sean Coughlan taking up the role.

Councillor Coughlan has openly talked about his battles with depression and stood down as council leader in 2019 due to his ill health.

The Tory vote prompted Walsall Labour group to dramatically storm out of the town hall in protest with leader Aftab Nawaz saying the decision “shamed” Walsall.

Mr Campbell, an active mental health campaigner, tagged current health secretary Sajid Javid, former Prime Minister Theresa May and ex-health secretaries Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt in his tweet.

He said: “This is disgusting. What do you have to say about it @theresa_may @Jeremy_Hunt @MattHancock @sajidjavid and all others who have said mental health is a priority and there is no place for discrimination? Would help if we had a mental health minister.”

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, added: “Deeply disturbing report: we will investigate this as Walsall is signed up to (Mental Health Challenge).”

Councillor Sean Coughlan

Walsall Council leader Mike Bird had written to Councillor Nawaz prior to the meeting informing him of his group’s decision to vote against the nomination.

He said he and his party colleagues had been accused by Councillor Coughlan of pushing him towards suicide and didn’t want to be in that position again.

After Labour’s walk-out, Councillor Bird revealed he and his family had received abuse over the issue but said it was a democratic decision by his whole group.

Later in the meeting, he added: “This council will invest an additional £1 million over the next three years to support mental health wellbeing in the community, contrary to the comments in the outburst of the Labour group.

“We do take mental health seriously and we’re investing to prove that and will continue to do so.”

Councillor Coughlan said he will not stand down as Labour’s nomination for the deputy mayoral role – which became vacant following the sudden death of Harbans Sarohi in May – and this has been backed by Councillor Nawaz.

Meanwhile, independent Walsall councillor Pete Smith – who also voted against Councillor Coughlan – has hit back at claims he shamed the town.

The former mayor said his decision was not due to Councillor Coughlan’s mental health problems but due to his record as council leader, citing the purchase of the Saddlers Centre for £13.8 million and the collapse of Palfrey Community Association under his stewardship.

He said: “I find the accusation that I shamed the council and the borough, grossly offensive.

“I could not support Councillor Coughlan’s nomination because I believe that when he last held an important position as leader of the council, his performance was poor to say the least and at times disastrous.”

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