When I was first persuaded to go on
Facebook, I couldn’t really get the concept of online friends. But on Friday,
something happened that made it click into place.

I posted a status update about having
just signed off a report I am launching this week for Time to Change, the
anti-discrimination campaign, about famous historical figures who had their own
mental health problems.

Almost instantly, a ‘friend’
I didn’t know – one Robert-John Molloy Tasker – posted a Clarksonesque
offensive response about Gordon Brown and paranoia. I ignored it. But the next
time I looked, some articulate and passionate responses to his remarks had gone
up. Robert-John seemed to be enjoying the reaction. He started to abuse those objecting
to his observation.

After a while I chipped in
and praised the recent speech on mental health in the Commons by Tory MP
Charles Walker
, a big supporter of Time to Change. I said it showed that not
all Tories were complete jerks. 

Later Robert-John started to
change his tune, soften things a little but by now another friend – Lambeth
Labour councillor Mark Bennett – had googled him, discovered he was a Tory
, and threatened to draw attention to his remarks – which went beyond
GB – in the Kingston area where he was elected.

This led to further
softening and eventually a nocturnal email to Mark offering “to provide
references of the Conservatives campaigning over mental health issues in the
Royal Borough” and “a break down (chronological if need be) of where
and how … the Kingston/Richmond Conservatives have campaigned on mental
health issues over the course of the last two years”. He also deleted his
earlier crass remarks, though too late, I suspect, for Kingston Labour and Lib
Dem members not to be on the case.  

On the weekly email I send
out to supporters of Go Fourth, the campaign for a Labour fourth term, I had
set everyone (myself included) the challenge of signing up a new member for the
Labour Party. So when I spotted another friend I didn’t know, Joanne Sheppard,
saying that people like Robert-John made her think about joining the Labour
Party, I urged her to do so. She said she would sleep on it. The next morning
she joined the Party.

Anyone reading this, similarly tempted as they spot what the Tories are really like – by the way, didn’t you
love Cameron’s comments on State schools in yesterday’s Telegraph by the way
… roughly paraphrased ‘Of course my kids ought to go to the top private
schools like I did but I am trying to be PM so I’m going to pretend I’d like to
send them to a comprehensive’ – can join online by visiting the Labour
Party’s websit

Just as I was grateful to my Facebook friends for their handling of Robert-John, so I have been
impressed by all the friendly advice re this website – much of it technical and
way above my head, some of it stylistic, most of it hugely supportive. There
has been a fair bit of criticism too but that’s par for the course.

What has been interesting in
both instances, the attack on GB and the launch of the site, is the sense of
community within communities. I think the most common complaint about the
website has been about the need to use a bar at the side of blog and comments
to scroll down, rather than being able to scroll down on text. I agree, so that’s being
fixed. Also, there are a couple of new vlogs up there but for now they’re
posted on YouTube rather than indicated on this site. I hope that all makes
sense. But thanks for the comments.

Re Charles Walker by the way, I think it
must be the first time a Tory MP has referred to me favourably in a Commons

The report will be published on Tuesday
and provided we have the teething problems sorted, I’ll make sure it goes up
here as well as on the Time to Change campaign site. I’m also due to be on
Newsnight talking about it tomorrow, with a piece about it in the Mirror on
Tuesday, and a stack of radio and TV interviews to hammer home the message that
when it comes to mental health discrimination, and the attitudes of people like
Robert-John, it really is Time to Change.