Page last updated at 18:25 GMT, Friday, 9 April 2010 19:25 UK

Candidate uses 'basket case' at health charity event

Debabani Majumdar
BBC News, London

Bob Blackman
Mr Blackman used 'basket case' to describe Harrow Council under Labour

The Conservative candidate for Harrow East has used the word "basket case" at a meeting organised by the mental illness charity Rethink.

Bob Blackman said Harrow Council was a "basket case", before the Tories came to power and turned it around.

A member of the audience objected saying the word was "derogatory".

Victoria Walsh, the campaigns and policy manager for Rethink, who was present at the event, said: "We always ask candidates to think carefully about the type of language they use so that one in four of their constituents who are affected by mental illness are not offended by that type of terminology."

Tony McNulty, the incumbent MP and Labour candidate for the seat, Nahid Boethe, the Liberal Democrat candidate, Rowan Langley, Green candidate for Harrow West, and Herbert Crossman, UKIP candidate for Harrow West, were in the panel along with Mr Blackman.

The hustings was organised to give the candidates a chance to say what they would do for people suffering from mental illness and make the candidates aware of the needs of the carers and sufferers.

I don't regret using any words
Bob Blackman, Conservative candidate for Harrow East

Mr Blackman said: "Harrow Council was a basket case before the Tories took over. Now we are a three star council."

He was subsequently publicly criticised by Mr McNulty after a healthcare worker in the audience raised objection.

Earlier Mr Blackman, a former Brent councillor, told the audience that his sister has been battling mental illness, but said he did not regret using the term.

"I understand mental health issues first hand," he said.

"No I don't take nonsense from Tony McNulty and others.

"I don't regret using any words. People have regularly used that sort of phraseology to describe Harrow Council in 2006," he added.

'Hurtful to millions'

The healthcare worker, who said her name was Keira, said later: "This [prospective] MP is meant to represent us and to speak up for us but by using that term after saying all the wonderful things that he wants to campaign for mental health just shows what is in his heart and mind.

"It is hurtful to millions of people. I am wondering how much he would really champion mental illness."

Mr McNulty said:"For a Parliamentary candidate to say that is unfortunate.

"It must be time to send words like nutters and basket case in dustbins."

Ms Boethe said: "I think politicians should be, and not pretend [to be], more sincere and caring."

Ms Walsh added: "Three weeks ago all party leaders pledged that their candidates would not be using mental illness as an insult or a slur against another candidate or party."

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