Former Cabinet Minister shares battle with agoraphobia and urges other politicians to discuss their mental health

The condition left him unable to take part in the famous Budget briefcase photocall last Autumn when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury

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A former Cabinet Minister has opened up about his ongoing battle with agoraphobia and said its vital politicians are open about mental health.

The condition left Simon Clarke unable to take part in the famous Budget briefcase photocall last Autumn when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Speaking about how the condition affects him, the Tory MP, who was recently criticised for questioning nurses’ use of foodbanks, told GB News “It’s an anxiety disorder and it’s something I think is important to be open about. We live in an age, where just this week, the Prime Minister has been talking about the vital importance of investing in mental health.

“And, after the pandemic, I think there’s a newfound awareness of just how critical an issue this is, and that it isn’t anything to be ashamed about.”

Opening up during an interview on Gloria Meets, Mr Clarke, 37, said he’d been fighting the condition for close to two decades.

“I’ve lived with it on and off, since my early 20s,” he told Gloria De Piero. “It’s one of those things that waxes and wanes and it correlates, I suspect, to pressure. Also, perhaps it is linked to how run down you are, and if there's one thing about government jobs they take a huge toll on the people who hold them.

“I think that's probably an underestimated part of the Westminster story, the strain, the sheer physical and mental strain that people holding these jobs are under. I just thought, rather than put myself through what would have been a really difficult situation, it was better to be honest. And you know with the exception of some of the more toxic parts of social media, the response has been extremely supportive and helpful.”

Revealing how he lives with the condition he continued: “I see a therapist who is helping with that. And I think that's a good thing to do, and it is helping. I certainly feel a lot better than I did at the time of that Autumn photocall.

“Help is out there, and it can help you turn a corner. I'm fortunate that it doesn't affect my ability to do my job. But the reality is that certain settings are just very difficult for me. The classic sort of place I really struggle with is the concourse of Kings Cross station or big airports like Heathrow. Those are the settings I find most difficult.”

Former Cabinet Minister Simon Clarke
Former Cabinet Minister Simon Clarke

Explaining how the pressure of politics can impact things he said: “I think you can mentally get worn down. If you have a predisposition to something like agoraphobia or similar anxiety related disorders, then I doubt it's particularly helpful really.

“The hours are long, the weight of the decisions is heavy, but also the way in which our politics has become so nasty in recent years has not helped. The sheer hatred, which is often on display, particularly behind the anonymity of social media, is absolutely extraordinary.”

Meanwhile Mr Clarke also opened up about Liz Truss' premiership saying he felt “people owed her more loyalty”.

He explained: “I think one of the challenges that Liz faced in the very difficult days at the end of September, and the beginning of October was that a lot of the Conservative Party weren't on board with what she was seeking to do, which was a fundamental reset. Liz wanted to try and achieve a higher growth, a lower tax proposition and to try and frankly get the dynamism back into the UK economy.

“I think we can all agree that sluggish growth has been one of the biggest problems of the last fifteen or sixteen years since the 2008 crash, and the issue was that both the markets weren't really sympathetic.

“The Bank of England wasn't particularly sympathetic. But also, a number of Conservative MPs were frankly not in the business of trying to give her the time to deliver what was always going to be a difficult pivot, if you like, from one policy to another.

“But it was one which she had clearly set out during the course of her leadership campaign, and she'd won a mandate from the members to deliver. And the negative briefing was deeply corrosive to her ability to do that.

“It is for colleagues ultimately to judge their own actions and whether they got behind their leader. But I do feel, and still feel, people owed Liz more loyalty and more time to deliver what was something she had won the argument on last summer.

But pointing out where Truss went wrong he added: “Clearly, I think, looking back, she ought to have built a Government which was more broadly constituted across the Conservative Party. She did not help herself as Prime Minister by constituting a Government which I think was too narrowly drawn from those who had supported her.

“But nonetheless, ultimately, we owe our loyalty to our leader. I want the Rishi Sunak government to succeed because that is ultimately in the national interest, and in the party's interests. But that same spirit did not seem to apply, I'm afraid, with Liz last summer. And that is a regret.”