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Tuesday, August 26, 2008 

Going lower than ever thought possible.

Out of all the joys that the internet has brought us, the ability for those with a tendency for hypochondria to self-diagnose themselves via the easy availability of the symptoms for every disease known to man is one of the lesser benefits. Even worse though is those who then take these self-same symptoms and rather than diagnosing themselves, attempt to pin the diseases and disorders on others, especially those involving mental health. This level of sub-Freudian projection is contemptible enough when it's directed against celebrities and others in the public eye, but when it enters political discourse it represents something resembling a new low in gutter-sniping.

Witness then Guido bringing the question completely out into the open, behind the witless low-level building up of the idea which has been going on for several months now. Gordon Brown, fairly and simply, is quite possibly bonkers. The evidence presented for this is weak beyond belief. It amounts to around three things: that Brown was labelled "psychologically flawed" long ago by Blair's briefers during one of the internecine battles between TB and GB; that Brown has been acting strangely, apropos an article by that man noted for his own completely rational and inoffensive behaviour, Bruce Anderson; and lastly, that even by the standards of a politician he's been making increasingly bizarre statements. To this you could add the pathetic diagnoses by the green ink brigade of autism, or Asperger's syndrome.

You don't have to have even the slightest medical training to treat such facile, shallow nonsense with the contempt it deserves. It ought to be remembered however though that this isn't just the imaginings of the usual suspect squad of bloggers getting ever more drunk on their own delusions of grandeur: George Osborne joked when asked by Mary Ann Sieghart whether his own knowledge of dinosaurs when a child was "faintly autistic" by saying "we're not getting into Gordon Brown yet"; and for a while it almost seemed to be Conservative policy to treat Gordon Brown as weird, hence Cameron's description of him as "that strange man in Downing Street".

To give these claims the sort of scrutiny which they don't deserve, we're for a start dealing with highly conflicting descriptions of what Brown genuinely is like. While some may class him as a Stalinist or a control freak, others have talked of his mildness, even warmth in private, and have been disillusioned by his failure to show this in public. Even if we take at face value the stories of Brown's rages, almost all delivered, incidentally, by either Blairites or those predisposed against Brown, of the smashing of mobile phones and otherwise, they don't even begin to be explained by mental illness or autism: rather, this is a person under intense pressure and stress, reacting at times in ways which he doubtless instantly regrets. It might be someone not enjoying the job which they so coveted, but it is not even slightly abnormal, let alone descending into mental ill-health.

More than anything, this perhaps comes down to what you regard as the qualities that a politician should always have on display. We seem increasingly to want our politicians to always be presentable, to always instantly know what to do, and at the same time to be incredibly open with everyone. In short, we never want them to put a foot wrong, be off-message, or be consumed with anything other than constant public service. This, more than anything, is what is currently delivering us identikit politicians, overwhelming upper-middle or upper-class, with next to no experience other than from within political parties, all of whom look more or less the same and indeed, offer more or the less the same. They can deliver a speech brilliantly, pretend to empathise, emerge as brain-shatteringly normal or at least act like it, and pass the barbecue test, but none of this qualifies them in the slightest to actually run a country. Surely we ought to have learned this lesson by now, whether by the examples of either Bush or Blair, yet we seem more than ever to lap up the spin we so profess to detest while railing against the outsider, the abnormal, those who don't seem to fit in.

Surely the greatest example of how you don't always need to be of complete sound mind, even if you are, when in a position of such authority is Churchill. Everyone is aware of his life-long battle with depression, of the "Black Dog" as he called it, yet its effects did not prevent him from serving as arguably the greatest prime minister this country has ever had.

This is not of course to suggest that Brown is on anywhere near the same plain as Churchill; he quite obviously is not. Yet the whispering about his own mental ill-health, completely unsubstantiated, is designed to put the final nail in his coffin, to ostracise him completely, to persecute him for daring to be anything other than he really is. The political reality Brown has to face is that he never forced his hand early enough to force Blair out when he could still have averted Labour's apparent inexorable decline. However much some want to pin all the blame solely on his shoulders for the economic weather we are now facing, the main opposition party cannot even begin to explain what things it would have done differently to Labour, or what it would have cut or not funded to the same extent as that as Brown did. He has chosen the entirely wrong policies to pursue since becoming prime minister, such as 42 days detention and the expansion of the school academy system, not to mention the 10p tax rate debacle, but there is no evidence whatsoever, indeed, some to the contrary, that another leader would do any better. The Conservatives are heading back to power, but if they or their cyphers think that they'll earn any kudos for descending to the politics of the sewer, lower even than that which New Labour has at times sunk, then they are certainly sorely mistaken.

Related:
Lib Con - The 'Gordon Brown is insane' meme

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Maybe we should start casting aspersions about Guido's propensity for alcohol?

His capacity for it coupled with his juvenile 'look at me everybody, I was completely pissed last night' proclamations hint at deep-seated problems...

The Churchill comparison is sensible. If GB did have some kind of mental illness - and I'm not saying he does - then wouldn't that just make him a lot like a significant minority of the population... the kind of people who are quite capable of being tremendous successes in their jobs and family life despite all that?

It's this sort of shite that forces people underground to hide their problems - Charles Kennedy is a good example.

I'm reminded of the vilification of Tony Benn in the 80s. I can't remember the paper (possibly The sun) but it had one of those 10 reasons why.....pieces of crap.
Its reasons why Wedgie was a loony included being a distant relative of a murderer (along with Margaret rutherford), drinking lots of tea and having a tilted head.

leaving politics to one side, I think there is still a widespread belief that mental illness should be treated by pulling yourself together.

Or Blair's description of William Hague as 'weird, weird, weird'?

Or the dismissal of Mo Mowlam as being mentally affected by her brain tumour?

This is a bit disingenous - the sheer volume and frequency of allegations about Brown's character means they can't just be ignored.

Clearly Guido and others will exaggerate and make the most of this but it's equally silly to dismiss it all out of hand. His answers to questions are sometimes so bizzare that wondering about his mental state is perfectly reasonable....

Tim: I would have condemned both of those remarks at the time. I'm not being party political here, despite attempts to paint it that way; what I loathe is politicians and others resorting to lazy smears, which is what this is. I condemned the recent comments by Andy Burnham about David Davis, which was another lazy smear, in which I also mentioned another New Labour smear against David Kelly: http://www.septicisle.info/2008/06/david-likes-shami.html

It looks like you don't like them much either, judging by your response over at Jamie's.

Casillis: is it really perfectly reasonable? It's one thing to describe someone as deluded, or becoming corrupted by power, it's quite another to allege outright mental illness or autism.

As for the sheer volume and frequency of allegations - again, is it really so overwhelming? We've had, what, an article from Robert Harris, a Blair confidant, which mentioned Asperger's and had long called for Blair to sack him, an article from Bruce Anderson, known for his gluttony and far from creditable behaviour while drunk, George Osborne, who thought it hilarious to refer to Gordon Brown in connection with autism and whom rumours of copious drug use swirl around, and that old jibe possibly from Alastair Campbell, himself a sufferer from depression, or possibly from Peter Mandelson, who went round spreading rumours that Brown was gay when he certainly wasn't of "psychological flaws" - I have psychological flaws and I'm more than happy to admit that. All the rest is Guido's imagined whisperers and sources, as bad as any other journalist's anonymous sources.

As a parent of a child with autism and a former autism teacher, I find the use of autism/AS to 'describe' Gordon Brown both absurd and offensive. The unemployment rate for both groups is over 90%, and will continue to be so as long as the terms are bandied about as terms of abuse.

Ok, so it is NOT OK to call Brown bonkers, but it IS OK to call Bruce Anderson bonkers? I read you correctly, yes? So Mr. Anderson is bonkers to call Brown bonkers?

Odd. Strange value set.

No - I agree. I strongly dislike it - whoever's doing it, it's not party-political. It's lazy thinking and unpleasant.

That said, I would also say that specific allegations of mental illness are much worse than accusations of being a bit odd. A lot of politicians, 'mad' or not, seem odd, from John Redwood to Richard Body. Whether you include Gordon Brown in *that* category is a matter of opinion. What it isn't, and shouldn't be, is any sort of critique of him as Prime Minister.

Yakoub,

Another blog also quoted the parent of an autistic young man, who said that Brown reminded him of his son to a remarkable degree.

Elby: I'm pretty certain that I didn't call Anderson "bonkers" or anything approaching it. His behaviour while drunk has been well documented.

don't confuse depression with stark raving lunacy

Churchill may have suffered from depression ( who can blame him when what he forsaw between the wars what was going to happen) but that does not make you unfit to govern. Brown is unfit for office because he is a bully, misleads parliament, goes missing when the shit hits the fan and takes credit where none is due.

Depressives and manic depressives, Churchill Stephen Fry etc can be great fun - fantastists like Brown are dangerous

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