As the year nears its close with a new Prime Minister test-driven, run-in and, from the look of him, near done-in, your diarist wrestles with a professional problem. I think Gordon Brown is mad.You can see why Parris has a problem. If the Prime Minister is suffering from mental illness then this is nothing less than a national crisis. Parris is probably wondering about the need to provide care and therapy, the difficult constitutional problems, the dangers of setting a precendent by stripping a serving PM of his powers. Right?
But the trouble is, I said Tony Blair was mad, too. I said it for nearly ten years. Readers will surely begin to worry that it is I who am mad — or, worse, that I'm just a former Tory MP who thinks all Labour leaders are insane.Silly me. Of course, the problem is Parris's credibility. He's got as far as recognizing that his absurd fondness for unqualified, unfounded mental health diagnoses might begin to reflect more on him than his targets. For some of us, that might be a clue that we should rethink this one. But dammit, Parris just can't stop himself. I mean, the evidence is clear:
But with Mr Brown it shouts at you, doesn't it? The constant, mindless, repetition of comfort-blanket verbal formulae. The anger, the obstinacy — a man by turns bullying yet paralysed by indecision.Sorry, Matthew, can we have that again?
...The constant, mindless, repetition of comfort-blanket verbal formulae.And that bit from earlier?
But the trouble is, I said Tony Blair was mad, too. I said it for nearly ten years.Oh, the irony. It burns.
Look, I don't have many hopes for 2008, but one thing that would be really, really, cool would be the disappearance, once and for all, of the pathetic and insulting trope that one's political opponents are mentally ill. In the first place, it's pathetic and lazy. It replaces the discussion of politics with playground insult. It denies that ideas, philosophies or even policies matter; why deal with those when you can reduce everything to personalities, and then dismiss your opponents as barmy?
In the second place, and more importantly, it's turning genuine illness into an insult. Mental health is a complex and difficult issue; it takes around 7 years in the UK to be qualified to have an opinion on it. So why do columnists like Parris think they're even remotely capable of forming one, based on no more than Westminster gossip and media chaff? The answer is that they don't, and they haven't even stopped to think about the genuine problems associated with mental illness. Certainly there's no suggestion that Brown or Blair, if "mad" would deserve our compassion: this "diagnosis" is intended to incite our contempt - an attitude to mental health that belongs in the days of Bedlam. Back when Parris was accusing Blair of losing his grasp of reality, the Guardian asked Dr Beveridge of Queen Margaret's Hospital, Dunfermline, to comment:
"If we accept the argument that Tony Blair is mad, his plight does not seem to have aroused much sympathy. Rather, the prime minister is condemned, and his condition said to be characterised by self-deception, personal inadequacy and possession. Such a view is, of course, deeply offensive to people who actually experience mental illness."But who cares about that, as long as we can put the boot into Brown?