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A gentle castigation of TB from my mental health friends

Posted on 3 September 2010 | 9:09am

With my mental health campaigner, former Mind champion hat on, I have been asked by friends and colleagues at Rethink to land a gentle slap on the wrist of one T Blair, author of a book, A Journey, which has been getting considerable attention in recent days.

It refers to his description of me on Page 7 as it becomes clear that he is about to become Prime Minister … I had been like a rock, he says. So far so good … but he then goes on … ‘In my experience there are two types of crazy people: those who are just crazy, and who are therefore dangerous; and those whose craziness lends them creativity, strength, ingenuity and verve. Alastair was of the latter sort …’ So it goes on, culminating a few hundred pages later with his view that if I had still been around in his final days as PM, when the media were even more ludicrous, I would have rampaged around like ‘a mad axeman.’

Now I take all of this as something of a compliment, especially page 7. But my fellow mental health campaigners rightly point out that it does somewhat risk playing into stereotypes we have been working quite hard to break down, not least in the Time to Change campaign. The stereotype runs something like this – if you are crazy, you can either be a creative genius, or you’re likely to be a menace to society. But the reality is most people with mental health problems are neither. They are ordinary people leading ordinary lives, capable of making a contribution but not always allowed to.

I should nonetheless point out that TB won himself a lot of friends in the mental health world when I wrote in The Blair Years how, when he asked me to work for him, I explained all about my breakdrown, drink problem and depression, and he said ‘I’m not bothered if you’re not bothered.’ When I said what if I am bothered, he said ‘I’m still not bothered.’ It was a quote used in the Time to Change poster campaigns and I think shows that he does get this area pretty well. But my mental health people asked me to slap the wrist, and now it is done.

Interesting response from comedian Dom Joly, who was interviewed on Five Live by Richard Bacon yesterday, and came in on the back of the discussion the BBC’s John Piennar and I had been having with Richard about TB’s interview. Dom sounded a little bit embarrassed to say that he knew it wasn’t the done thing to like TB but actually he did, and thought he was a pretty amazing politician. As I pointed out, an awful lot more people say that than ever comes across in our media, though perhaps A Journey will be part of a bigger reassessment that goes on.

But I draw attention to the tweet Dom sent me afterwards … @campbellclaret I got some weird looks at BBC for being even slightly Blair supportive…. And that was at Richard Bacon’s programme, which is one of the more sensible ones. The anti-TB thing remains in my view as much a media phenomenon as a genuine public one.

  • Andy

    I agree with Dom’s comments re TB and normal people having a mostly higher regard than the media etc. but no surprise there. media have short memories. people longer memories and will recall the good things that helped people lives and the sens eof a firm hand on the steering wheel.

  • I’ve not read TB’s book yet but this crazy people comment would have leapt straight off the page and I would have felt irritated. Such language does fly in the face of the Time To Change campaign, a campaign which is working so hard to change attitudes and beliefs. The word crazy suggests straightjackets and men in white coats to me and yes Alastair you are right in all you say today. TB was unwise to use this phrase and it’s indicative of the fact that it’s those who have not experienced MH problems who are most likely to use such phrases, because they just don’t realise what it’s like to be on the receiving end of stigma – sorry TB, it was plain thoughtless

  • Ronnie

    Was anyone else a bit astonished at the Guardian’s headline on Wednesday? They quoted TB as saying “I knew Brown premiership would be disaster for Labour”

    After watching the Marr interview on BBC2, it seemed to me that what he was saying about Brown – that he could have won another election – could not be coming from the same mindset. So I went to the book to check the quote.

    What Blair actually says is that he thought that if Brown did not stick to the New Labour outlook, or come up with a clear alternative, it would be a disaster.

    In other words, he was talking about policy, not personality. He makes it clear that he thought that with the right policies, Brown could have been a success. Yet the intention in the way the Guardian wrote the article was clearly to give the impression that he was talking about Brown as a man, not his policies. To stir things up and misrepresent TB as saying he had no respect for GB personally – which, from what I have read of the book, is clearly not the case.

    I know the Guardian has gone a bit off the rails, but I was surprised at how malicious their intention seems to be in the way they twisted this stuff.

  • Mark Wright

    The line between genuine insanity and sublime genius is often blurred. Some just dance on the line their whole lives.

    TB speaks as many of us think. Why else would he have won 3 general elections in a row?

  • Denise in Ireland

    TB doing his first live interview since publication on the Late Late Show in Ireland tonight at 9.30 pm.
    Another one of your favorities Alastair is also on – Munster, Ireland & Lions rugby player Donncha O’Callaghan.
    Ryan Tubridy (the host) seems to be a New Labour fan, weren’t you on that show around the time of the British election?

  • Paul Veitch

    Hi Alastair did you get email re Mental Health charity event for MIND? Paul Veitch. Jesus Centre Northampton.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Salvador Dali said that the difference between him and insane was that he was not insane.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if Tony Blair had resorted to racial stereotyping the slap would have been so gentle not least as Mr Blair was also in the habit of denouncing his long term New Labour rival Gordon Brown as paranoid and psychotic behind the scenes.

    Ordinary people with mental health issues are fed up with this hypocrisy from politicians .

    Mr Blair, who now calls for greater religious tolerance all round and more general understanding and acceptance of the beliefs of different faiths , should be setting an example around mental health not being constantly caught out pandering to health stereotypes or using psychiatric diagnoses as terms of abuse.

  • Beatrice Bray

    Alastair, it is not enough that Tony Blair employed you. He knew you. He saw in you in the round but to create good mental health policy you need more of an understanding than you can possibly gain from acquaintence with a single person. You need a mindset that can cope with planning policy for a whole population. I do not expect a Prime Minister to be acquainted with every nuamce of every specialism. A Prime Minister has to be a generalist but even generalists in politics today should know better than to speak of “crazy people”.

    It is nice for you that Mr Blair gave you a job. I certainly do not begrudge you that at all but I have been on Incapacity since 1991. That is not through choice. There are many people like me. New Labour failed us and one of the reasons for that was this. There was a lot of prejudice within the Labour Party and by the sounds of Mr Blair’s statement today there still is prejudice today. I grew up in the eighties being called a “Loony Lefty” not by Tories but by left-wing labour students. They thought it funny to say that because I’d been sectioned under the Mental Health Act once and my father was a labour MP. In the nineties I worked in Parliament and came hear the slogan I learned to detest from Labour Parliamentary staff. “There’s no votes in mental health.” Do you wonder I found that insulting?

    There does seem to still be the perception that people with mental health problems are an embarrassment and liability to members of all political parties. No wonder Westminster and Whitehall keep on coming up with crap policy. The sooner leading figures in politics learn not to insult us the sooner we are more likely to come up with workable policy across every area of politics affected by mental health. By that I don’t just mean Health and Work and Pensions. I mean the whole lot.

  • It was unwise to say it and i think at the end of the day he should have mentioned that everyone has issues and we’re all just trying to live out our lives as best we can and that some people think he is crazy because of some of the decisions he’s made. And that everyone is crazy to someone.

  • Not all language is take as literal. An ordinary reader seeing a description of you running a media campaign like ‘a mad axeman’ is not going to take it as literally involving an axe, nor think it’s an insult to victims of mental problems. It’s figurative language and an exaggeration. In this context it just means that you have a combative style of political debate.

  • Robert Jackson

    Substitute the words “overly enthusiastic” for “crazy” and “leaping up and down” for “running around like a mad axeman”.

    Changes the image – lightens matters no end – more sarcastic.

    Amendments for the second edition, maybe?

  • Mr D Hopkins

    How truly pathetic this blog is. Where is my post castigating Cambell?
    Once again Cambell and his minions are trying to control the way he is viewed.
    This man is loathed by the vast majority of the British public.
    Moderators controling genuine posts, proof of the pudding that Cambell like all war criminals uses the media as a propaganda tool for his self seeking egotisical personality. What a sham this blog is.

    David Hopkins

  • Anonymous

    YouGov poll today showed the public really quite like TB too
    47% thought he was a good PM
    57% thought he was likeable
    43% thought he was principled
    Minimum Wage and Northern Ireland seen as his greatest achievements.
    A majority thought it would be a mistake to turn our backs on his legacy.

  • Johnbhouy

    As someone who is suffering from depression I commend your Blog. As for the Media hype concerning our former Prime Minister I think it may be the right wing being vitriolic against Blair. This is similar to the way in which the left wing demonised Thatcher?

  • As a person with a disability I too hate the dualism between empowering/destructive disability, although my disability is physical. I am enjoying ‘a Journey’ though.

  • In true political style, Alistair avoids putting his own opinion forward. Choosing to speak through his ‘mental health friends’ and other interviewees he minimises the issue and seems to patronise his ‘mental health friends’. Come on Alistair – get off the fence!

  • Craig W Thomas

    Adding strength to what you’re saying here, Mr. A, I was on the phone to a Labour member up north the other day and he expressed his still high regard for TB. ‘You met him?’ I asked. ‘I did,’ he replied. ‘You liked him?’ I asked. ‘Very much,’ he replied. ‘Why did you like him?’ ‘He made you feel important. I’m six foot one, but every time after I spoke to him, I walked away feeling six foot six.’ He went on to say that he’d be a TB supporter to the end.

    The idea propagated by an insane press (cf. most of The G and The O in the past week going off like lunatics ((sorry for any negative implications re. mental health here))) that all Labour activists hate TB for Iraq is utter crap. They may in Brighton somewhat, but not in north Midland Labour heartlands (where I’ve been campaigning for DM).

  • Trevor Malcolm

    In days gone by, when Prezza piddled his Pamper nappies, bless him, yes, the year 1874, THAT long ago, Mr Campbell’s more mature readers will still recall how the lexicographer, Charles Mackay, published “Lost Beauties of the English Language”

    There, the lexicographer bemoaned and lamented losing thousands of little-used, but expressive, often colourful words from our language

    The word “wowf” meant “completely bonkers” for example. Totally barking

    Before psychiatry, folks with funny turns felt abit wowf, back then. Maybe unbuxom, even wanchancie, too – at least until NHS services re-badged it all

    So, now, instead of talking of widespread “benign indifference” the Guvment has entrained us all to speak of “care in the community for the vulnerable” – nice, eh?

    And, should Tony Blair wish to speak of “crazies” again, perhaps he might benefit first from some coaching in the TV techniques (Transformational Vocabulary; global metaphors, APET and RIGAAR models, etc) that the more experienced NLP practitioners obtain consistent and longer-lasting results with?

    Instead of him talking such tapsalteerie, you wanna slap the smug grin off his face

    TM ———-

  • Fiona Ciglen

    Dear Mr Campbell,

    I heard your presentation in Lincoln today. You know why fibromyalgia is in 38th position; it’s because, like ME/yuppie flu, many health professionals don’t believe it exists. In other words, it’s “all in the mind”. Sound familiar? I have a friend who, in addition to suffering depression (as if that wasn’t enough), has fibromyalgia. It is a poorly understood condition and not very well treated. From what I can gather from my friend, it sounds like a cross between chronic fatigue and arthritis, in that she is often overwhelmed by extreme tiredness and extreme muscle pain at the same time. She has to beg her GP for prescription-strength painkillers. He reluctantly prescribes an inadequate amount for her and gives her a lecture on becoming addicted to painkillers.

    I was surprised to hear that psychiatry wasn’t highly rated within the medical profession. Were New Yorkers and Californians included in that survey? I though that the witty Frasier had made it quite a sexy thing to be.
    Keep up the good work, and I look forward to reading your novel one day.