Politics is high stress psychological work – politicians would benefit from psychological support
Posted on 15 February 2015 | 9:02am
When you write a 450 page book on winners, with a stack of interviews with some of the greatest winners of our time, you can never be quite sure what the papers will go for.
When I sat down to do the first interview with the Sunday Times, I suspected their dream headline would contain the words ‘Miliband’ and ‘loser.’ That was easily avoided – by talking up Ed’s considerable qualities and by emphasizing that I was totally committed to helping Labour win.
Given the proximity to the election it was inevitable the paper would want a political headline for the news pages. And one of the main themes of the book is that politics has a lot to learn from the best of business and the best of elite sport. Both in the book and in the interview I have talked of how top sports stars now routinely have psychological support, though their work is physical, whereas politicians tend to shy away from having such support when their work is mainly intellectual, mental.
Cue headline ‘Every MP needs a shrink – Alastair Campbell.’ I do not complain. I was a journalist myself for a long time and I know that headline quotes often summarize in dramatic fashion what is actually said. Namely that 100 all politicians would benefit if they had psychological support.
The Sunday Times quotes me accurately as saying politicians are deterred by the fear of headlines like ‘Cameron has a shrink’.
Anyway guess what headline the Telegraph used when they lifted the story? ‘Ed Miliband needs a shrink, says Alastair Campbell.’
That is straightforwardly dishonest and deliberately misleading. But all of a piece with where much of our media is right now – anything which can be twisted to damage Ed is duly twisted.
But as I said yesterday I think Labour can take heart from this. It shows how scared the Tories are and how desperate their supporters are becoming, not least because of Ed’s leadership role on the issues that led to the Leveson Inquiry.
I do genuinely think that people in senior positions in politics, business and indeed any walk of life would benefit if they properly understood the fragility of the human mind and did what they could to strengthen it. The book focuses on many stories of sportsmen and women who work as hard at the mental as at the physical. And when it came to high pressure moments like giving evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry I know I benefited from knowing and using Andy McCann, one of the country’s top sports psychologists.
The book also has a section on the benefits of mental instability and the oft seen link between mental health problems and hyper achievement – Churchill, Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, Martin Luther King. MLK was a manic depressive. His mania gave him the energy and drive he needed to lead. His depression gave him the empathy and understanding to hold together a very disparate team.
Teamship figures large in the book, again with sport supreme, and I do believe if New Labour had been as good at Teamship as team-building, we would still be there.
As for which extract the Sunday Times went for, interestingly it focuses neither on politics not sport, but on the Queen. As I went through all the various qualities and characteristics required of winners – strategy, leadership, teamship, resilience, innovation, boldness, adaptability, crisis management – it dawned on me that she had the lot.
I am still at heart a Republican. I still see the Monarchy as the pinnacle of a class system that has held Britain back and is doing so again now the Bullingdon boys are back in charge. But she is a class act, one of the undisputed long term winners of our lifetime. And I wish my Mum – born in the same year as the Queen but who died last year – was here to read a book in which I describe the Queen as a winner. Our arguments about Royalty as a child were what fired up my politics in the first place.