Is Brown really bonkers? Or just weird?
So, the question everyone is asking (again). Is Gordon Brown mad? Sunny over at Liberal Conspiracy has got into a bit of a tizzy over the question asked by Andrew Marr at the weekend. Marr asked the PM whether he ‘was one of those people’ who ‘relied on ‘prescription painkillers and pills’ to get through the day. Cue prolonged Labour fury on the grounds that this was legitimising bullying right wing bloggers, who have been running with the idea that Brown is bonkers for quite a while now.
And yet, is this really a meme from the blogosphere? Further, is it really a despicable smear?
There are really two separate things going on here. The first is the theory propounded by John Ward that Gordon Brown is taking specific anti-depressant medication, the ‘evidence’ for which is that a civil servant apparently revealed that the PM is strictly off cheese, Chianti and avocados. Besides making it impossible for Brown to attend 1970s dinner parties, this also is an indicator that Brown is taking Mono Amine Oxidase Inhibitors, MAOIs, which have extremely dangerous side-effects if taken in conjunction with certain foods. MAOIs are pretty damned heavy-duty drugs, prescribed only if standard anti-depressants aren’t working.
Ward had a further theory as to why Brown might be on MAOIs – he’d already been taking SSRIs and they weren’t working. For evidence of this, he looked at Brown’s bruxism – a condition exacerbated by anti-depressant drugs. That is where the evidence for the story rests – circumstantial and far from conclusive but interesting anyway, because there’s just enough there to be persuasive. What the story isn’t is a Tory smear – or even a right wing blog smear.
The ‘smear’ element to it has a much longer pedigree. Is Brown bonkers? And who set that story running? Here’s a hint – not the blogosphere. Back in the old days we had psychological flaws, Charles Clarke has called Brown a deluded control freak with psychological issues, and Chris Mullin’s diaries are replete with Labour MPs calling him paranoid, megalomaniacal, mad and obsessive. It’s not been restricted to Labour MPs either – here’s Matthew Parris back in April 2008:
The implosion, however, will be ugly. Mr Brown is unlikely to go quietly. He may be mad but he's quite used to being mad, he's been mad for a long time, he doesn't see it, and on some ghastly level the prognosis is stable.
Parris is far from the only one – the theory that Brown is barking mad has done the rounds of the broadsheet media for years. And there are two reasons for this. The first is that describing political opponents as mad is a classic tactic – whether or not there is any substance to the charge, the lingering impression that so-and-so is a bit odd remains. Ask William ‘weird weird weird’ Hague – or remember how Mo Mowlam was made a bit funny by her brain tumour bless her. The astute among you may notice the same original guiding hand behind the three examples of Brown, Mowlam and Hague…
The second reason that this charge has been flying around is that Gordon Brown is weird. He shook his wife’s hand on the platform last year; that bizarre YouTube video on expenses; his near total emotional illiteracy – the man is odd. That hardly makes him unique in the Commons, but pointing out this wincingly obvious fact doesn’t constitute a smear.