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.