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John Rentoul

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.

"The Independent's must-read man" - Daniel Finkelstein

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Is Gordon Brown Insane? Part 2

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Thursday, 2 April 2009 at 02:08 pm
In response to my blog about unworthy comment on the Prime Minister's state of mental health, Anthony Cox, who blogs as Blacktriangle, draws my attention to a discussion about mental illness and politics on BBC Radio 4 PM programme in January.

In it Oliver James, a psychologist and writer, discussed the psychology of expectations of political leaders, following the inauguration of Barack Obama. In the course of it, he said:

In psychiatric terms, a significant proportion of the population are either suffering from a mental illness or on the verge thereof: certainly half the British population, and by other ways of evaluating it 80 or 90 per cent of the population.

These poor saddos (I paraphrase) "are much more likely to idealise a political leader" and to be prone to feelings of "vengeance and anger against a hated parent" when it all goes wrong, as it did, in James's opinion, with Tony Blair. Only 10 or 20 per cent of the population are "really emotionally mature and mentally healthy" by virtue of their ability to be "sceptical but optimistic".

Carolyn Quin then turned to her other guest on the programme, Phil Collins, formerly Blair's speechwriter and now a leader-writer on The Times, whose response was priceless: 

Oliver says that one in two people are on the verge of a mental illness in Britain; I certainly think that is true of the people in this conversation.

I missed the report of this by Daniel Finkelstein, Collins's colleague, at the time. All I can do, belatedly, is provide a link to the audio (well, I can't actually, not easily, so you'll have to go to Blacktriangle and scroll down to the bottom of this post) and record James's spluttering protests: "I actually know the statistics and you don't - can I just say that it is actually statistically true, what I said?"


Hubris Syndrome
zansal wrote:
Friday, 10 April 2009 at 11:44 am (UTC)
Blair has it (now giving advice to the Pope...) and Brown probably caught it from Blair.


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