I RECALL, in 2003, at the time of claims about Tony Blair’s government having ‘sexed up’ the Iraq WMD dossier, Alastair Campbell making an unexpected visit to the Channel 4 News studios. The ensuing interview was notable for the bullying, combative style of the ex-journalist to the extent that one felt almost shocked by the browbeating Jon Snow got from Blair’s spin doctor. There was a hint of the Mafioso capo roughing someone up live on air.
This kind of thing made him very unpopular in many quarters beyond those of his political opponents. Of course, his ability to bring these qualities to the Remainer camp has also won him many friends. Nevertheless today, lacking power and aware that he is not in good odour everywhere, he seems mindful of a need to rehabilitate himself and identify with Joe Public beyond merely advertising his support for Burnley Football Club. To do this, he has adopted the go-to fix-all, which is to advertise one’s mental health vulnerability almost as a badge of honour and dare people not to sympathise with you. As a result, tomorrow evening we are to be treated to a BBC2 programme called Alastair Campbell: Depression and Me.
One can’t help speculating whether he is the victim of this arbitrary and disembodied condition that randomly afflicts him or whether it is involved with who he is. Not knowing the man intimately, I go no further than that.
In a disturbingly similar way, the younger generation of the Royal Family seem to be adopting a ‘pay it forward’ version of rehabilitation aimed at reassuring us that they are humans just like the rest of us. They are baring their souls about their mental health difficulties as part of a no doubt well-intentioned ‘talking about mental health’ campaign. A friend recently replied to Prince William’s tweet about his ‘bereavement pain like no other’ that such pain is ‘a natural reaction, not a mental illness’. The future king has also thrown into the ring the distress caused him by what he has witnessed as an Air Ambulance helicopter pilot.
One might ask from what the royals need to be rehabilitated in this way? You could be forgiven for some cynicism if you answered: from being the royals, of course. In a culture substantially underpinned by Marxist descriptions of absolutely everything in terms of oppression and exploitation by the privileged, the young Windsors are sitting ducks. Do they think that by casting themselves as victims too and getting their apologies in first, it will save them from being impugned? That if they can distract us with their pity-inducing vulnerabilities, perhaps we’ll forget to shy at them?
This without doubt is a harsh interpretation of motive that they may not even be aware of; yet their public soul-baring does appear a somewhat weedy and cowardly strategy for two former military – and indeed brave – men. Perhaps their foray into this pain-advertising world simply shows they are as subject as everyone else to conforming to the new ‘baring your soul’ mores. It is certainly a measure of the power of modern victim orthodoxy and blame culture that means that all are responsible except you. And last week, of course, was ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’, the campaign the young royals have committed to. Hence the ads and pronouncements of solidarity, and the high-profile BBC confessional programmes on the mental health difficulties of those such as Campbell.
But what is the real story behind all of this? It is that mental illness used to be, quite unjustifiably, a stigma. Mental Health Awareness Week has not asked whether assuming sanity is a norm in a citizen enabled society to function properly; or whether, in many cases, mental ill-health results from poor moral choices by individuals, failures to take up responsibility, or exercise it correctly. No, the stigma, the State has it today, is inflicted by an unknown wicked party.
Having mental health difficulties is now, with no thought given to the nature of the phenomenon, put on a par with being an amputee, being ‘queer’, being black, being a woman and so on. In other words, it has become a form of victimhood randomly inflicted on one by petulant and vindictive gods. Except, of course, the blame, in reality, is not heaped on petulant gods but on a hapless government which fails to pour enough money into ‘solving’ mental health problems. This failure swiftly becomes the main reason for people being mentally ill. As with other forms of victimhood, one only becomes ‘somebody’ by exhibiting one’s scars. I suffer and am to be pitied, therefore I am. Many turn such ‘suffering’ into a profession, abandoning all concerns with agency and self-respect along the way. Why wouldn’t you adopt such strategies if they enable you to live in a fastness where all blame and responsibility have been deposited on someone outside the walls?
Practically the whole of the human condition which has always been, of course, subject to lacrimae rerum and mortality, is now turned into a forum for passive victimhood ripe for medicalisation and legal compensation claims. It is as if a mere notion, dreamed up by a lawyer in Cherie Booth’s practice, of a perfected human condition ‘experience’ we can all rely on (one can imagine the human souls as they depart this realm punching the smiley feedback emojis) has been put out there and now turned into a ‘human right’ which deserves compensation if not delivered satisfactorily. ‘Compo face’ is all too easy to assume.
Should the future king, his brother and their wives be participating in and encouraging this culture? That indeed is the question. Should they, of all people (for in some sense they are still role models), be endorsing this take on how we respond to our condition? I’ll leave you to decide.