The McBride Affair
How Labour turned Cool Britannia into Cruel Britannia
Dr Phillip Lee is a GP based in the Thames Valley and fought Blaenau Gwent at the 2005 general election. Here he laments the way in which the planned Labour smear operation sought to exploit the taboo of mental illness and asserts that now more than ever is the time for the Conservatives to show compassion for the vulnerable in society.
When one reflects upon the recent Westminster scandal involving Messrs McBride and Draper (et al.), it is sad to conclude that in today’s Britain such behaviour is viewed with a certain sense of tired resignation.
In a country where Saturday night televisual fayre can involve the ritual humiliation of the mentally unwell on The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent; where one TV channel’s top-rating show involves watching “housemates” behaving disgracefully towards each other and being “rewarded” with celebrity for doing so; and where the awful phenomenon of “happy slapping” can be viewed as an acceptable form of entertainment by some of our younger generation, is it any wonder that the behaviour of Brown’s bullies was accepted by some senior supporters and employees of the Labour movement?
It would appear that bullying has become de rigueur in Labour’s Britain. Where has Mr Brown’s moral compass gone? What of engendering respect for others, compassion for the needy and concentrating on the proper governance of this great country?
Of course, politics has always been a “rough and tumble” world; however, to have contemplated spreading unfounded allegations about the mental health of the spouse of a politician is taking the so-called “dark arts” of political spinning to a new low. Indeed, there’s no lower to go.
As a member of a caring profession, what I find incomprehensible is that one of the main protagonists in this sorry affair has a professional practice dealing with people who have mental health problems and who himself has suffered from mental distress in the past (a fact that he has placed in the public sphere himself I might add). How can such a man describe the emails from McBride as “brilliant” and “funny”?
What appears to have been missed in the commentary I have read in recent days is that McBride was intending to tap into the reality that mental health still remains a taboo subject in Britain. In my professional experience, most people are still scared and wary of anyone with mental health problems.
By using that fear, the former spin doctor figured that by attacking the wife of a potential future Cabinet minister with a false allegation of “mental instability” he would “harm” the reputation of that Conservative politician. It does not reflect well on our society that he thought it an attack worth making. Such cruelty towards the mentally vulnerable should have no place in a healthy society. Unfortunately, Britain’s society is not well.
The “Broken Society” agenda that the Conservatives have sought to highlight, and that senior Labour politicians have regularly attacked, now has further relevance. To be compassionate about the vulnerable in society is a traditional part of Conservatism that I believe our Party would now do well to pursue actively.
When the Labour Party was ushered into power in 1997 much was written about a new age of “Cool Britannia”. Sadly, when social and political historians come to analyse the last decade in Britain, I fear it will be more likely that the era will be described as “Cruel Britannia”.
What is clear, though, is that the Conservatives will have more to do than just “balance the books” when they walk through the door of No. 10 next year. To address the dreadful culture of bullying and irresponsibility that has developed under this woeful government, as well as halting the erosion of moral standards in public life, will be challenges that will take more than a generation to fix.
(this article was originally published here on Conservative Home, April 15th 2009)