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Is it more rude to ask if someone’s going whacko than blind?

Rod Liddle says the furore surrounding Andrew Marr’s questions to Gordon Brown is academic. These rumours are rife in the blogosphere

30 September 2009

12:00 AM

30 September 2009

12:00 AM

Rod Liddle says the furore surrounding Andrew Marr’s questions to Gordon Brown is academic. These rumours are rife in the blogosphere

Is our Prime Minister perpetually out of his brainbox on powerful psychotropic substances, as everybody now seems to believe? Dilaudid, crystal meth, that sort of thing? Does he stagger out of bed and say: ‘Aw, Sarah, I’ve got a meeting with Harman in half an hour. Light up the crack pipe, will you?’

Looking at the man, you would not think so. That strange, strangulated smile, the ever encroaching brow — this is not the demeanour of a man who, for example, mainlines camel tranquillisers every morning. If he is scoring regularly, then I suggest he changes his dealer, because he’s being ripped off. Mandelson, meanwhile — well, there’s another issue.


The BBC’s Andrew Marr is in a spot of bother because he asked Gordon Brown straight out if he was a druggy, having already asked him if he were about to go blind. I quite like the idea that the country is being led by a severely visually impaired Dennis Hopper; it has a certain rapturous end-time beauty about it. But Labour MPs are now in revolt and may boycott Marr’s fine Sunday morning chat show as a consequence of this impertinence; they have been jabbering about it endlessly in the bars at Brighton. Well, boys, you have about seven months for that threat to contain even a modicum of force, so enjoy it while you can.

Most people seem to be agreed — including one or two BBC political interviewers I spoke to — that Marr was on good ground talking about Brown’s eye problems, but on decidedly dodgy ground when he brought up the drugs. Certainly, there has been fury from Labour, with even perfectly sensible people like Jon Cruddas insisting that the question was inappropriate — and, ever attuned to the general sensibilities of the public, David Cameron concurring. There has been spite and malevolence too, from — would you Adam and Eve it? — Alastair Campbell. On a blog, the former spin doctor castigated Marr’s approach and suggested that there were certain things which Andrew Marr wouldn’t like to be asked about in an interview in front of millions of people. In the no-longer (sadly) smoke-filled rooms at Brighton, plenty of Labour MPs took up this nasty little baton and suggested that Brown should have turned the tables there and then.

Let’s get this out of the way first: there have been no rumours about Andrew Marr which, even if proven to be true, would remotely affect his ability to do his job. And secondly, Andrew Marr is a mere journalist, not the Prime Minister. Even for those of you who, with some justification, dislike the double standards employed from time to time by our trade, there is a difference.

Another theory doing the rounds is that Marr felt sort of compelled to ask the question because he is perceived by the right to be, at best, an unaligned wet liberal and, at worst, a card-carrying activist of what is still referred to, by some foaming maniacs, as the Blair Broadcasting Corporation. And thus, in a wish to be truly rigorous, he was pushed towards an area of questioning which even a hardline Tory would consider de trop. Ergo, hoist by his own New Labour petard via the crime of overcompensation, as the psychologists would have it.

And finally, the sort of moderate, considered view — the third way, if you like — is that Marr overstepped the mark by asking about prescription drugs, but was within his rights when referring to the issue of Brown’s eyesight. Of all the points of view we’ve examined this seems to me to have the least to commend it. Brown has been blind in one eye for a considerable period of time; the only evidence to support the thesis that his other eye is now playing up comes from the blogosphere, which has occasionally leaked into the mainstream press. ‘You need hard evidence before you ask the Prime Minister something like that,’ I was told, in reference to the drugs. But where’s the ‘hard’ evidence for Brown’s recent problems with his eyesight? It’s a false dichotomy. The Labour party has insisted that the only references to Brown’s alleged reliance on prescription drugs comes from ‘extreme right-wing’ bloggers. But that’s not true: the right-wing columnist Simon Heffer alluded to it in his column for the Daily Telegraph, and the (sorta) left-wing columnist Matthew Norman mentioned the same thing in passing in one of his own columns. In fact, Matthew actually wrote that if the Prime Minister wasn’t taking prescription drugs, he should be. In any case, the prescription drugs business had been established in the mainstream press every bit as much — if not more — than those worries over Brown’s eyesight. I suppose people consider it ruder to ask someone if they’re going whacko than if they’re going blind.

A good ten years or so ago now, a right-wing maniac came into my office at the BBC and told me that Tony Blair was a kiddie-fiddler, and he had the paper evidence to prove it. He was deluded and mad and there was no truth whatsoever to the charges. But it is the sort of thing which these days would be a staple on the right-wing (and far left-wing) blogs — and quite possibly would leak, one way or another, into the mainstream press, the columnists for which scour the blogs for titbits. A sly joke here or there, from which another columnist might write a more substantive piece. All those rumours in the mid-1990s about male Tory ministers shagging one another — they’d be on the blogs, too. My guess is that 99 per cent of the stuff that swills around the blogosphere is certifiable rubbish written by paranoid idiots and that we all, in the deadwood press, have a duty to disbelieve unless we find compelling evidence to the contrary. But in the meantime we flail around, desperate to believe one or another rumour, the more unlikely and bizarre the better, because one in a hundred, and probably the least likely (John Major and Edwina Currie, anyone?) will turn out to be true. It seems hard, then, to attack Andrew Marr simply for asking the questions at a time when the blogosphere is, bizarrely, trusted as a conduit of information.


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