When you are recovering from a stroke, you spend much of the time asleep. But when you are not sleeping, you are told that the most important thing you have to do is avoid stress. All doctors agree that stress is the main impediment to recovery. But how can you possibly protect yourself against it? The causes of stress can creep up on you from anywhere without warning, and there is nothing you can do about it; and lately I have been bombarded by shocks.
I was one of the ignorant for whom the victory of Brexit in the referendum was itself a shock, but this also set in train a whole bunch of further assaults on the nervous system. There was the resignation of David Cameron, followed by Boris Johnson’s sudden withdrawal from the contest to be his successor, which was brought about by his treacherous replacement Michael Gove who was joined in the race by my own local MP in South Northamptonshire, Andrea Leadsom.
Mrs Leadsom had been little known nationally until she became an articulate advocate of Brexit during the referendum campaign, but I had been well disposed towards her. Although I had never met her, she had been supportive of a successful campaign to prevent the construction of a wind farm next to my house. My keenness for her waned a little when she emerged as an enthusiast for leaving the European Union, but I was still taken aback by her sudden decision to pull out of the battle to become Britain’s next prime minister.
The reason she gave for this was patriotic: that her challenge to Theresa May was delaying the country’s urgent need for a new leader. But I wonder if her will had not been sapped by the furore that had been whipped up by her remarks on motherhood in an interview with the Times? She claimed to have been ‘shattered’ by these ill-judged remarks, in which she had suggested that she, as a mother, had a greater ‘stake’ in Britain’s future than the childless Mrs May. The tastelessness of these remarks may in itself have shown her to be unsuitable for the premiership, but she was being stupid anyway. Children are not necessarily assets to a political leader, nor are they lucky to have a parent who is one.
Margaret Thatcher, the role model whom both May and Leadsom revere, had no end of trouble with her son Mark, who got caught up in embarrassing international business deals, was involved in a failed African coup d’état, and got lost in the Sahara desert during a motor-car rally, while his twin sister, Carol, gave voice to the strains of having a mother so driven by work.
Tony Blair said that it was harder to be tough as a father than as a prime minister and that ‘sometimes you don’t always succeed’ after his then 16-year-old son, Euan, had been picked up drunk and incapable by police in Leicester Square. When Jack Straw was Blair’s home secretary, he too was embarrassed when his son Will was caught selling cannabis in a sting by the Daily Mirror. And so it goes on.
Even Winston Churchill was unevenly fortunate in his children. Mary Soames, his youngest, was a paragon, but his son Randolph could be drunken, rude and boorish; and his actress daughter Sarah, who most famously starred with Fred Astaire in the 1951 film Royal Wedding, led a rackety life, having also a serious drink problem and making some unfortunate marriages and relationships. It is possible that Freddie, Harry and Charlotte Leadsom may come to consider themselves fortunate that their mother failed in her ambition to reach the highest rung on the political ladder.
These have been trying times for us stroke sufferers, but now that Cameron, Johnson, Gove, Leadsom and all the main actors in the great referendum drama have bitten the dust, there may be calmer waters ahead. Theresa May looks promising. She will not have an easy time, to put it mildly, but she seems unlikely by nature to impose on us more stress than is strictly necessary. She has promised not to be showy but just to deal practically with whatever task she faces. That’s the person we need.