"The Prime Minister of Great Britain is a man too ill to be holding the Office." This was the conclusion last week of a senior civil servant liaising regularly with Gordon Brown. For reasons which will become clear, the person involved will not go public with the evidence for this conclusion. The same applies to a high-ranking Treasury official who told us "In both a physical and mental sense, the Prime Minister is a very sick man, seriously disabled." Three years ago, an Opposition MP told nby "He is on extremely heavy doses of cutting-edge anti-depressants, but so far they have made little difference". And during the last fortnight, another high-ranking government source claimed "He is now on pills which restrict the foods he can eat and what he can drink. He is losing the sight of his good eye quite rapidly. It's a mess, and nobody knows what to do".
Rumours have circulated about Gordon Brown's health for a number of years. As long ago as 2004, Simon Heffer wrote in the Spectator that he displayed many signs of Asperger's syndrome: humourlessness, lack of irony and obsessional behaviour patterns. Nby itself ran a long piece in February 2007, predicting fairly accurately how Brown's rigid responses to given situations would prove to be inappropriate, and his behaviour in the end dysfunctional. We noted at the time 'If the Labour Party can organise seventy-three signatories to a document of intent named 'Anyone but Gordon', then there must be something about the man which might make him unfit to be Prime Minister'. In fact, we had already been advised by then that the PM had been on large doses of SSRI anti-depressants - the class of drugs derived from Prozac.
The overall story is well known in lobbyist circles. A senior member of this group told us that "Brown is in a very dark place. Sarah [hiswife, Mrs Brown] has begged him on several occasions to seek help, but he resists most offers of advice." Yet another popular journalist said "I'm afraid all the stories about him throwing things around and screaming at secretaries are entirely true. He behaves impeccably in public and can really turn on the charm when he needs to in private - but inside the bunker he behaves appallingly. He's also binging on junk food late at night - you can see he's gaining weight".
However, our investigation suggests that there is a more important reason for the PM's weight gain: he is now on a different class of drugs, for which ballooning weight is one of the least dangerous side-effects.
These drugs are called Mono Amine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs). Before the arrival of Prozac derivatives, they were the first line of attack when dealing with severely depressed patients. But a senior physician told us last month "A GP would have to be insane to prescribe MAOIs these days - SSRIs are safer, with far fewer side-effects. Apart from anything else, it's almost impossible to get hold of them".
This is indeed correct. In 2003, SKB withdrew their MAOI brand-leader Parnate because of the dangers it represented, and also because SSRIs had none of the disadvantages. However, at the time several regional mental health units reported that for some patients, SSRIs were nowhere near as effective.
Thus there is evidence that, having tried and seen no help from the newer generation of drugs, Gordon Brown has now been put onto MAOIs. If this is true, then he is indeed in a desperate state - as we shall explain.
This evidence was handed to us inadvertantly. The senior source referred to at the start of this piece mentioned "the latest nonsense - a huge list of things he can't eat or drink because of the drugs he's on...most importantly, cheese and Chianti". Every doctor in Britain would recognise these contraindications instantly: for they are the two great verbotens for people taking MAOI drugs.
As long ago as 2001, prescribing psychiatrists described MAOIs as 'the last resort now we have better drugs'. However, for all their downsides (several thousand people around the world have died as a result of ignoring the dietary advice re MAOIs) this older class of drugs has one huge advantage: for severe depression and obsessive compulsive disorder it remains very effective.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is relatively common. Most of us display some obsessive features in everyday life, but under stress a minority of people become borderline or actual OCD in their behaviour, and need medication to control both this and the depression which almost always presents soon afterwards. The most obvious symptom is a compulsive need to carry out functions such as hand-washing or counting almost incessantly. (The Asperger's syndrome 'Rain Man' personality displays these too, but the two conditions are easily separable on other bases. Our view is that Brown has OCD, not Asperger's syndrome.)
Gordon Brown's symptoms are obvious when viewed in this light: the constant repetition of phrases, and an almost embarrassing (for his Party) need to spray every Parliamentary answer with statistics. Lifting out of poverty, the Tories are the do-nothing Party, global problems require global solutions - these and myriad others have been repeated over and over ad nauseam. Equally, the six million lifted out of poverty, twelve million helped by mortgage benefits, two million new jobs created: when interrogated, these figures often prove to be illusory, but they - and the constant speech repetition - represent Brown's unconscious means of controlling the severe anxiety that accompanies depression with OCD.
We have no means (as yet) of proving his use of MAOIs, although the 'long list of forbidden foods'
is the nearest one will get to a smoking gun - short of a written, signed diagnosis or prescription. We also cannot be certain how long the PM has been taking them, but the remark 'the latest nonsense' suggests that this is a relatively recent development. On average, a heavy dose of MAOI therapy would start to display some results within twenty days to six weeks. Gordon Brown has reportedly returned from 'easily his longest break from Downing Street' feeling 'very much refreshed and up for it'. It is more than likely he took the uncharacteristically long break on medical advice. And it will be interesting to note whether his behaviour changes.
One feature unlikely to change is the increasingly obvious difficulty he has finding his way to and from podiums, and lack of peripheral vision. This (according to a senior, medically-trained source) is the result of failing sight in the one eye he has left. We found so many confirmations of this story from so many sources, it seems to us impossible for it to be pure invention. It appears to be universally recognised in the Cabinet and upper echelons of the Civil Service.
So: here we seem to have a man (unless huges cadres of non-colluding senior people are liars) on a rarely used, dangerous drug to control his mental state - and getting close to a stage of serious disablement in relation to his eyesight. As this would clearly make any such person wholly unfit to fulfil the Premiership - especially in the dangerous, broken world we now inhabit - why hasn't the story broken more widely? Why hasn't the Opposition leapt on it? In answering this question, we need to delve into the murkier waters of Gordon Brown's psyche - and the cynical guessing-game that passes for public service in the House of Commons....on all sides.
Brown rules by fear and smear. He always has done, and it is the main thing he is known (and hated) for in the Labour Party. A former Cabinet Minister told nby in early 2008 "Nobody ran against Gordon because nobody could face the slur, innuendo and blackmail that would go with it. When he gets going, Brown and his little coterie of spinners are animals". Several similar observations appeared in national newspapers during late 2007. There has also remained the rumour that even Blair himself eventually fell foul of this, and left not of his own volition but as a result of threats from the Brown camp. That must remain as conjecture: but given his alleged track record of not entirely legal actions, Blair would have had a lot to be frightened about.
The PM evokes a certain degree of loyalty from close confidantes, but the main reason why no Brown staffer has broken ranks is that this would mean the end of the meal-ticket: either Brown would fall, or he would deny...and bury the whistle-blower. Luncheon Vouchers are also behind the remaining silence in the Parliamentary Party as a whole. Two senior Lobby correspondents have confirmed to us in the last three weeks that "even the most anti-Brown camp think there's no alternative to Brown". Nearly all Labour backbenchers now expect a rout, but think that if Brown were ousted they would be wiped out. Comically, the exact opposite view pertains in the Tory Shadow Cabinet, where "they're so terrified of Labour dumping Brown, they'd do anything to leave him precisely where he is".
This bears further examination on a number of levels. Three of our sources confirmed the general view that the parlous state of Brown's health is well-known among Conservative bigwigs. That they collude in an allegedly dangerously ill man remaining in charge of Government (purely to ensure their own victory) is selfish cynicism of the worst kind - and a damning charge to which, if and when the truth of this matter comes to light, they will have no defence. It also reinforces the electorate's feeling that senior Cameron Tories are woefully lacking in confidence - or convincing alternatives to what the Government is doing.
As to whether Brown is a liability or an asset for voters, the latest poll (30.8.09) in the Guardian showed that Brown's ratings have actually fallen as 'signs' of economic green shoots have become apparent. In short, when it comes to the Machiavellian 'keep him where he is' strategy, New Labour have called it wrong. As ever, they are probably being too clever for their own good.
Perhaps more disturbing is the passive political bias (and dereliction of Constitutional duty) represented by the obvious collusion in any cover-up about the Prime Minister's health problems throughout the senior ranks of the Civil Service. One of the main sources of this story told us, "It's a farce, and utterly disgraceful. There isn't a mandarin in Whitehall who's unaware of Brown's condition - they tittle-tattle the tale wherever they go, dining out on their inside knowledge, and yet won't lift a finger to bring it to the public's attention. We are being let down at every turn by the spineless Establishment running this country".
One can appreciate how a similar situation developed from 1935 onwards in relation to the King's relationship with Mrs Simpson. But it is hard to understand why the press - especially the right-wing press - haven't had a harder go at nailing this story in 2009. The tabloids are too busy shouting threats into celeb letter-boxes, and the more liberally inclined papers may well share the New Labour view that loyalty is their duty at this stage of the game; but that seems unlikely - and what of Dacre at The Mail, or the Telegraph, still fresh from its huge success in blowing the lid off the expenses scandal?
The answer usually comes back 'there's no physical evidence, and it's an easy story to deny - to dismiss as just another anti-Brown smear campaign'. But perhaps the clues about MAOI usage by the Prime Minister make it much harder to deny....and much easier to get written confirmation. For if it's true, Brown's entourage must be sending out strict dietary requirements ahead of his regularly catered public engagements; one could even monitor what he eats on such occasions.
Not Born Yesterday lacks both the sources and resources to do this job. The sole purpose of this piece is to get matters to a stage where the story is out in the public domain, such that the real people who count in Britain - the voters - can make their own minds up about it. And - who knows? - to create a situation in which the Opposition might at last do its duty, and question the PM's fitness for office on these well-known (if not as yet well-documented) bases.
©2009 Not Born Yesterday and John Ward.