Alastair Campbell on depression, Tony Blair, and Ed Miliband's political woes

Tony Blair's former spin doctor is no stranger to depression. Here's how he dealt with the disorder, why the US is the best place for a recovering alcoholic, and why the media should give Ed a break.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 13 Dec 2013
I used to have more football managers in my phone book than politicians back in the day. Alex Ferguson was a great chum of mine. He actually gave me one of the best pieces of advice on managing depression. He used to say, ‘Put your blinkers on’.

When people come at you and say, ‘You and only you can deal with this problem’, make up your mind about whether you want to let them into your tunnel vision or not. If not, block them out completely. It may sound harsh but, in fact, there are really very few things that you and only you are able to deal with. The trick is working out which things to prioritise and blocking out the unnecessary demands on your time and energy.

I know all about depression. During the first election, even when we won, I was definitely depressed. At one point I was actually in tears. And I resent the fact that I didn’t enjoy what should have been one of the best days of my life. The only time I felt any sense of fulfilment was when I saw my son standing outside Millbank.

Tony knew about my depression and it didn’t faze him. I think that’s unusual. Funnily enough, in the US, if you are a recovering drug addict or a recovering alcoholic, it can actually be a point in your favour. I heard this from an American chap recently while filming a documentary over there. I didn’t really believe him but he was quite convincing. He said that the fact you had been through it and come out the other side made you stronger. Over here, I have no doubt whatsoever that if you put that on a CV, it would be a quick way to the dustbin.

You shouldn’t punish people for being open and honest. Every time you challenge discrimination, you are chipping away at a wall. Every time you show discrimination, you are putting a brick back.

If I look back at my time in government – or in politics generally –  I think: Was I happy doing the job? Most of the time I wasn’t. Am I happy that I did it? Yes. Tony Blair’s a very different character. He wakes up every morning with a really optimistic view of the world. I wake up with a pessimistic view. And then have to be convinced otherwise.

I do have a lot of sympathy for Ed Miliband at the moment. You see the way that he is being treated by the press? The media has decided that this is the time to kick him. You can argue the point that it comes with the territory but it’s not helpful at all. We put so much bile and negativity around people in positions of leadership that it’s draining the pool of people who are actually willing to do the job. I know lots of people who would be great at politics but say, why would I do that and get my head kicked in?

That said, there was a point when it significantly helped my happiness to stop caring about what the papers said about me. In fact, I would be very upset if I ever saw the Daily Mail write anything nice about me now.


Alastair Campbell spoke at the Work Foundation ‘Blue Monday’ event on Monday.

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