So I'd left it late and indeed I sat right up in the rafters to hear Lord Owen, qualified medical doctor and I could probably tag this under my Doctors Who Write section now I think of it. David Owen a specialist in neurology, talking on illness in political leaders and his newly identified Hubris Syndrome.
'But David' someone bravely asked, 'didn't you suffer from this?'
To his credit David Owen held his hands up guilty as charged, but takes one to know one he offered in mitigation. The man's right, how could he empathise and diagnose without suffering first?
In Sickness and In Power - IIlness in heads of government during the last 100 years is David Owen's latest book (I haven't read it) which examines the effects of power on politicians and it made for scary listening.
Politicians lie about their health and their doctors lie too and David Owen puts forward a convincing case for this whole area to be much more carefully regulated, we have a right to know. His account of the life and contemporaneous medical history of John F. Kennedy was gripping.
JFK had Addison's Syndrome. I'm sure Jane Austen is thought to have had this but fortunately had nothing more dangerous than Pride and Prejudice (how apposite!) to write, not sort out the Cuban Missile crisis. This defect in the adrenal glands leads to wildly fluctuating hormone levels and JFK's were very poorly managed. By all accounts he was massively and incompetently drug-fuelled and unstable around the time of The Bay of Pigs debacle. Kruschev clearly thought that this rich and privileged young upstart was a push-over.
How fortunate in that case that a single doctor had got a grip on things some months later and stabilised the treatment in time for JFK to handle the Cuban Missile Crisis with all the skill of a senior statesman.
Much was revealed about Tony Blair and his secret heart condition, more serious than everyone was led to believe. His Presidential style of leadership which unpolitically-minded me had just let him get on with (too busy keeping the NHS in one piece) comes under intense scrutiny by David Owen. If I heard it right, Tony removed the Cabinet Secretariat, the system of combined intelligence, foreign policy and defence advice that could inform and allow for collective decision-making.
Hell's teeth, wish I'd been paying more attention to what was going on in Downing Street behind the spin , but according to David Owen few of us realised until it was too late, everyone missed it. According to David, Tony found power intoxicating and even the media weren't vigilant enough on that score.
The danger of world leaders with fundamentalist religious views was interesting and often led to a suspension of critical faculities in those who should be opposing, he cited Bush and Blair again.
Hubris Syndrome in leaders could well become officially recognised
- Acquired in office
- Self congratulatory arrogance evident
- Longer in office = increasing susceptibility
- Preventable by self-effacing humour
That's the gist and you'll have to read the book for an accurate and full account with several world leaders put on the examination couch and under the medical spotlight. David Owen wants the past medical history of those aspiring to political leadership to be revealed, he maintains we have a right to know. I might have opted for the sharp intake of breath and muttered 'patient confidentiality' yesterday, today I'm shouting 'someone get me Gordon's and David Cameron's notes right this minute.'
The inevitable name came up in questions
David hedged but did reveal his unease about Mugabe taking up the reins of power many years ago, better a crook than a zealot was his thinking at the time.
All in all a great talk, can you believe it? Politics and I was riveted, I hate politics, it wears me down and makes me cross, I practice evasion and avoidance and end up being done to, as Martin Bell said, 'if you want bad things to happen do nothing'. In that case it's all my fault.
Impression - We absolutely need our elder statesman and we need them more than ever, of that I am assured.