New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
12 October 2009

Blind Gordon

Why the fuss over the Prime Minister's sight?

By Mehdi Hasan

I was on LBC radio this morning with Nick Ferrari, discussing the Prime Minister’s vision in the wake of reports that Gordon Brown’s right eye has suffered retinal damage. I have to agree with the Work and Pensions Secretary, Yvette Cooper, on this story: “I do sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a blind (forgive the phrase!) Brown supporter or loyalist. There are countless criticisms that could and should be levelled at this prime minister — from his prosecution of the misbegotten war in Afghanistan to his timidity with financial and economic reform to his stubborn refusal to countenance a game-changing referendum on proportional representation this side of a general election.

So why the persistent and ludicrous focus on his “health” and, in particular, his “sight”? There is no evidence whatsoever that he is losing the sight in his right eye and, even if he is, why it should matter? Must the Prime Minister of Great Britain have 20:20 vision? Is that part of our unwritten constitution? Or is it simply not possible for a blind man to be the nation’s leader?

This last question was put repeatedly to me by Nick Ferrari, who referred to “fears” surrounding the PM’s vision. The only fears, however, are personal, not political. David Blunkett showed us that it is perfectly possible for a blind man to hold one of the highest offices in the land — home secretary — and David Paterson has been an able replacement for Eliot Spitzer as governor of New York, despite losing his sight as a child. Blunkett was even touted as a future prime minister and Labour leader.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

There is, however, a bigger issue. It is the idea that Brown will use his “health” as an excuse to stand down before next year’s election and make way for another Labour leader (Johnson? Miliband?) to take the fight to Cameron’s Conservatives. It is a view attributed to, among others, Tony Blair in Adam Boulton’s book Tony’s Ten Years. If Brown does go down this route — and, again, there is no real evidence whatsoever that he plans to do so — it will undermine and curtail the hopes and aspirations of millions of disabled people in this country, for whom the nation’s top job will suddenly seem off-limits. There’s more than party politics at stake here.

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy