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.
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.