Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Kennedy's 'demons'

"Charles Kennedy dead: A lovely, fun man whose demons cost him dearly" - Kevin Maguire reaches for the cliché dispenser in the Daily Mirror.

Although I've never supported his party, I have a lot of respect for Charles Kennedy: he said no to the invasion of Iraq, he opposed his party going into coalition with the Tories, and he had a good sense of humour, as shown on shows such as Have I Got News For You when he dished out the jokes while cheerfully accepting being ribbed by his fellow panellists. In politics, he didn't speak as though he'd been groomed by a script adviser or informed by a focus group. As is well known, he was also an alcoholic.

Even some of the most respectful media reports have made reference to his struggle with his demons. What does this actually mean? The implication is that there was some kind of tragic inner flaw or failing that could not be overcome, leading to a reliance on alcohol. This tends to runs counter to the more general view that alcoholism is a problem people bring on themselves through their lack of self control, and perhaps removes some of the element of blame. It could be that people prefer not to be too critical after the death of someone who is widely respected, liked even; or it might just be lazy journalism. After all, it's easier to trot out a cliché than write thoughtfully about an awkward subject.

In reality, neither position tells the whole story. Alcoholism is an illness, and its treatment isn't helped by over simplistic stereotyping. Blaming an alcoholic for his illness is like blaming an injured pedestrian who carelessly steps into the road: it might help the accuser feel superior, but it doesn't help the victim at all. It's counter-productive to tell people they're to blame for their condition as it only makes them feel worse. But then blaming inner demons and fatal flaws isn't any more helpful, implying as it does that the consequences of the fatal flaw are unpreventable.

Alcoholics and other addicts will be better served when they can be treated in a blame-free manner. Charles Kennedy struggled with the condition while under the severe stress of a prominent political career; I doubt that he was helped by the fact that he was not allowed the privacy the rest of us would have expected as a right. It seems rich that the press, having made his condition so public - often in a judgmental manner - should then go pontificating about his 'demons'.

Women alcoholics, especially if they are mothers, come in for particular condemnation,
as shown in this depiction of the female's inevitable booze-driven descent into disgrace.


  1. Eye, the fella's barely cold and speculation about his alcoholism being related to his untimely demise abound. He was was also a 40 a day smoker who didn't like exercise. So maybe lifestyle is a reasonable presumption pending the coroners report.

    Still, I've met more alkies since becoming a beery beardy like you lot than in all the years beforehand and if there's a notable unmentionable in beer geekery it's alcoholism. I've met all sorts. From 30 year olds with gout that claim its genetic to men in the 50's that can't hold down a job through the drink.

    Plenty appear to have a destructive relationship with the booze rather than one which enhances a full life.

  2. Some people become alcoholics. Others drink a lot but can take it or leave it. I don't really think it's a matter of personal choice.


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