Alexei Sayle: The World According to Me

'These days I slink in alleys swigging Co-op whisky and sneering at orphans - and it's all New Labour's fault'
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The Independent Online

This week, two of those most closely connected with the New Labour project - David Blunkett and Alastair Campbell - have chosen to speak about the psychological trauma they suffered while in office. The trouble is, I find it extremely difficult to be convinced of the honesty of their motives. Since 1997 there have been so many examples of questionable goings-on from this Government, starting with the Dome and the Bernie Ecclestone affair and running through to the current disastrous war in Iraq and the cash-for-peerages investigation, that anybody connected with the Government has lost all credibility. Indeed, the examples of misbehaviour have been so numerous that the public has forgotten a lot of these scandals; who now remembers the outrage over Charles Clarke interfering with the Cornish pasties in the window of Gregg's in Watford High Street or the newspaper revelations that Ruth Kelly was once a member of the sexy dance troupe Hot Gossip?

More disturbing than that though is the fact that because of all this controversy many of us have become cynical about all politics and politicians. I distinctly remember that before the May '97 election I was a happy-go-lucky individual who picked wild flowers for a hobby, who loved kittens and the Labour Party and whose only criticism of the parliamentary digest Hansard was that it didn't have cartoons. These days I slink in dark alleys swigging Co-op own-brand whisky and sneering at orphans, and it's all New Labour's fault.

Because of my disenchantment, I remained particularly unseduced when Alastair Campbell was all over the media earlier in the week, recounting his experience of depression while working at Number 10. He said that despite suffering feelings of overwhelming sadness and crippling lethargy he was fortunately able to carry on doing his job - his job of spinning and manipulating. In none of the accounts I saw was there a hint that his depression might actually have been caused by all the spinning and manipulating he was doing.

Yet this is certainly a possibility Alastair should consider. Mental pain can in some cases perform the same function as physical pain, so just as physical pain exists to tell you that it might not be a good idea to play tennis or go dancing with a broken leg, so mental pain - depression or anxiety - exists to tell you it might not be a good idea to play handmaiden to the most demented, vainglorious and deluded prime minister in recent history.

I truly believe that the mind is a wonderful and moral thing, and if we behave in ways that are wrong for us or are wrong for others then it alerts us to this behaviour in the only way it can, which is to give us pain. Of course, we can distract ourselves from this pain in a number of ways, with drink or drugs, with exercise or shopping, with sex or the adulation of others, but it will always be there, gnawing away at the back of our consciousness, and it will never be silenced. If you think about it, the existence of this watchful, moral mind goes a long way towards explaining the otherwise inexplicable, demented behaviour of so many people in public life; those individuals who seem to have everything, yet act as if they are the most miserable people on earth, addicted to plastic surgery, meaningless affairs, ceaseless work and expensive consumer goods that they instantly tire of.

I was reminded of this cause and effect when I read of the decision taken a while back by BAE Systems to sell its 20 per cent stake in Airbus, the European civil aircraft manufacturer, to concentrate solely on making so-called "defence" equipment, which means missiles, bombs, military jets etc that it hopes will make it more profits. In fact, BAE Systems has insisted on selling its stake in Airbus even though it could not do so at a worse possible time due to the fact that the price of shares in EADS (the parent company of Airbus) has collapsed because of mismanagement in the A380 super-jumbo project.

Yet even though it will get nothing like the amount it expected for its shares, the British company just can't wait to get out of the business of manufacturing the wings of nice aeroplanes that take people on their holidays so that it can instead concentrate on making munitions devised solely to kill and mutilate and the vehicles designed to deliver them. I thought to myself what a horrible world we live in, where a company can take a decision like this without even beginning to address the moral issues it raises. You might think just from an idea of decency that BAE Systems would feel it'd be better off producing nice things rather than nasty things, but that is not the macho business model we follow in this country.

Nonetheless, if my belief in the watchful and moral mind is correct, then the BAE Systems executives who took this decision will, in time at least, pay a high price for their greed and callousness. In a few years' time, stories will start to appear about some senior executive appearing strung up by spikes through his ears on a sadomasochistic website and another being arrested for being drunk and depressed in charge of a ship-to-shore missile system and being stopped only after he's taken out the Southampton branch of Starbucks, which he's developed a huge resentment against because he feels they served him a stale muffin.

Tracey Emin is away