As people who know me would testify without delay, I have been known to react disproportionately to the merest of situations, often triggers which observers would struggle to explain even after detailed analysis. Following an innocuous remark directed my way, my balanced and mature response was a full-on flounce resulting in an unscheduled snooze at a bus-stop in Standish. That happened last year; I was thirty-one years old.
This ‘red mist’ and its responses are analysed by people earning a lot more than I ever will researching what makes the behavioural ‘tick’, mostly in men, which turns frustration into an outburst. Basic, back of the envelope assumption would conclude that there’s a) inability to deal with intense situations brought from childhood onwards, b) a mental imbalance of some kind, or c) a bit from both and more besides. As with all personal problems, from drug addiction to persistent low-level crime, admitting there is something wrong is always considered the first step: from there comes working with others to resolve whatever is curdling the brain.
Critics of David Cameron use the term ‘flashman’ to deride the Prime Minister’s occasional bursts of temper and red-faced snapping. Like many who suffer from this tendency to react badly to pushes and prodding, Cameron looks as though his eyes genuinely do fall behind a cloud of red smoke, and his mind becomes blinkered to exits, alternative options, spaces to breathe. It’s partly the nature of Prime Minister’s Questions, I wager, though it’s clearly part of Cameron’s nature. The “calm down dear” approach to argument might have been ill-advised sarcasm, but from that event onwards the suggestion of ‘red mist descending’ has become increasingly convincing.
Where could Cameron go with this? Will he bring something of the Australian parliament to Westminster by swearing or biting the head of a bat?
I come to this from the little local difficulty involving Joey Barton yesterday. Now we all know that Barton likes his philosophy and chin-stroking consideration, which frames many of the arguments pro- and anti- defending him for repeated violent moments and verbal outbursts. The growth of wisdom, as Nietzsche suggests, may be gauged exactly by the diminution of ill-temper, and as Barton claims to learn from Nietzchean philosophies, you’d assume that the ill-temper/wisdom see-saw would have been rebalanced at some point. Yesterday’s nail-biting, heart-pounding, sweat inducing final Premier League day was not ruined by Barton’s elbow/knee/head, though it has cast a shadow. As thousands of people watched the games unfold – I did so in a pub which showed both Manchester games on adjacent screens which didn’t help the heart rates – the Barton flip-out took over the conversations across the pub as much as the David Cameron “LOL” revelation threatened to hijack the Leveson inquiry analysis that day. Sometimes the silly, trivial, the curiosities are bugs eager to dig into the topic to take it over, to divert attention from the really important stuff. Luckily both games had enough other stuff happening – and Aguero’s goal, Rooney’s miss and such were momentous enough – to allow Barton’s ‘red mist’ to be pushed to the fringes.
Because of his repeated assurances that he’s learning, self-analysing, reflective, Barton’s constant return to the stage of silliness has stripped away almost all sympathy from neutrals and fans. QPR fans have taken to the internet and phone-in shows to disown him. Barton took to Twitter, his own personal Speaker’s Corner, to act bullish with an edge of accountability. The edge was as thin as the head of a southern-pulled pint, which exhausted yet more patience.
Over at the arena of politics, D-Cam has a few more days before facing another bear-pit PMQs. More often than not, the bun-fights with Ed Miliband bring out the worst in Cameron’s argument technique. He usually ‘wins’ against Ed, because the Labour leader has all the weight of a speak and spell machine, though it’s how Dave conducts himself which gets the attention, blogs and commentary pieces. Whilst Labour are led by a man who struggles to set jelly never mind the agenda, Cameron’s fits of pique shouldn’t cause too much damage. The term ‘flashman’ has stuck, and some MPs know how to press the right buttons. Cameron hasn’t learned from Tony Blair about how to flavour temper with sarcasm and theatrical flair. It’s all in the tag, as Kenneth Williams would advise. It’s all there in the punchline, the pay-off – get it wrong, and you’re a bully or a short-tempered prat.
Where Cameron and Barton align is the apparent lack of willingness to change, to repair the damage they cause and the damage in their own mental well-being. Whilst many are now abandoning Barton for good – the Guardian which took him around an art gallery now snidely dig at his “copy and paste philosophy” – there’s still sizeable support for Cameron and the Coalition. The temptation to go over the edge must be strong for the PM – the three years before General Election 2015 is a timeframe sprinkled with landmines, death traps, nooses and Nadine Dorries. Pushes from Labour, pokes from the backbenches, irritation from the constraints of compromise politics in this era of Coalition – all the little things which stir up the smoke, colour the mist, send the heart pounding further, stronger, harder. For a man whose ‘flashman’ snapping has been constrained within the House of Commons so far to save his reputation, Cameron will have to deal with all this before it happens in the television studio or on the stump.
Joey Barton is the very definition of the angry young man, and whilst I’m not about to dismiss him entirely, I can see why frustration with his constant return to idiocy on the pitch and at the keyboard has turned into abandonment. People can only take sympathy so far. If the constant misbehaviour never goes away, than either the person has a serious problem which requires longer-term help, or the person just has no intention of ever bettering themselves. Cameron is not some crazed loon at the dispatch box, though he has shown no sign of calming down the red-faced tendency or sarcastic snapping. The temper tantrums which infect Barton’s character, and those which taint Cameron’s responses, are parts of the same diagnosis, and both fans/voters will deliver their medicine whether it’s wanted or not.