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Sea levels will continue to rise, Homes will be flooded. Weather will be more extreme with droughts, floods and hurricanes.  There will be shortages of food and widespread famine. There will be epidemics of disease, mass migration, civil unrest, war. People will suffer a loss of livelihood and liberty. There will be a complete breakdown of civilisation. Predictions of the effects of climate change are apocalyptic.  It seems that ‘the end of the world is nigh’, but is calamity that imminent or are our media outlets too short of money and too high on catastrophe and ‘fake news’.     

It does not seem to me so long ago that our then prime minister, The Right Honorable Mr Harold MacMillan, The Westminster Walrus, told us that we had never had it so good.  He was right.  The sixties were a time of optimism and freedom when everything seemed possible and few were aware of a warming planet.  Public optimism has been going downhill ever since.   

50 years on, we may have not quite have reached the point when governments must step in with radical solutions, but we have perhaps reached a critical stage of awareness.  If patterns of extreme weather continue and begin to impact on our way of life, we will all be spending more of our income on essentials like housing and food and less on holidays and entertainment. Cheap flights will disappear.  We may have to give up our car and get a bike.  Many of our individual freedoms will be curtailed or become very expensive. Our diet will become less diverse as imported food will cost more.  The attempts we may all have to make to avert or mitigate the most catastrophic losses, will threaten our aspiration, culture and identity and involve the loss of our accustomed lifestyle.

Nevertheless, many will respond to such doom-laden predictions with indifference, apathy or cynicism.  Increased awareness of climate change has not yet translated into appropriate concern and action.  How can we think about it without either going into denial or sinking into depression and inertia?  At a recent meeting of The Sheffield Psychoanalytical Journal Club, my friend and fellow therapist Stephanie Howlett presented for discussion a paper on ‘Loss and Climate Change’ by psychoanalytical psychotherapist, Rosemary Randall, director of Cambridge Carbon Footprint. 

Climate change is like getting old or facing a terminal illness; it’s a loss that is bound to happen. Life, of course, is a terminal illness, but we only become aware of that when we approach the end and can experience the symptoms of decline.  So we might gain some insight into how to cope with climate change by thinking about how elderly people cope with their impending demise.  But climate change is not just something that’s facing the elderly, it is something that affects the young as well.  And the elderly among us may never experience the changes that will affect our children or grandchildren; the major effects of climate change on food supply and population dynamics may not occur for another 20 years.  So is the fear of climate change something that affects the young more because they will experience the worst effects or does it predominantly affect the old because they are already aware of the end of their own lives?  Young people often regard themselves as immortal; death only happens to their grandparents.    

So how are people dealing with the reality of climate change?   Some, like Donald Trump, deny it is happening.  They regard it as fake news, exaggerated by a sensationalist media, but isn’t that itself an assault on truth?  More acknowledge the reality of climate change, but disavow its seriousness. Disavowal means you don’t have to face the anxiety; it is happening elsewhere.  The present continues to feel safe but fear is split off and projected into the future; on the one hand,  false comfort; on the other, nightmare.  If we can manage to stop catastrophising the future and wrapping the present in cotton wool, we may diminish both extremes and make loss manageable for our children and grandchildren.  

Others may accept the reality of climate change, but blame others; the Americans or the Chinese or those with expensive cars and life styles, all the while maintaining their own way of life. It’s the same with Brexit: the government are hopeless and the EU vindictive.  Ministers downplay the seriousness of the situation and affect an attitude of control; they have to, otherwise they would never be re-elected.  In psychoanalytical terms, both are examples of collective splitting and projection.

Even if we full acknowledge climate change, we all have to find our own way of dealing with that reality if we are to avoid sinking into hopelessness and depression.  Some may adopt a manic defence.  ‘I’m alright Jack: I can have a good life in New Zealand or Scandinavia. I am not going to let it affect me’. Or ‘ok I know it’s going to happen, but I will make the most of the time left to me’.  The broadcaster, Clive James, has been dying for years but in the meantime has managed to write some of his best poetry.  In The Story of San Michele, the Swedish doctor, Axel Munthe observed that during the devastating cholera epidemic in Naples, people took to making love, often with complete strangers – on park benches, in fountains, anywhere – as if in a frantic bid to find life in the midst of death. 

Although we may wish to accept what is happening and engage with it in a positive sense, most of us will probably protect ourselves by banishing it from our minds and not thinking about it until something forces us to. Death is going to happen but not yet.  Continual fretting about the impending loss can only lead to depression and inertia – the less you can do, the more loss you suffer. But when loss remains unspoken, then change and adjustment cannot follow.  A better understanding of the nature of the loss might allow it to be brought back into public discourse and for people to feel a sense of agency.  God-fearing members of religious communities may regard death a necessary sacrifice to assure everlasting life in Paradise.  Our current secular society does not have such comforting delusions.  

But is climate change something we can engage with?  Or is it, like a terminal illness, an overwhelming inevitability.  Engagement means facing up to our own destructiveness.  Mother Earth is both our breast and our toilet and we are destroying both by compromising food supply and polluting the planet.  Can we ever assuage our personal sense of guilt by getting a bike, not going on long haul flights and installing solar panels?  Maybe not, but by engaging, it may feel good to be part of a solution, however futile.

Loss, even anticipated loss, involves a gradual withdrawal of energy from the loved object. Grief is a process of adjustment and acceptance, always in progress, two steps forward, one step back, never complete.  When a loved one dies, life can never be the same again, but meaning can be restored and it may even become possible to flourish.  With climate change, it’s our world that must end. How can we ever get our minds around that?  Denial and disavowal may be part of an ongoing process that may allow that painful reality to be assimilated. Many of us may accept the idea of climate change intellectually but moving from there to the reality of a lived emotional experience and acceptance of its irreversibility may not be possible. 

Perhaps we should all join the Green Party and campaign for radical solutions?  Collective action can make people feel so much better when they are in the jaws of calamity. Sharing the enormity of the problem might paradoxically garner enough  support to make life tolerable if not enjoyable. During the dark days of 1940, Winston Churchill did not attempt to hide the stark reality of Britain’s situation and was able to appeal to a spirit of resilience in the British people.  Hope, however futile, can always stave off feelings of despair and the ensuing inertia.  But does the same communal sense of purpose still exist in our current narcissistic society, where every man and every woman are for themselves and posting it all on Facebook. It is likely that most will only engage when endgame is upon them, but that will only be to turn to religion. 

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IMG_5225Edensor Day has finally arrived.  Just two months ago, the residents of the bijou Derbyshire Village, where I live, emerged from hibernation and converted their gardens into a collective floral spectacle. Then, last Saturday, they opened them to the public, while on the green, all the accoutrements of a village fete and gala sprang up: stalls selling plants, bric-a-brac and books, vintage cars, a steel band, Morris Dancers, hog roast, raffle and barrel organ.  People paid £5 a ticket to enter and all funds were in the aid of this year’s charities: Dementia UK, Leukaemia and the never-ending Church Roof fund. 

Edensor appears in the Domesday Book as a small hamlet on the road from Matlock to Carver and Bakewell.  But after the big house was built in 1699, successive Dukes of Devonshire complained that the straggle of rude dwellings spoiled their view of the deer park, so in 1835, the 6th Duke and his general factotum, Joseph Paxton, demolished it and commissioned another village of the same name out of sight of his palace behind the Tumps.  According to social history, the Duke asked Paxton to obtain a selection of architect’s drawings. These included Italianate villas, Swiss chalets, gingerbread cottages and fortified houses with battlements and turrets. All the buildings were of a different style.  So in a confusion of indecision, His Grace proclaimed, ‘I’ll have one of each’.  And so it was: the dwellings of Edensor resemble a collection of film sets, but that contributes to the charm of the village. Nevertheless, Nikolaus Pevsner, the author of the compendious ‘Buildings of England’, was scathing about what he regarded as its inauthenticity. 

As a resident of 10 years, I am still regarded as an incomer, but in a gesture of solidarity to the community, I watered my flowers, fed the honeysuckle, and tidied the weeds from the front yard.   But I am no gardener. The biggest thing growing in my garden is the scaffolding they put up three months ago to replace my chimney that was in danger of blowing down. I am much better on biscuits and books that I ever was with plants and flowers.  So I erected two large tables outside under the scaffold, and filled them with some of my less cherished books, while on a separate table, I installed a Winchester flask of elderflower cordial and two cake stands of my own home made ricorelli biscuits.  I then made myself a cup of coffee and sat down and awaited the crowds. 

It is so poignant to sell my books, even for charity. They are like old friends. I can remember where I was when I first read them, where my mind travelled, what was important back then.  But my tiny cottage is groaning under the weight of novels, reference books on physiology, natural history, geology, environmental studies, medicine, psychoanalysis, biography and lots of poetry – though, if there’s one category I can’t get rid of, it’s the poetry books. 

It could not last. The long, hot spell of weather we had enjoyed from early May had to break some time. I had not long set up my stall when it started to rain.  I put both tables together under a large green parasol and rearranged my books where they might stay dry, then just as Lord Burlington, the scion of Chatsworth, drove through the village gate with his wife and young family, the rain stopped.  The ribbon was cut, posies exchanged  and Edensor Day was formally opened as, with a jingle of bells, a thump of the drum and img_5231.jpgthe bucolic strains of pipe and accordion, the Morris Dancers emerged in their black cloaks and breeches, multicoloured tassels, top hats with feathers and flowers, and faces painted in black, red and yellow like Red Indian medicine men. Back in the day on the borders between England and Wales, begging was unlawful, so destitute people disguised themselves and danced through the villages, extorting money by their frightening appearance.

From 11am until 4pm, a steady stream of people passed my stand and examined the books, though not all bought them.  Many said they already had a house full of books.  Others equivocated over the price, but I charged no more than £2 for most books, and all the money raised went to good causes.  The paradox is that had I charged more, people might have bought more; two pounds implies that they have no value.  I didn’t even have the heart to charge his Lordship more than £4 for the two art books he purchased, though his daughter politely requested a drink of cordial nervously holding out her 50p.  I didn’t sell as many biscuits as last year, probably because Tracey was selling cakes just next door, but despite the chilly weather, the Winchester of elderflower cordial was empty by the end of the day.  

At half past four, I had just started to pack up when, with exquisite timing and a loud rumble of thunder, heaven opened its sluices and cleared the streets and gardens.  It was a signal to join my neighbours in the courtyard for a beer and a laugh, and wait while the committee sat in conclave and counted the money.  The outcome was a record; over £12,000!

 

 

The Cellist of SarajevoA violinist was playing in the subway on Baker Street Station. He had positioned himself at the corner of the space where the stairs from the Metropolitan line met the escalators that descended to the Bakerloo and Jubilee lines. I could not name the piece he was playing but it was so poignant I stepped out the flow of commuters rushing like ants through the tunnels, leant against the wall and listened. It felt like a refuge, a moment of peace among the mounting chaos and insecurity of our collective lives.

I thought of the Cellist of Sarajevo, the subject of Steven Galloway’s recent novel. During the four year long siege of that once beautiful Bosnian city, ringed by hills, a sad looking man with tousled hair and dressed in a dusty full evening dress suit, stepped into the market square at four o’clock every afternoon, positioned his stool in the bomb crater and played Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor. He has been playing the same piece in a window overlooking the square when a mortar bomb exploded outside and killed 22 people queuing for bread. He had stood motionless at the window all night and for most of the next day. Then at 4pm, he carried his cello into the square, and began to play He continued to do this every day for the next 22 days, one day for each victim. People stopped and listened, oblivious to the risk from snipers and shelling from the hills, and for a brief time forgot about the war. Then he got up, gathers his stool and his cello and walked slowly to the door of his house and disappeared. He could have been killed by the men on the hills besieging the city or any of the snipers sent to infiltrate the population, but he wasn’t. On the last day, he picked up his stool, tossed his bow on to the pile of flowers that people have placed at the spot and went inside for the last time. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a work of fiction, but is based on the courage of Vedran Smailovic, who had played for the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sarajevo Opera before the war.

The Balkans have been in the centre of conflict since Greco-Roman times. For many years part of the Roman Empire, then part of the Ottoman Empire, then the Austro-hungarian Empire, it was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo that precipitated the First World War, firstly as a conflict between Serbia and Austro-Hungary, then between Russia and Germany; finally Britain and France were drawn in because of their alliances. Under the Treaty of Versailles, the Balkan States were subsumed under a single nation, called Yugoslavia (southern Slavs). During the Second World War, the region was occupied by the Axis powers, but it regained its independence under Marshal Tito at the end of the war and was drawn into the orbit of the Soviet Union as a client communist state. When Tito died in 1980, old nationalist ambitions resurfaced. Serbia had ambitions to reunite the country under their control, but Bosnia-Herzegovina and other Balkan states including Croatia and Slovenia, which had a sizeable Serbian population resisted.

The Seige of Sarajevo

Bosnia declared independence in 1992 and almost immediately were attacked by Serbian forces. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia; a modern city with a population the size of Bristol, was besieged for four years, much longer than Stalingrad and Leningrad 50 years earlier. The Serbians set up artillery positions in the hills that ringed the city and sent snipers into the city to terrify the population. 11,000 defenders were killed. There was scarcely a house that was not damaged or destroyed by bombs. The main targets were the hospital, government buildings, schools and libraries. The images of high rise buildings on fire resembled the recent Grenfell Tower disaster in London. All services, electricity, water supply, sewage and transport, were cut.

Steven Galloway’s book charts the life of three of the inhabitants during that time. Arrow is a Bosnian sniper who has been ordered to protect the cellist from Serbian snipers sent in to kill him, but she ultimately becomes a target of her own side when she refuses to fire on Serbian civilians. Dragan is a baker, whose family have managed to escape to Croatia, leaving him behind. Kenan runs the gauntlet of sniper and mortar fire every day to cross the river to get water for his family and the elderly widow, who lives in the same block of flats. Life for the 400,000 or more people living in Sarajevo was a matter of life and death every single day.

Galloway’s characters are based on real people, worn out by war, fearful of what might become of themselves and their families. Only the cellist and his music bring hope and respite from fear. For a brief moment every day, it seems that mankind is still capable of humanity and the war has not destroyed everything.

In the last two years, London has been the scene of random terrorist attacks, creating a low level sense of anxiety every time I go down. The music in the underground helps to reassure. Everybody should stop and listen for a few minutes.

 

Alarmed by the atrocities committed by the besieging Serbian forces and what resembled ethnic cleansing, the United Nations joined the conflict in 1996 and bombed the Serbian positions. Eventually a peace treaty was signed giving autonomy to Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia. The only state not given nation status was Kosovo and this remains unresolved. The Serb leaders were tried for war crimes at The Hague and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Donald TrumpThis was the book, Donald Trump tried to ban, but failed. Michael Wolff was given unique access to the west wing as a fly on the wall journalist for the first nine months of the Trump presidency. If his host knew what he would produce, he would have been swatted. The result is an appalling indictment of the president and his administration.

Trump had never expected to win the election; he had banked on losing and then making a lot of money in television. He wanted to become the most famous man in the world and he probably is, but not for the reasons he would have liked. Donald Trump is undoubtedly the least qualified and capable president, America has ever known. He had never worked in government before; never studied law or politics; he had a degree in economics and estate management from a minor university. He was a businessman, joining his father’s business as soon as he graduated. All he knew of politics was gleaned from the television news.

Not only that but the personality of the man seems totally at variance with the role of a president. Wolff paints a picture of a man, who is impulsive, mercurial, emotional, paranoid and totally uncontained and unpredictable. Despite his macho persona, Trump is a man who cannot make decisions. He may seem to make up his mind very quickly, largely on the basis of how he feels about the last person who came to see him, but he changes it just as rapidly. On difficult decisions, he prefers to procrastinate and let them make themselves or hand over the brief to someone else and then forget about it. If it succeeds, he takes the credit, if it fails, then they have screwed up and are fired. According to Wolff, Trump cannot see the bigger picture, and therefore tends to make rash, polarised judgements about situations. He has a very low attention span and never listens to advice. He gets bored with people who present him with the information he needs to know, he never reads briefings, he doesn’t even follow his own script when he has to give a speech and is likely to go off on a rant and repeat himself. This all implies a limited capacity to think.

Trump reacts to personalities rather than issues, either loading them with fulsome praise or dismissing them completely. He creates dramas; he wants to be the centre of attention, even when it is bad news, he has little empathy and can be ruthless and cruel when he doesn’t get his own way. Were it about any other person, Wolff’s book might be dismissed as media hype or dysphoria; fake news – to quote a Trumpism, but it seems to confirms what most of us already know already; the man is quite unsuited to be the de facto leader of the western world. What seems so shocking about Fire and Fury is just how damningly, the man and his administration are portrayed.

Wolff reports that Trump is universally derided by members of his staff, who variously describe him as a child, a clown, a moron, an idiot and stupid. But is he so cognitively challenged? After all, he was a very successful businessman and in his words, very very smart. Isn’t it more that he is emotionally unstable. Donald Trump would appear to be a text book case of a narcissistic personality disorder.

Donald was fourth in a family of five children, which might suggest he had to fight to get his parents’ attention.  Trump’s father, Fred, was a belligerent, uncompromising, ruthless man; he created a son, who was driven to achieve his father’s approval.  Donald’s relationship with his father was ambivalent; he both resented his control but was at the same time devoted to him and determined to become a much more successful businessman. Donald must have been difficult teenager for his father to send him away to a military academy, where he subsequently excelled. I could not find any information about Donald’s relationship with his mother, but I would guess from his subsequent behaviour around women, he needed his mother’s love, but didn’t always get it. Mary- Ann Macleod Trump, who emigrated to new York from Stornaway in the Outer Hebrides,   was more reserved with her children than her husband and somewhat vain.  She had a curious orange hair style rather like her son’s.

Although he quickly became a billionaire from his real estate business, the world of Manhattan and in particular the media, regarded him as a joke, a lightweight, a wannabe. Donald Trump hates to feel humiliated and will always seek revenge.  His emotional insecurity was soothed by a sense of entitlement; he always had the money and power to get his own way.

You would think that for a man who prides himself in being a good judge of people, Trump would appoint a top team to run the country.  Not so: Trump needs to be in control; he is too insecure and sensitive to criticism to let others be seen to run the country. The people Trump has chosen to help him are either his own family, hustlers who believe they can manipulate him to get their own agendas met, or ‘yes men’ who try to manage him by letting him think he is in charge, while they get on with the business of government.

Steve Bannon was the White House Chief Strategist for the first eight months before he too was fired. Crude and as uncontained as his boss, he could speak the language, Trump liked to hear. They would have dinner together every night. But Bannon had his own ultra right wing agenda. It was Bannon who was behind the isolationism of Trumpian politics, who wanted to limit immigration, repeal Obamacare, build a wall along the Mexican border, withdraw America from the Paris Climate accord, but all of this was music to Trump’s ears. Bannon was like Thomas Cromwell was to the King, but Trump never had the guile of Henry VIII. The danger was that even if Trump disliked Bannon, he owed him a debt. It was Bannon, who was largely responsible for Trump winning the election with his ultra right populist politics. The two men were said to be closer than a marriage. Their recent divorce could still produce a lot of fall out.

Trump has now been in office for over a year and apart from a reform in the tax system, very little has been achieved. His first year has been a constant firefight. And if there wasn’t a crisis, Donald Trump with his not stop sequence of tweets and turns would make sure there was one. Members of his staff rarely have lasted more than a few months with the exception of his daughter and son in law. The investigation into the Russian influence in the 2016 election; the social media campaign against crooked Hilary, is coming ever closer and could result in impeachment. Bannon lurks under a rock at Brietbart News Headquarters biding his time, awaiting the fall. He has been reported as saying that the chances of Trump’s impeachment are 33%, resignation 33% and hanging on for the rest of his term 33%, dismissing entirely any change of a second term, at least not while there is a chance of a take-over by President Bannon.

If we can take Wolff’s observations and opinions at face value, the worrying question for the rest of the world is how the Americans could have elected somebody, who is so inept, to be their president? And why does he remain so popular? Michael Wolff may criticise the man, but perhaps we should question the society and the system that elected him? Has America got the president it deserved? Does a narcissistic society get a narcissistic president? Is it a dysfunctional news media that controls public opinion and politics these days? Whatever else Trump is, he is compelling news.

how to stop brexit

Nick Clegg, Britain’s erstwhile deputy prime minister, is such a skilled political commentator. Last year, I enjoyed his book ‘Politics: Between the Extremes’, in which he advocated centrist politics. Clegg is a reasonable man. He outperformed both David Cameron and Gordon Brown in the 2015 Election debates. His latest book, ‘How to Stop Brexit’, just 136 pages long, is written more in the genre of a political self help book for the thoughtful voter. As Clegg might say if he were not so self effacing, ‘How to Stop Brexit is the indispensable handbook for saving Britain from an entirely pointless calamity’. Of course, Mr Clegg will be criticised as a remoaner and a dedicated Europhile, but he still represents the centre ground of reason in British politics and he deserves to be listened to.

In the first section of the book, he set out the reasons why so many people felt impelled to vote to leave Europe at the 2015 referendum. They included: fears of loss of sovereignty, uncontrolled immigration, interference in our courts and institutions, the threat of a federal Europe and a nostalgia for a time when Britain was great; perhaps even a reaffirmation of the British Commonwealth. Britain has never had the same attachment to Europe because of the events of the Second World War when it stood alone isolated from the continent. The perspective of France or Germany is very different.

Clegg explained that Cameron felt impelled to hold a referendum in order to silence once and for all the large body of eurosceptics within his party and to halt the threat of a resurgent, populist UK Independence Party. He also identified the elite businessmen and millionaires who bankrolled the Brexit campaign, asserting that Brexit was not a triumph of the little man against the powerful elite; it was more a powerful coterie of rich elite manipulating the minds of the masses. He reaffirmed the statistics behind the vote, pointing out that 72% of young people voted to remain, while those who voted to leave were a mixture of the elderly, the workers, nervous of losing their jobs to foreign immigrants and the shires of little England. The majority of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland had voted to remain. The vote was close; too close. 52% voted to leave; 48% to remain. If the franchise were extended to all of those over 16, it would have gone the other way. A fervent supporter of proportional representation, Clegg demanded to know how the millions who voted to remain will be represented. An in/out referendum is already being seen as a foolish strategy, based more on power and party politics than the rights of the people. It should never have been a case of in or out, but more a case of making life in Europe better by revising the workings of the European Union as Britain has been trying to do for the last forty years. After all, it was Britain who suggested the structure of the single market and the customs union. It is therefore rather galling to find that since the referendum, Europe has got its house in order in a way that would have suited Britain better.

David Cameron took an enormous risk. Maybe, having fought the 2015 on the promise of offering people an in/out vote on Brexit, he felt he didn’t have a choice, but then again, he never thought he would lose; he was a man who had never lost anything in his life. Maybe he should have kept out of campaigning, as he did with the Scottish referendum  and Harold Wilson did in the first EU referendum in 1975.  So Cameron rushed through the 2016 referendum just a year into his government with insufficient preparation. Many people, myself included, did not understand the arguments. Others were frightened by the conflict of misleading statistics from experts on both sides. Some may have even been swayed by the promise emblazoned on the side of Boris Johnson’s battle bus, the 350 million pounds windfall from not having to pay Europe that would be given to the NHS.  But perhaps most reasonable people were irritated by having to make a choice they felt was unnecessary about implications they didn’t really understand.

Nobody had prepared for a leave result. Cameron resigned on the spot, recommending Mrs May, who had campaigned to remain in Europe, as the person best equipped to unite the party in the upcoming negotiations to leave. Having started the clock ticking by declaring Article 50, she then wasted months fighting a pointless snap election, which was designed to strengthen her authority but ended up losing the conservatives their majority and necessitating a humiliating agreement with the Democratic Unionists of Northern Ireland. Since then, May and her ‘Brexit Bulldog’, David Davies, have postured in Brussels and squabbled with their own party. It has been a shambles and all that has been achieved is an unsatisfactory climb down and a last ditch agreement to move on to trade talks.

Clegg identifies Mrs May as not having the flexibility to negotiate while Jeremy Corbyn just sits on his hands and waiting for it all to fail. With so little progress emerging so far, about the most interesting revelation has been that David Davis and Michel Barnier share a love of hiking, but while Barnier has polished his boots, planned his route and stocked up with energy bars, Davis is still struggling with the zip on his anorak!

In the second part of the book, Clegg describes the disastrous consequences for Britain of leaving the EU, the loss of trade, the erosion of Britain’s influence in the world in direct contrast to what the Brexiteers fought for, the loss of any ability to determine our own future on the fringes of a Europe that is controlled by a combination of Eurocrats and big business.

After the surprise election of Donald Trump, Mrs May rushed over to America to hold the new incumbent’s hand and assert their special relationship, promising a state visit to Britain. That was then. The state visit is on hold and so is that special relationship. Meanwhile Emmanuel Macron invited Trump over as guest of honour on Bastille Day.

After the result of the referendum, there is a certain inevitability about Brexit. Backing down does not seem an option. Britain would lose face, and become a laughing stock. But it already is. Clegg makes the point that it is not too late to change our minds. Many people, angry at having been so misled, seem to have done so already, Clegg asserts. The result was hardly represented the will of the people, he reiterates, reminding us that we are deciding the future not of us but for the millions of young people who voted to remain or would have done so if they were old enough to vote. It is their future that is being decided. If Mrs May were not so implacable or Jeremy Corbyn less inscrutable, ministers could force another vote for the good of the country.

Setting out a plan for revision, Clegg appeals to all of us, saying that if we think that the wrong decision has been made, we should make our voice count by writing to May or Corbyn, joining their party, attending a party congress, tabling a motion. Parliament is due to vote on the final deal in October. If they fail to do so, Clegg insists that we should hold another referendum and go back to Europe and renegotiate a new deal. If successful, it will never result in all the concessions and special deals we have enjoyed in the past, Our position in Europe would be more of an associate than a prime mover for the time being, or as Clegg puts it, more on the outer circle of Europe than at its core; ’twas ever thus. But it’s not like Britain will have no influence. We will still be one of the biggest economies in Europe with a seat at the table. Britain will remain close to Europe no matter how Brexit works out.

To catalyse such a new deal, he further recommends setting up a UK/EU commission under the direction of Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister and Anglophile and guess who – Sir John Major, pilloried at the time by Spitting Image as the grey man of British politics, but the man who negotiated the Maastricht treaty and Britain’s special deal on the Euro. The signs are that if Britain did want to rejoin or not leave, the door would be open. Several heads of state have said as much. Jean Claude Junker has said that he wants to be in the same boat as Britain, while Donald Tusk put it more poetically, ‘you may say I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one’. So, according to Clegg, it’s up to us.

It all seems very unlikely that the upcoming trade negotiations will work out well for Britain. We cannot have our cake and eat it. Britain will not be allowed to stay in the single market. It suits France’s and Germany’s vision of a more integrated Europe that we are on the periphery where we can no longer hold things up.  The world has changed since the European project first got underway in the nineteen fifties.  There does not seem to be a coherent plan on how Britain can survive, let alone prosper, outside the European single market.  As Captain Oates might have said all those years ago in Antarctica, ‘it would have been better to stay inside the tent pissing out than to go outside’, but he did realise that he ‘might be gone for some time’!

Resignation Syndrome

Ylena is just nine years old, the daughter of asylum seekers, currently living in Sweden. Shortly after arriving, while her mother was pregnant with her baby brother, she was afflicted with a strange illness. From being a very active young girl, she became listless and tired, she wouldn’t explain what was the matter, then she stopped talking altogether, she wouldn’t eat and she wouldn’t even get out of bed even to go to the toilet. There were no signs of any identifiable disease. The doctors were perplexed. All they could do was keep her alive by tube feeding, maintain hydration and hygeine, treat any infections, massage her limbs and prevent pressure sores. For most of the time, she slept in nappies like a baby. It is now five months since she became ill. Her parents are beside themselves with worry, not only about Ylena, but also the family’s immigrant status. The Swedish government has informed them that when their 13 month temporary residence expires, they will be deported. It was because their lives were in severe danger that they were forced to escape their country of origin and seek asylum.  They fear they will all be killed if they return.

Ylena is not the only child to be afflicted with this strange condition. It has been observed in the children of many asylum seekers in Sweden, and often occurs in clusters of friends or family members. It has been called Resignation Syndrome because it seems like the children afflicted have given up on life, but although the children are non responsive, their pulse and other physiological signs react to the presence of other people.

All the children affected by Resignation Syndrome have witnessed severe trauma often directed against their mother or father in their country of origin and the family is under threat of deportation. It is like, having witnessed extreme abuse, they cannot cope with the anxiety that their life will again be threatened. If their parents are taken away, how will they survive?  It is like the children have gone into a state of dissociation, like ‘Sleeping Beauty’.  But the illness tends to recover spontaneously if the threat of deportation is lifted.  Thus it seems that the cause of the illness is the extreme insecurity and the treatment is hope.

This epidemic has only been reported among asylum seekers in Sweden. Is this because Sweden has taken in a disproportionately large number of immigrants in recent years, but their policy for asylum has now become more strict, maybe because a few people were feigning illness to stay. But Resignation Syndrome is not faked.

Although the standard Swedish health policy has been to support life and wait for the illness to recover spontaneously or not, there is one clinic where they have instituted a radical new treatment. The children are separated from their parents and accommodated in friendly, comfortable surroundings, where staff play and engage with them in a positive way. There is, however, one strict rule; nobody is allowed to talk about deportation. Separated from the constant threat, children start to recover often within days and most make a complete recovery. But then they have to return to their parents and the threat of deportation.

There are clearly similarities between Resignation Syndrome and other unexplained illnesses, notably Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Anorexia nervosa and perhaps some patients with severe constipation predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome, all of which may be instigated by trauma. Perhaps the epidemiological links with insecurity and the therapeutic influence of hope apply to all of them. The beneficial effect of removing the children from an environment that is toxic is also important. Illness isn’t just about medicine, politics and culture can have an important influence.

This post was inspired by Crossing Continents, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 last Thursday.

Darkest HourThe continued vacillation among those who would rule us is so depressing. It feels like a capitulation, a retreat from a position of power and influence to a place of deep insecurity. David Cameron need not have called the referendum. It was more about political survival of the Tory government than what was in the best interests of the country. He was the man in charge and he bottled out. And now Mrs May, our self proclaimed ‘strong and stable’ leader, is being held to ransom by a European Union, who are no doubt fed up with Britain’s prolonged ambivalence over the whole European project. Many on both sides of the political divide complain and threaten to undermine the process. Their hearts may not be in it, but the people have voted. Britain is alone, cast adrift from Europe. So do we wring our hands and go back to Europe cap in hand and plead for a good deal or do we strike out alone and make the best of it?

It is not the first time, our little island has been alone. In May of 1940, Hitler’s panzers had raced through Holland, Belgium and into France. The total British Army, 300,000 men, were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. The House had lost confidence in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who had tried to appease the Nazis, and somewhat reluctantly appointed Winston Churchill to lead a coalition government.

Joe Wright’s film, ‘Darkest Hour, covers three weeks during the month of May 1940 from the time Winston Churchill was appointed prime minister to the evacuation from Dunkirk. Much of it was shot in the gothic gloom of The Houses of Parliament or in the underground war rooms in Whitehall. Gary Oldman was a surprising choice to play Churchill. He needed a lot of prosthetic work to transform his face and body. Nevertheless, his manner was convincing, though was Churchill really such a clown? Was he so volatile? Kirsten Scott Thomas, playing Clemmie, was a wonderful foil for his excesses. As she remarked, ‘he is just a man‘.

The action centred around the arguments within the War Cabinet.   Lord Halifax favoured contacting the Italians to broker a negotiation with Hitler. Churchill was having none of it: ‘You do not negotiate with a tiger when your head is in its jaws!‘. But he felt worn down by the reality of the situation and the sheer burden of responsibility. The most moving part of the film, totally fictitious and heavily criticised, was when Churchill hopped out of his car and took the tube for the last bit of his journey to Westminster. He got into conversation with the people in his carriage and asked them what they thought of the idea of negotiating with Hitler. They had no doubt. ‘Never‘, they all cried. Churchill then quickly drafted his famous speech to parliament and delivered it to resounding acclaim. ‘We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Within the next few days, the British Army was evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk by Churchill’s flotilla of little boats. And a few months later, the RAF delivered their own riposte to Hitler’s invasion plans. ‘Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few‘. Such stirring stuff. I was born in 1945, just after the war. My father had served in the RAF. It was in my DNA.

Churchill’s genius was the way in which he sent words into battle to inspire a nation. Politicians since then have aspired to do the same thing, but, with few exceptions, they have lacked courage and conviction. And so, we have arrived at our current depressing state. For a current generation, ‘now’ might be seen as their darkest hour. Only this time, the threat has been self inflicted and there seems no plan and little sign of redemption

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