events


london-brexit

It wasn’t so much a problem when human beings lived in small hunter gatherer tribes of 20 to 40. Then, they worked together, sharing the tasks of hunting, foraging, making fire, cooking, shelter, defence to ensure their survival. The dilemma occurred after they learnt how to grow, harvest and store food and to domesticate wild animals and were able to settle in stable communities that grew to hundreds and then thousands of people. This necessitated the allocation of roles for purposes of food supply, trade, defence and public health and a system of laws to regulate societies.

Initially such city states were ruled by strong or powerful kings; warlords who defended the community and organised the people by force. As the threat of invasion receded, this type of leadership could so easily become tyrannical and burdensome. Democracy or ‘rule by the people’ was introduced in Athens in about 500 BCE. Plato, writing at the time, feared that allowing people to govern themselves would lead to anarchy or mob rule, which would inevitably revert to tyranny or dictatorship. It is perhaps no surprise that he favoured a benign oligarchy of philosophers, but what arose in Athens was a somewhat larger more representative ruling body of ‘free’ citizens, that excluded slaves, foreigners, women and children.

As states increased in size, direct rule by the people led to chaos and inertia. It had to be managed. Democracy’s dilemma has always been how to guarantee the right of every citizen to have a stake in the running of the state, while ensuring that decisions regarding defence, food supply, trade, property and public health could be made under sound logistical and moral principles without undue argument and delay. The answer was to elect or appoint people who could represent different factions within the community. However, only those with sufficient political and moral training were considered able to supervise the legislative, executive and judicial functions of the state. Some states created an extra tier of organisation to safeguard effective governance. The government of ancient Rome offered power to the people through the election of tribunes, but political authority was held by the senate, who listened to the tribunes and transformed the will of the people into workable laws. America’s congress is based on the Roman model with a house of representatives and a senate. Each state within the union appoints two senators. While representing the interests of each state in the political process, they review and debate bills, treaties, and proposed legislation and oversee the president’s administration.

An ideal democracy, while acknowledging the diverse opinions of the electorate, must, none-the-less modify voter preferences to ensure good government. Such transformation of popular needs and concerns into effective legislation needs to be conducted with transparency, honesty and equity, ensuring that the opinions of different factions are heard and debated in order to attain a workable consensus. Moreover, the legislative, executive and judicial roles of government should be kept separate so that each is independent. Finally, the decisions of government should be carried out in accordance to a written constitution, which is nevertheless subject to periodic review.

How many modern democracies operate entirely according to those principles? The answer, of course, is none, although most claim accountability to the people they represent. Practical expediency necessitates at-best, compromise and at-worst, subversion.  As a system for running a state, Churchill once declared that ‘democracy is the worst form of government except for those other forms that have been tried from time to time’.

In his recent book, ‘Democracy and its Crisis’, the philosopher, Professor Anthony Grayling, outlined three reasons why modern democracies, particularly those in the UK and US, are failing. They are: governments are too self serving of their own class and faction, the electorate is inadequately represented and insufficiently informed and there is too much interference in government by external agencies.

An Elected Dictatorship.

In the UK, the prime minister and her cabinet effectively run the country, subject to the ‘approval’ of parliament. They organise both executive and legislative functions of government and are only accountable to the people inasmuch as they can either be endorsed or rejected after five years. Bills may be delayed by resistance in The House of Lords, but they cannot be blocked. Even the judiciary lacks the power to strike down laws made by parliament, although it can ask parliament to reconsider laws that contravene legislation on human rights. In the nineteen seventies, Lord Hailsham called the UK system of government an elective dictatorship. This has not changed.

A similar system exists in the United States.  Executive authority resides with the President and the House of Representatives, though the senate does have the power to overturn legislation. For a good part of the history of the United States, there has been a de facto combination of powers with the legislature and executive, both houses of congress and the President working together when the same party has a majority in the house and the senate.

The distortions and inequities of the electoral system and party divisions means that governments of both countries do not represent the diverse views of the population or even majority public opinion. Instead, the executive government represents the background and experience of those members, the President or Prime Minister have appointed. You would at least think that the executive could be held to account by their individual members, but the reality is that in the UK they are bullied, bribed and blackmailed by the ‘whips’ into supporting the party line. It was the whips made sure that article 50 was triggered for Britain to leave the European Union, even though the result of the referendum was only ever meant to be advisory document and only 37% of the electorate voted for it. On a matter as important as leaving the EU, a two thirds majority would have ensured that the people truly decided. Unfortunately, the executive was able ‘to make it up as it went along’, partly because Britain does not have a written constitution. Even party manifestoes are less an agenda for the next parliament than a wish list that may be discarded as situations change.

Both the current UK and US governments could be accused as being out of touch with the electorate and only serving the interests of a small executive group. History teaches us that such unrepresentative government can lead to envy, riot, and replacement by a more populist regime, risking another form of dictatorship. This has already happened in the US while in the UK, an alternative government is biding it’s time, waiting for the current incumbents to implode.

Representation

Government should represent a diversity of views, but the absence of proportional representation in the ‘first past the post system’, operated by both the UK and the US, means that certain views are under-represented or not represented at all. Climate change is arguably the major threat facing mankind, yet tackling it is only championed by The Green Party in the UK. Although, over a million people voted for the Greens in 2015, only one member was elected. And in the United States, Donald Trump, a candidate with no qualification for parliamentary leadership, won more states, even though  Hillary Clinton, with three years experience as Secretary of State, got 3 million more popular votes. The major parties argue that proportional representation would lead to coalition and weak government, but coalition would mean greater representation of the views of the electorate and less manipulation by class based ideology and powerful external agencies. As such, it would be more democratic.

Fake News and Bullshit.

External agencies, particularly the news media have too much influence on both the electorate and MPs. Post truth, fake news, distortion, propaganda, ad hominem attacks, even the caricatures of cartoonists like Peter Brookes create what political commentator and presenter of BBC’s Newsnight, Evan Davis, calls ‘bullshit’ and can all too easily affect the way people think and vote. Bullshit is the political journalist’s stock-in-trade; they are there to probe, to question, to stir things up. It gives them access to the levers of power without any of the responsibility? But it none-the-less undermines our faith in any kind of government. Many people were manipulated to vote for Brexit by exaggerated fears of foreign intervention and immigration?

Social media has made this much worse. Google and other social media outlets can create profiles of every voter. This allows them to target voters in key constituencies or states to swing the vote in a particular direction.

Government can be manipulated by donations from rich individuals or sponsorship from big corporations, while within government, networks of military and civilian officials have a major influence what the executive decides.

For the Many not the Few.

Most MPs and members of the US congress have grown up at a time of peace. Britain and the USA and most of Europe have had no wars on their soil for over 70 years. This may explain an attitude of complacency on the part of government. David Cameron – remember him – failed to factor in a vote to leave the EU or appreciate the inherent inequality in income and opportunity that many in Britain suffered. ‘For the many, not the few’ chimes with the resentment and aspirations of lower paid workers. They are fed up with excuses and inaction, fed up with being fobbed off with the same tired old rhetoric that promises everything and never delivers, fed up with the brouhaha of party politics, fed up with the way the news media create a crisis out of everything. Although we may recognise the criticism of the government of the day and the promises for something different and better as just so much bullshit, we nevertheless are drawn in by somebody who promises to transform the political arena into something different, more can-do. This is the appeal of self appointed populist leaders like Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, though only the latter can claim hard won experience of government.

So now, a hundred years on from a proletarian revolution in Russia, the US seems threatened by a new form of tyranny while British democracy is rapidly losing all credibility and influence. Can we ever pull ourselves back from the brink and reform the democratic system? Or do things have to get much worse before there is the will to change them? Can we introduce a fair system of proportional representation? Can we reform parliamentary procedures and abolish the party whips? Can we ensure transparency of funding for elections? Can we abolish the manipulation of elections by profiling and targeting voters? Can we in Britain replace a defunct House of Lords with an effective and more representative senate, able to challenge the executive when necessary. Can we increase the political effectiveness of local communities? Can we hold the media to account to fact-check what they publish?

It seems that if we are ever to change our system of democracy, we need to be more involved. Government is too distant and centralised. If people could become more involved in local government, they would understand the workings of democracy. Then their deliberations could feed up to higher levels of government. But how many would wish to be involved? Call me an old cynic, but my experience in running a charity suggests that most people would rather others did it for them. Perhaps if we educated our teenagers to understand how democracy works and gave them the vote at 16, they might feel motivated to make a difference.

 

Advertisements

IMG_3804

Cardiff Crown Courts are contained within an imposing Edwardian building in Cathays Park just an arrow’s flight away from the ancient picture-book keep of Cardiff Castle on top of its mound and surrounded by a moat. From the flagpole sporting a red dragon, I could look over the Principality Stadium, that just a few years ago, replaced the pride of Cardiff Arms Park to the hills and valleys of Rhonda and up to the Brecon Beacons. I was in Wales and it felt like a different country.

Maurice, aviator, adventurer and my old Taunton School friend and climbing buddy, stood accused of breaking a restraining order and was worried. ‘I am facing five years!’, he reminded me.

Maurice parked his van and mobile bedroom in a space in front of the building, not bothering to pay. ‘Why should I worry about a parking fine if they are going to lock me up?’ Leaving me to get his bag of documents through the security check, he stomped off up the steps. ‘I don’t want you to be seen with me. Just follow some way behind like an Arab wife!’ I trudged down municipal corridors occasionally overtaken by barristers and other court officials, who passed in a swish of gowns though doors held open for them. It reminded me of being back at school.

Court number 9 seemed a little cramped. Behind a long raised bench beneath the Coat of Arms sat her honour, the judge. She wore a black gown with red and blue flashings and a token wig that barely covered her hair, which was pulled back in a pony tail. The wig must have been itchy because she kept grimacing and dislodging it to scratch her head. Beneath her in the well of the courtroom sat the clerk of the court, a somewhat dishevelled and overweight youngish woman, who wrapped herself in her gown and sat throughout, gurning at her computer screen. In front and facing her were the benches for the prosecuting counsel and the defence counsel and their assistants. The jury sat in two rows behind elevated benches to the left. The press bench faced them on the far right and contained one intense-looking scribbler.  Maurice sat in the elevated dock to the left at the back of the court almost in touching distance of the jury. He was dressed smartly in a light green hacking jacket, red corduroy trousers and a yellow shirt set off by his red blood-sports bow tie.  He had shaved and cut his hair for the occasion. I and three other supporters sat at the same level to the right.

The judge had not long been appointed. If she was expecting an easy case, she was soon to be disabused. First, Maurice’s defending counsel strode into the court minus his wig and gown and asked to see her in Chambers, where he explained that Maurice would be defending himself. It is Maurice’s 13th appearance; the courtroom is his theatre and he usually excels – so why spoil a winning combination? Next, Maurice made an application for disclosure of medical records, which was ruled irrelevant and refused together with three further applications for witnesses including the psychiatrist who had falsely diagnosed brain damage. At that, Maurice asked for the case to be transferred to Bristol, where he felt he would get a fairer hearing. This was also refused. Finally, Maurice objected to one of the jurors, who was a doctor and may have known the psychiatrist. Another refusal. Things were not going well, but Maurice was not overly surprised or upset.

At length, the jury was sworn in, the judge explaining that their role was to judge the facts of the case while she was there to judge according to the law. The prosecution case was seemingly very straightforward. A restraining order had been issued to prevent Maurice from harassing the aforementioned forensic psychiatrist for falsifying medical records and the chief officer of the South Wales Police for wrongful arrest and imprisonment. His crime was, as I understand it,’threatening behaviour with an offensive weapon – ‘the machine gun case’. Maurice had purchased a vintage WW1 biplane with a machine gun mounted on the fuselage. He had removed the gun from the aircraft and posted an image on Facebook brandishing the weapon and threatening the South Wales Police. The gun was decommissioned; its barrel was blocked, and Maurice had posted the image as a prank. That, however, did not stop the police from storming his house and arresting him in front of his 10 year old daughter, whom they threatened to take into care to protect her from her dangerous father. A mutual antipathy between Maurice and that police force had smouldered for many years. No doubt they were waiting for an excuse to ‘nail him’.

At the subsequent trial, and largely on the evidence of the forensic psychiatrist, Maurice was assigned MAPPA (multi agency public protection arrangement) level 3, by which he was deemed at serious risk of harming the public and threatened to be confined in Ashworth high security psychiatric hospital, where the moors murderer, Ian Brady, was incarcerated. That was in 2009. He was eventually locked up in Cardiff and then Swansea prisons before being finally set free in 2015.

Maurice claims that he has been the victim of police harassment over many years. He considers his imprisonment and the designation that he was a serious risk to the public a gross miscarriage of justice, as a result of which he lost his ability to practice as a vet, his pilots licence, his marriage and any contact with his youngest daughter. He suspects that the forensic psychiatrist was ‘blackmailed’ by the police into writing the damning report that wrecked his life. As a result, he harbours a considerable grievance against the police and the psychiatrist and continues to fight to bring his persecutors to justice.

Breaching the restraining order was perhaps the only means he had of getting his grievances heard and publicised to a wider audience. Apart from the technicalities of whether or not he was properly issued with a restraining order, Maurice’s case is that he had reasonable justification in order to expose criminal activity on the part of the police and the psychiatrist. In other words, ‘they stitched him up’. In that respect, the context of why and how the order was issued in the first place is critically important, but the judge and the prosecution clearly wanted to tackle the simple issue of whether or not Maurice had broken the restraining order.

The prosecuting counsel called just three witnesses, the police officer who took screen shots of the ‘Wanted, dead or alive’ posters on Maurice’s website and Facebook pages, the officer who arrested Maurice after he had taken a video of himself in the foyer of Cardiff police station, and the officer who interviewed Maurice. In a display of cross examination, worthy of Horace Rumpole, Maurice confused the police officers and managed to get the judge to quash the Facebook evidence on the grounds that it was taken out of context.

His supporters were excited. It had been a good day for Maurice. Meirion said that he had not had such a good time in court for years and Terry commented, ‘You’ve got some bollocks, Maurice!’ The man, himself, was in good spirits and looking forward to a drink when he dropped me back at the railway station to get the train to Sheffield.

The trial dragged on for another three days. Maurice was prevented from calling any witnesses, but he was able to explain the background that led to the issue of a restraining order. Nevertheless, the outcome was always inevitable.  Guided by the judge to focus on the recent events of the case, the jury found him guilty of breaking the restraining order. Sentencing will take place on the 12th of November after Maurice has been assessed by a psychiatrist, which is ironic seeing that it was the psychiatric report that instigated all of this. He is now preparing his appeal.

This week on the Hoaxted Website, I had sight of the psychiatric report, which contains many unsubstantiated assertions that should never stand up in a court of law.

The clinical picture is of a man who has always had minor cognitive difficulties (poor writing and spelling). He developed a personality characterised by narcissism (an abnormal sense of entitlement), grandiosity (believing that normal rules do not apply to him) and paranoia (believing he is the victim of persecution). He also shows evidence of poor judgement, impulsivity and a willingness to hold himself hostage by way of hunger strike in an attempt to manipulate his environment. While these personality characteristics have undoubtedly overshadowed his life and probably had a negative effect on his family and social functioning, they appear to have been reasonably stable throughout his life. However, Maurice and the evidence both suggest that over the past two years, his functioning has deteriorated and his beliefs have become more intense and overwhelming and at some times but not others are clearly abnormal. Maurice now shows clear evidence of some degree of neuro-cognitive damage (brain damage), probably as a result of normal ageing, previous heavy alcohol misuse and deceleration following plane crashes. The specific area of brain damage affects his ability to monitor and control his behaviour, decreases self awareness, judgement and decision making abilities and have compounded his paranoid beliefs to the extent that when subjected to further stress, his beliefs intensify to the extent that for periods they have a quality of a paranoid delusional disorder (mental illness characterised by fixed false beliefs unamenable to reason and of a paranoid nature).’

‘Risk is always difficult to quantify especially in highly complex cases such as this and it is also impossible to consider Maurice’s risk in isolation from those he encourages to act on his behalf. The risk of him continuing with his action against South Wales Police and acting in a way he feels justified to act to achieve his needs is high, though whether Maurice would himself he involved in interpersonal violence is less, it cannot be discounted nor can the risk that others may act violently with his encouragement.’

The conclusion that Maurice has brain damage was based on MRI evidence of a localised lack of perfusion in the right frontal lobe possibly caused by a brain tumour. This abnormality was no longer present when the scan was repeated. Brain scans are notoriously difficult to interpret and I am reminded that after trauma and during intense emotion the right frontal lobe can go off-line while victims may behave irrationally. In other words, it is likely that appearances of hypo-perfusion might come and go.

Furthermore, the report states he has a paranoid delusional disorder – in lay terms, mad and irrational – and hints that he may have had this tendency for many years. I have known Maurice for more than 50 years during which he has tackled extreme climbs in North Wales, canoed across the channel in a severe gale, flew to Australia single-handed in his veteran piper cub and then continued round the world, ditching in the Caribbean and subsequently landing outside President Bush’s ranch to thank him for being rescued by the American coastguard, and finally last year crash landed in Southern Sudan during a civil war. While Maurice’s exploits show an impulsive nature and an extreme degree of self belief, they are not the actions of a madman. On the contrary, the fact that he has survived against enormous odds must denote an amazing amount of sanity and sangfroid. Our friend, Jack, who also climbed with Maurice in North Wales said he was a man living at the wrong time and that if his own life was in danger, he would want Maurice with him.

Delusions, by definition, do not conform to reality, but whose reality? Are Maurice’s beliefs delusional or is it possible that he has at times been victimised by the South Wales police force?’. If a person inhabits an environment that is so persecutory he is always having to look over his shoulder, paranoid beliefs may seem quite rational. They might, however, seem mad in a world (and a courtroom) that is justified by the law.

In time, the constant struggle to survive in a persecutory world might cause anybody to question their sense of reality. Maurice has spent a large part of the last few years incarcerated, during which he has been abused, beaten up and disbelieved. This must constitute severe trauma, which would test the beliefs of the sanest of people.

The psychiatric report concludes that there is a high risk of him continuing with his action against South Wales Police and acting in a way he feels justified to act to achieve his needs. It is in the nature of the man. Maurice is fighter and the more access to medical records and court records is prevented, the more he will persist in publicising his grievance in order to obtain justice. Perhaps the court should allow him the freedom to bring his case against South Wales Police to a satisfactory conclusion, but I doubt they will want to take that risk.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington.

So Donald Trump is now in the White House; the leader of the western world.  In his inauguration speech, he promised to put America first, to repeal many of his predecessor’s achievements in the of trade deals with Asia, nationalised health care and control of carbon emissions  and to make America great again. Trump is not a liberal democrat; he does not see himself as keeping the world safe; he is willing to go to any lengths as long as this is in America’s interest.  While the white male voters of middle America cheer to the rafters, the rest of the world holds its breath.

It was Freidrich Nietzsche in his polemic, ‘On the Genealogy of Morality (1887)’, who described the masters of society as ‘blonde beasts’, who are only interested in the acquisition and the retention of power.  These are the rulers; the powerful. They are vital, confident and self regarding, but also amoral and corrupt; they hold the rest of society, whom he termed, the slaves, in subjugation. They are the Trumps of this world.

Morality, Nietzsche asserted, begins as a reaction by the slaves against the power of the masters. Their grievance and frustration cannot be used in direct revenge against the rich and powerful, but is  internalized as moral qualities of virtue, compassion, self control and denial, which makes them feel superior and virtuous.

Entrapped by their own virtue, the morality of the slaves encourages constant self examination, shame, guilt and punishment. It isn’t enough to behave badly; people could also punish themselves for having bad intentions or thoughts.  Not given to self reflection, the blonde beasts have no such misgivings; they think and do whatever they want.

Eventually the slaves revolt against their masters under the guidance of their spiritual leaders or priests, who preach a life of righteous asceticism unsullied by shame and guilt and subject the slaves to the moral guidance of an all powerful but ‘abstract and imaginary’ God, whom only they could represent on earth.  A kind of moral and liberal democracy prevails but does not necessarily make people happy as it is built on self examination, confession, guilt and sacrifice and leads to suspicions of inequality among different groups.  So the price of civilization, according to the misanthropic Nietzsche, is a guilty conscience and endless self abnegation while the philosophical/scientific notion of asceticism distances society from life and the emotions into unattainable sterile abstractions.  Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, but that may not satisfy them.

But politics runs in cycles.  The revolt of the slaves eventually destroys itself (see Newsnight’s video on my facebook page. In his dialogue with Plato,  Socrates came up with the shocking suggestion that tyranny evolves from democracy. The argument goes something like this. Democracy maximises equality and freedom. Everybody is equal and everybody is free to do exactly as they like.  The more democratic a society becomes, the more the freedoms multiply, men are interchangeable with women, animals have rights, children criticise their parents, foreigners can come and work, teachers are afraid of their students, the rich look like the poor. Any inequality is criticised: elites and the wealthy are particularly despised, the weak are suspect. That’s when a would-be tyrant seizes his opportunity. He is usually of the elite but is a traitor to his class and is often given to excesses of power, greed, and sex. He takes over a particularly obedient mob and attacks as corrupt his peers, who either flee or try to appease him.  He offers a relief from the endless choices and insecurities of democracy and rides a backlash to excess and presents himself as the personified answer to all problems, and in the face of the certainty of absolute power, democracy repeals itself.

Does this seem a simplistic and ultimately depressive notion?  Democracy was conceived as a way for large numbers of people to live together in relative harmony, their emotional impulses contained by the laws and morals of society as effected by their secular and spiritual leaders and controlled by their institutions.  So is tyranny is the inevitable outcome of a democracy that has created expectations it can never fulfil?  Has democracy undermined itself by being too liberal.  We in the western ‘civilised’ world have enjoyed a liberal democracy that has lasted for 70 years and have sought to impose the same system on others. The election of a blonde beast in the USA and the near election of another blonde beast in the UK are indications that liberal democracy has succumbed to the hedonic appeal of power.

Sigmund Freud expressed similar ideas to Nietzsche in his essay ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’, in which he described the irredeemable conflict between instinct and the morality of civilisation.

If only.  If only they hadn’t put the banner on top of the roof at Lower Loxley.  If only Nigel had employed somebody to get it down.  If only David had not suggested that his brother-in-law climb up.  If only David had admitted this when it all happened.  And if only he hadn’t felt compelled to admit it later when Elizabeth was beginning to get over it all.  

Did he expect Elizabeth to understand and forgive him?   Didn’t he realise that the knowledge was bound to shatter the fragile supports she had manage to construct over the weeks since Nigel fell to his death?  Not only would it dismantle the story she had constructed to enable herself and the children to get over it all, but it would also destroy the trust that had built up between brother and sister and leave her without any support at all.  So why did he do it? 

David wanted forgiveness, redemption; he wanted to salve his conscience.  He couldn’t bear the guilt of Elizabeth’s gratitude.  His conscience wouldn’t let her think he was a saint, whereas he felt exactly the opposite.  So he sought absolution from the only person who could give it to him.  But this was such a selfish act.  In admitting his guilt, he was only thinking of his own feelings.  He didn’t think about the consequences of his actions. 

Openness and honesty are not always the best policy. Sometimes you have to bear your own guilt.  Admitting it can only damage the aggrieved.  Let them keep their story; it’s all they’ve got.  Don’t take that away.  Don’t try to justify or explain, only to yourself.  Live with it, understand, don’t attempt to excuse, just understand and in doing so understand your own humanity. 

But this is radio, not real life and in fiction, the best story lines are the most dysfunctional.  So what will happen now?   Will David get so depressed he will take his own life?  Will Elizabeth leave the village?  Will Roy be without a job?  I see a tipping point has occurred and events will take the trajectory that is of most interest to the script writers.

So why do we help each other?  It defies logic.  According to Dr Samuel Okashi, who was speaking at the Cafe Scientifique last night, if we were the rational, logical creatures we claim to be, then there would always be an advantage not to.  The Prisoner Game, invented by the ‘autistic’ mathematician John Nash (depicted in the film by Russell Crowe),  demonstrated that when you cannot trust your partner what to do, it is always better to defect, because the risk of collaborating when they don’t, could mean you end up with nothing and even if you both defect, you could at least end up with something.  This makes logical sense to prisoners and psychopaths, who cannot trust.  It also makes sense for governments.  Look how difficult it is for states to agree on cutting carbon emissions.  Powerful states with more to lose, defect, because if everybody else cuts emissions they will gain, even though the world will lose.  How could you ever get them to collaborate?

Why should people who are inherently narcissistic and self interested, engage in co-operative altruistic behaviour?   Is it just that we are social animals and as such have an inbuilt need to collaborate?   Such behaviour is built into us from the beginning; it’s instinctive; the baby clings to the mother, the mother’s instinct is to care for her infant.  Families stay together not just because there are distinct advantages for them to do so, but because there is a powerful emotional bond.  People group themselves in tribes.  There’s strength in numbers, but there’s also comfort, creativity and meaning.  In a social unit, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  No one person can do everything.  By adopting different roles, they can work as a unit to achieve much more as long as they see advantage in doing so and there is discipline.  And for that you need trust and leadership.  Difficulties arise when you have too many chiefs and not enough Indians.  Our survival as a species is based on collaboration.        

But we don’t collaborate with others just because we discern long term gains from such behaviour or because we avoid long term losses; we avoid being punished.   No, I think it’s deeper than that.  Our lives are built on meaning, the meaning that can only come from social interaction.  Our brains are wired by making emotional connections; neuroscience shows that the more we engage with the people and world around us, the more our brains adapt to cope; the more we grow as individuals.  It’s the way we form our identity.  Defection leads to autism, depression, exclusion and in an evolutionary sense, extinction.  Comparative research among primates indicate that the bigger the social group, the larger the size of the brain.  The implication is that you need big brains to hold in mind the dynamics of so many relationships. 

The key factor is trust.  Relationships, societies are based on trust.  Evolution assumes collaboration, at least for time enough to exchange genes but for social species collaboration must persist for much longer.  Trust is the glue that bonds people into families, friendships and tribes.  We have to know that at the end of the day, those whom we are bonded to by trust, will not abandon, mislead, exploit or betray us.  We need to know we belong.   Without trust we are like prisoners; always suspicious, watching our backs, making sure that others do not steal the advantage leaving us with nothing.  Society disintegrates without trust.  

The Prisoner Game is not the only game. There is another game for social animals and that is what my grandmother quaintly called courtship.  Here the goal is conjunction, the creation of a lasting bond.  In the edgy dance of courtship, each partner attempts to determine the sincerity of the other in all sorts of tests and tasks. ‘if you really loved me, you would do never be late, forget, let me down.’  The object is to build and establish the share mythology of absolute trust that will sustain the sufficiently to rear confident, trusting children while at the same time consolidating their place in the tribe.  In the courtship game, there is only one win.  The philanderer and seductress may achieve a short term gain, but it doesn’t last and both are the losers, gaining only disillusion and loneliness; lust, trust and bust!    

The Prisoner Game is based on false assumptions.  It assumes that human beings are purely logical, rational animals, who have no time for trust and only see personal advantage in relationships.  It is rather similar to the corporate game in which representatives employ the skills of seduction, charm and persuasion, to gain an advantageous deal.   Trust often doesn’t come into it; the best either partner can hope for is mutual advantage, bound by a written agreement, where law replaces trust.   But in the corporate world too, aren’t the best agreements forged during a round of golf or over a drink or meal?  The enjoyment of the game, the companionship, alcohol and food are ways executives still use to break down suspicion and promote trust, but increasingly such individuals are ‘protected’ by their PR companies.  As societies have expanded, so they have developed ever more efficient systems to protect themselves from ‘messy’ emotions.   You need more than the promise of good intentions if you are going to strike the best deal. 

Are so called civilised human beings becoming more selfish and more suspicious?  Do we trust less?   And are we paying the price for this?  Isn’t loneliness the major public health risk of our time?  Hasn’t the birth rate declined  – and the divorce rate gone up?   Are we breeding a generation of mixed up, disenfranchised kids?  Are we more split, more confrontational, more keen on our individual rights than building something together?  Is it better to be right than be together?  Is this the essence of our decline as a society?  Can we do anything about it?

The driver game, in which drivers choose whether to drive on the left or the right,  only works if the players can rely on each other to make the same choice.  A partnership must be mutual, in marriage, friendship or even corporate relationships.  If one partner does everything, if one partner is ambivalent, deceives, plays away, betrays, it doesn’t work.  But collaboration requires energy (though not as much as suspicion) and as long as their basic needs are met,  human beings are lazy. 

So is this the way the world ends – not with a bang, but a whimper?

What is the secret of the enduring popularity of the British monarchy?  What curious alchemy is at work?   I can understand why my father, the venerable Read, God rest his soul, was such a fervent  monarchist.   He was, as he frequently told us, one of Churchill’s few.  He fought for King and country, though I doubt the King was that impressed when he wrote off three Hurricanes without even seeing the enemy.   It’s enough to make a st-st-statesman st-st-stutter.   But sixty years on,  and a sequence of public relations disasters, the institution still has the power to generate a sense of awe and respect.   It’s not so much what the Royals do  – and the chief characters in this enduring soap opera certainly do a lot – it’s what they represent.   The Windsors play an essential symbolic role for our nation.  They create a collective sense of identity and continuity that we would never get from an ephemeral political leader.   They embody consistency and a reaffirmation of traditional values of duty, loyalty, charity, family and community.  The Queen is Commander in Chief of the armed forces and head of the Church of England and she brings a softer more human sense to both of those organisations.  I once met Prince Charles and was impressed by the way he could work a room and how he raised self deprecation to the status of an art form.

Some say the mere existence of the Royal Family is an affront to democracy.  Not a bit of it; they are its upholders.  They curb the power of politicians by subsuming the cult of personality from leadership, providing an alternative focus of respect and idealisation that prevents our elected leaders becoming too big for their political boots.  So the Royal Family prevent the creation of tyrants, just by being there.  The Queen’s in her palace and all’s well with the world. 

Next year, The Queen would have been on the throne for 60 years.  She acceded in a different time; she has overseen the most amazing changes, not just in terms of historical events or our way of life, but more crucially in our attitudes to all the important things,  family, marriage, religion, sexuality.   She has stayed firm and uncompromising through it all. She is the same now as she was in 1952.  She is the moral anchor for a nation, nay half a world, that has been buffeted by the winds of change.  Not only that, but The Queen is latest in a long line that goes back to William the Conqueror;   she embodies continuity, representing a historical notion of nationhood that goes back to the very beginning.  I don’t know ho children understand history now, but when I was a boy, it all hinged around the Kings and Queens.   Like the Observer’s Book of Birds or Ian Allen’s Great Western Railway locomotives (with its 30 Kings, 6000 to 6030),  I knew the images of each King and the dates they ruled;  I still do.  Some knowledge never fades.    Our national anthem is not about the power of the state, the revolution, or even the beauty of the country, it is about the monarch – as if The Queen (or King) is the essential symbol of nation and empire.   ‘God Save The Queen’.   Quite!          

Saturday’s Guardian, an organ that hs never admired inherited privilege and power, was so critical of the whole Royal Wedding extravaganza,  though they did approve of the royal minibus fleet; the need for cuts and all that!  They reminded me of prison vans.  In a sense, I suppose, they were.      

But there is surely nothing like a Royal Wedding to reaffirm that sense of unity and commitment.  In the Church of England, it seems, the beards always have the best words.  It was the bald and bearded Bishop of London who emphasised the commitment of marriage (as opposed to just living together) as a potent symbol of unity and responsibility for family, society and the nation, while it was left up to that aging Welsh hippie, Rowan Williams to remind Kate of her responsibility to have a baby, preferably male.         

The Germans may sneer at the English for their eccentric attachment to the Windsors, but had it not been for the last century’s two great German wars, they might have still been Saxe-Coburg-Gothas and William might have been assigned a German princess.  It was the symbolic significance of the Royal Family, who refused to leave London even though the palace was bombed, as much as Churchill’s indomitable rhetoric that got us through the second war.   The Germans began to recognise the flaws in their Fuhrer quite early on.  Theirs was not a glorious endeavour; they couldn’t prevail.  Our parent’s war had right on its side.  So despite the familial dysfunction and the flurry of  royal divorces,  the Royal Family is nearly as popular now as it was in the 1950s.   80% of the population support it.  Maybe it will be different when the Queen dies; there could be a backlash to King  Charles and Queen Camilla.  Could Kate Middleton will be the one to restore it; she has that quiet sense of dignity, that stability and composure, that regal quality that could capture the nation’s affection and identification.  

Friday’s Royal Wedding is a symbol of hope, hope for William and Kate of course, but also for the rest of us, though the cynics will remind us we’ve been here before.   30 years ago, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer.  A fairy tale wedding, they called it, but it was more like one of Grimm’s.  Charles and Camilla were still exchanging tokens of their affection up until the eve of the wedding.   But apparently Prince Philip had insisted Charles choose a virgin and an aristocrat.   There were not that many around.  So Diana, the nineteen year old insecure daughter of a dysfunctional family, was selected for sacrifice.  They hardly knew each other.  It was less of a romance and more an arrangement to secure the dynasty.   The runes were not good and it ended in tragedy.  Kate and William are so different.  Theirs’ is a love match, they met at university 10 years ago, they are the same age, they were friends before they became lovers, they have lived together.  They are like us, they laugh and joke at the same things and they renew our belief in love and family at a time when cynicism is considered clever.  

May their marriage be strong and happy and may they continue to bring a sense of joy to the lives of the rest of us.

It was 1789. France was still a feudal monarchy.  All the power and the wealth was in the hands of the aristocracy,  the King was like a God.  His ancestor, Louis XIV, the Sun King, had built himself a wonderful palace in Versailles.  The people had no voice. All the power was in the hands of the aristocrats and the church.  The country was run by the wealthy; the Estates General.   

But there were stirrings; people were restless, the intellectuals and lawyers met in the cafes and talked of revolution.  he American War of Independence had shown them that it was possible for a people to rise up against their European masters and succeed.   It just needed the spark.  A volcano erupts in Iceland,  the climate cools, the wheat crop fails and Paris explodes.  Starvation on top of everything else; it was too much.   

From its instigation in 1789, events gathered momentum like red hot lava.  The Estates General  was abolished and replaced by a more representative National Assembly, but the members were locked out of their meeting house.  The mob stormed the Bastille, the peasants refused to work on the estates, the monasteries were suppressed, wars of conquest were renounced,  the nobility was abolished.  The Government  changed every few months.  The National Assembly was replaced by an inexperienced Legislative Assemply.  This in turn was dissolved to be replaced by a revolutionary commune, which appointed its own tribunal. The King was forced to abdicated and was then  beheaded.  The country disintegrated into chaos, a  reign of terror.  Nobody was safe.  Anybody who looked rich or who has intellectual pretensions was executed.  Even the architects of the revolution, Marat, Danton and the incorruptible Robespierre were despatched by the guillotine.

The French Revolution terrifies me.  How is it possible to live through such anarchy with any sense of integrity and humanity?  .How could a civilised country disintegrate into such chaos?  Could the mob be released here?  Have you ever stood in the Kop?   

So could it happen again?  Could it happen here?  Now?   Yes, if things got bad enough.  George Osborne is swinging his machete with reactionary zeal.  His cuts are going deeper and more quickly than most of us anticipated.  His assertion that people are making a life style choice in claiming benefits is so provocative.  It surely emanates from someone out of touch with real world of the electorate. It will anger many and may well provoke violence.    

I suspect we are in for a very difficult winter and I am not sure the government will survive it. ‘This is no time for novices’, Gordon Brown said.  It is beginning to look like he was right.  Osborne seems carried away by enthusiasm, intoxicated by a delusion of self importance. Is there nobody who can express a note of caution?  Does the government know something that we don’t?  They need to come clean, to demonstrate in terms that are clear to all, the depth of our plight, to offer leadership and guidance as to how to survive it.  Otherwise people will just view the cuts as the desperate acts of an incompetent and insecure government.  They will take to the streets; the mob whipped up by the media, will be released.  It could happen!  The firemen and postal workers are already threatening strikes.  The TUC has urged civil disobedience.   And against the background, the government is also planning cuts in the military and the police.   

My fears were inspired by the performance of Danton’s Death at the National; such is the role of theatre.  Toby Stephens and Eliot Levey were so powerful,  the set so  dramatic, the direction by Michael Grandage so terrifying. Do not see it if you are a nervous disposition.  Just collect any bits of wood, boxes, broken down cars, anything and start building.    

Next Page »