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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.

 

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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.    

Cuts will hit poor 10 times harder than rich – report.   This was the headline in this morning Guardian.  Well, of course they will!  It’s common sense, if the government makes cuts in public spending, it’s the poor,  many of whom are single parents and pensioners, who will suffer most.  They’ll suffer most because they do not have reserve capacity and so they desperately need the extra that benefits provide.   The rich have got their own private sources of funds and while they might miss out on a foreign holiday or delay buying a new car, they will not experience real hardship.  

Last night’s Any questions was broadcast from Sheffield High School on the borders of Nick Clegg’s constituency.  The panel agreed that Sheffield, which is still recovering from the collapse of steel and mining industries in the eighties, will suffer more than most cities from the cuts.   Fourteen miles to the south and west in the picturesque vales of Derbyshire around the Chatsworth Estate, there will be scarce a scratch.  Indeed, this morning as I ran past the Carleton Gate, a notice advertised £1000 reward for information leading to the recovery of a precious African Grey Parrot on long term medication.  It’s a different world down here.  But I still get an embarrassing cheque for winter fuel allowance, free bus travel and reductions on the train!   

I voted for this government.  I wanted to get away from the adversarial bickering of party politics and have a real mature consensus.  I reasoned that there wasn’t much to choose between the parties and when it came down to it.  Surely, men and women of slightly different persuasions would be able to work together for the good of the country.  And that, by and large seems to be happening, but I and millions of others hadn’t quite realised how draconian the cuts might be. 

Just this last week, George Osborne announced that he wanted to cut an extra 4 billion off the welfare budget (over and above the 11 billion planned) by making it much harder for people to remain on unemployment benefit long term,  VAT has been increased, Vince Cable announced that Royal Mail delivery services could be sold off with many thousands of job losses, and front line services in the police may go with £40,000 job losses.   Funding for schools is to be reduced, and unversities do not have the capacity to accept students who would otherwise get in.  This year, even students with four A’s are having to sign on.   And yet, there is no sign of the increased investment that might allow the economy to generate funds and avoid a catastrophic rise in uneployment and poverty.  Such cuts tear at the seams of the social fabric and threaten the release of criminal behaviour and civil unrest.  And yet they’re slashing front line jobs in the police force as well. 

Is this joined up government?  Are ministers talking to each other?  Who’s in charge of publicity anyway?  It doesn’t make sense.     

What does the government expect?  That workers will be phlegmatic about it and say, ‘yes, we’ll do our bit for the country’.  They might have done this 70 years ago with the bombs falling and ‘Winnie’ in charge.   But now?  I fear that  as the cuts go deeper, people will get so angry they will take matters into their own hands.  I fear this oncoming winter of discontent will be every bit as bad as 1979 and Maggie’s no longer in the wings with a rescue package.  Gordon Brown must feel vindicated, although his policy of tax and spend risked economic collapse by driving interest rates up.  

There is a limit to how long government can continue to bleat; ‘It’s the last lot who created the mess.  We’re just trying to clear it up and it’s going to be tough for us all.’  No it’s not; it’s going to be tougher on the poorest among us and the last lot still say they would have done it so differently.  But is that so much Ed Balls?

Sigmund Freud was born 156 years ago tonight;  Mike Brearly a hundred years later.  Freud never played cricket and regarded women as the dark continent.  Brearley led several successful test matches against teams from the Dark Continent.  Nevertheless, they were both leaders of men, though Brearley rates his tenure as President of the British Psychoanalytical Society a far more dangerous undertaking than being  England cricket captain.    

It was the night of the general election, and the topic at The Freud Museum was ‘Leadership’.   Leaving aside who might make the best Prime Minister, Brearley  took up the theme that the qualities of leadership depend as much on the leader as those being led.  People tend to get the leaders they deserve; they project their own attitudes onto the leader.  A warlike people will get a warlord as leader.  A narcissistic society will tend to get a celebrity leader.  Televised debates favour the best performers: game show hosts. 

The narcissistic leader may be able to project all the charm and charisma of leadership; he (it tends to be he) is so conscious of how he appears and well able to change his style and presentation to appeal to his audience.  Politicians are so good at this; they have to be.  They must represent a point of view, present an attitude of conviction while making it all seem so reasonable.  They must be people we can trust.  They must be actors.  But espousing a particular cause means not seeing other points of view. This type of leadership encourages splitting, defensiveness, paranoia and ultimately conflict.  It bolsters group identity in a paranoid way.  The narcissist cannot acknowledge ambivalence and weakness, must deny dependence and must project all their fears, their envy onto others. 

But a certain degree of narcissism is important in a leader.  You have to be pushy, confident, to state your point of view and get things moving.      

Situations create certain types of leader.  The aggression of Adolph Hitler needed a robust response.  Winston Churchill was there.  His life had prepared him to lead the country through the threat of invasion to victory.  Clemmie commented that it was what he was made for.  Lord Halifax may have been a much better leader in peacetime, but in war, he was seen as a ditherer, a supporter of appeasement. 

Leaders of sports teams tend to be Churchillian in nature; every match is a war, but they are not always the best.  Kevin Petersen and Ian Botham were disastrous.  Brearley was never that kind of leader.  He was not the best player in the team, but he was the most successful captain, England has ever had.  He didn’t lead by example.   He tried to get his players to work as a team, identifying their individual strengths and bringing out the best in them. He could delegate, be empathic and make his followers feel good.  Leaders are not born; they are made. Their parents instil confidence and self sufficiency, which allows them not to be fearful in the company of others . They hone their skills in the playground.  A recent study in children indicated that those who were accepted as leaders tended to act with generosity.  Brearley was in that mould.  Good leaders get others to do what they are good at.  In that way they get the best out of their team. 

But how does a leader deal with the narcissist, the prima donna who needs special attention, the propagandist who disagrees and evacuates his doubts to pollute the whole team, the sophisticated bully, who undermines with deviousness, or the manipulations of the seductress?  This is the real challenge.  Brearley never felt envious or threatened by the player who was doing well.  He was happy to follow, encourage and support, but when necessary, he could state his views quietly and firmly, without being defensive or sadistic.    The leader who struggles with roles projected onto him, who feels pulled in both directions loses power to think and risks a loss of self esteem.  Leaders must have the self confidence to protect themselves from excessive attack; they mustn’t lose too much face, otherwise the group has to replace them in order to survive. 

Gordon Brown must resign now.  Any thought that he could possibly lead a party of those who had lost the election is a serious delusion.  So who is the best person to lead the country?   I voted Clegg because I wanted to see a real collaboration in crisis, but does Cameron have the maturity to lead a coalition government?

As luck would have it,  Leadership; theory and practice was the most appropriate topic The Freud Museum could have staged on the evening  of the general election – and Mike Brearley the best discussant. 

The U boats lay in wait for us as soon as we rounded North Cape.  There was only a narrow passage between the tundra and the ice, and as they closed in on the convoy underwater,  Stukas from their Norwegian bases, dive bombed us from above.  It was hell!   The sea was always rough and water washed over the guns froze immediately.  If anybody fell overboard, they didn’t last more than 3 minutes.’

I listened but couldn’t identify with Ron’s experience. It felt disloyal to do so. Hadn’t Dad been sent up to Orkney to risk his life protecting the Arctic convoys?  Hadn’t he crashed and nearly died up there?  Did he deserve to have his wife stolen, his family disrupted by one of the sailors he protected?   So I suppressed my curiosity. 

Many years later, I grew to love Northern Finland.   So when I spotted  ‘Running with Reindeer’, that described an exploration of the Kola Peninsula,  the destinations of the Russian convoys, over 10 years in the nineteen nineties, I had to find out more.  

But it was the author, Roger Took, who intrigued me.  Why on earth would a sensitive, rich middle -aged man, an art historian and museum curator, an establishment figure, want to spend so long in  what he described as one of the most unfriendly and inhospitable places on earth? 

But Took was a man obsessed.  In just one month, he learnt to speak Russian well enough to get by and arrived alone in the derelict port and abandoned goods yards of Murmansk with its grim government buildings and decrepit five story apartment blocks.   His stated purpose was to find the remnants of the Saami, the Lappish peoples, still living in the far north of Russia, and to discover how much of their culture still survived.  

But there was more to it than that.  Took went out of his way to court suspicion, discomfort and danger.  There was little that was uplifting in his book.   He trudges across the tundra in freezing rain with inadequate shelter and food, he falls up to chest into bogs, he spends a night in a filthy cabin where he witnesses a drunken homosexual gang rape,  he visits restricted inlets where decommissioned  submarines rot, their reactors disintegrating and turning the sea radioactive, he sees mountains devastated by open cast mines and  he records a landscape blasted and polluted by nickel smelting.   He does finds isolated pockets of Saami, but realises that their traditional way livelihood of reindeer herding, hunting and salmon fishing was ruined collectivisation, their culture corrupted by alcohol and prostitution. 

His is a grim tale with no redemption.   So why wasTook so attracted to this, the most devastated and corrupt aspects of civilisation that he returned again and again.  That question bothered me increasingly as I persevered with the turgid academic prose of his punishing narrative.  What was it about this guy?  There was an unrelenting darkness about him.  But why?  I had to consult Google.  

I was shocked to discover that Roger Took is in prison.  There is a long article, written for The Spectator in 2008 by Carol Metcalfe.   He had bragged in his blog about being part of a group of men, who raped and murdered a 5 year old girl in Cambodia.  Although Took dismissed this as fantasy, there were scores of incriminating images on his computer and he had been paying his step grand-daughter to have sex with him.  Wikipedia lists difficulties in his marriage, another woman he could not forget, sexual frustration and a fragile, sensitive personality.  Any review of his book, which was nominated for an international prize for travel writing, has been removed.           

 So were Took’s expeditions deliberately punitive or just an escape from the perversity of his privileged lifestyle?   Was his book an attempt to purge himself of some dreadful shame? 

What made Took a paedophile?  Did an unduly close and controlling relationship with his mother make committed  mature relationships with women seem too threatening.   Did the difficulties he had in his two marriages instigate the need for the kind of controlling sexual relationships, he could procure only  with emotionally needy and vulnerable children?  Did his celebrity and privilege create a sense of entitlement; the feeling that he could indulge his perversions?  

His book fails to provide any answers to these questions, but the final chapter does allude to encounters with teenage prostitutes in Murmansk in 1998.  Ron had also mentioned picking up Russian women in Murmansk; the Winston Churchill House of Friendships catered for the needs of foreigners,  but few sailors ever realised the terrible price the women would pay for friendship.

‘Nobody wants a hung parliament.  Politicians of different convictions would never come to a decision.  It would lead to paralysis.  It would destroy confidence in the economy just at the time we are recovering.’   At least this is what Labour and the Conservatives think.  Well, they would, wouldn’t they?  They’ve worked hard to establish clear water between themselves and they want a free hand to do things in their own way.  ‘Only a party with a single majority can create a leader to make big decisions that are necessary.’ 

But hang on a bit.  Are the parties so far apart?   The Prime Ministerial debate on Thursday night was more like the X Factor than a clear exposition of policy.  Yes, the Lib Dems would scrap Trident, the Conservatives are wary of Europe and would give people more say in how schools, hospitals and local government is run,  Labour claims to be the only party with the knowledge and experience to run the economy.  But when it comes it comes down to it, isn’t this just political posturing – the need to say something different?  Wouldn’t all these stances need debate and modulation to arrive at a  policy that is likely to work? 

There is actually more that joins the parties than separates them.  Difference are of more of style than content.  We can always point to any government that has been in charge as long as Labour has and accuse it of ruining the country.  Novelty always seems more attractive.  But will a different party lead to different government?   The economy, war in Afghanistan, schools, the health service;  it seems that there is little room to manoeuvre.  What is required is a steady concensus.  People are fed up with the constant back biting and bickering of party politics.  It would be good to see Vince Cable sitting down with Gordon Brown and coming to an economic strategy that we can all trust.     Exit from Afghanistan is surely something that we all want and is too important to be left to party politics. 

Most governments in Europe are coalitions.  Are they any the worse for that.  Look at Germany for example.   Britain insisted on proportional representation after the war to prevent a return to totalitarianism.  Germany has been a model of success and stability since that time.     

 The problem with government is the politics.  Domination by a single party does not make for the best decisions; only those that are expedient.  The same could be said of our first past the post system.  It may facilitate decision making, but at the expense of important perspectives.   A significant proportion of the electorate are green, yet they are unlikely to get a seat.   The Lib Dems may capture the popular vote, but they will not necessarily get many more seats than they already have.    

Single party governments are  always looking over their shoulders to their supporters; the Unions, big business and the wider British public.  After a lifetime in medicine,  I am convinced that the NHS fails the majority of ill people, but no party dares address that.   I think our lives are too regulated, but any attempt to unpick that is accompanied with cries of outrage leading to reinforcement of health and safety.  There is too much fear in politics.  While an established coalition might affront the democratic principles we are so proud of and lead to fears of totalitarianism and tyranny,  there are times when it seems the only way to deal with a crisis.

Crisis creates opportunity for change.  We had a coalition during the war.  Even characters are dissimilar as Churchill and Attlee found they could work together.  Beveridge could bring on the Welfare State.  Surely the economy is too big a crisis to be left under the control of a single dominant politician, who shows every sign of being susceptible to paranoia.   But will the public see that?   Has the economy really created the crisis of a European war or is it like global warming – we know it’s there, but they effects of not hit us yet?  

The choice is this election is not really one of policy.  It’s all about personality.  I thought all three leaders performed really well on Thursday.  As polls indicated, there was really little to choose between them.   The choice, it seems, is between the devil we know and the bright new kids on the block, who we don’t.   Governance should not be about  politics.  This is not the way to solve problems. I think it’s time for proper joined up government we can have confidence in.

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