politics


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.

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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

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.

 

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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.

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