Author Archives David Boyle

Feeling sick that I work in a system that condones this shit

April 01, 2019

Ben Donner, the editor of Clinical Psycholoy Forum, has reviewed Craig Newnes’ impassioned book A Critical A-Z of Electroshock. This is what he wrote...

Firstly, a note about the limitations of scholarship in scientific writing. A proper reference should not just be an author and year of publication, but also a page number placed as a footnote with some explanatory prose. This facilitates scrutiny of argument and the sources cited. British psychologists have made a case for this in the past, but to no avail. Thankfully, Craig Newnes refuses to doff his hat to the APA, so we have 61 pages of properly referenced endnotes here, dealing with a treasure trove of sources. It’s a joy to be able to follow an author’s line of enquiry easily and in detail. I would have preferred them at the bottom of each page with added prose, but you can’t have everything.

Secondly, I am persuaded by the use of the term inscription throughout the book to describe psychiatric diagnosis – a position building on the author’s previous work. Even the term ‘Electroshock’ to describe ‘Electro Convulsive Therapy’ is one I will use from now on. As revealed here, the way electrocution has been reframed as ‘treatment’ and carefully branded for public acceptance is quite something.

Each chapter has its own angle and you can read the book in any order you want. I particularly liked ‘Killing with kindness and Kitty Dukakis’. Here, the toxicity of closed systems and the misogynist nature of electroshock is discussed. Misogyny being a theme that resurfaces throughout the book. The mysteries of failed public enquiries resonated significantly for me, as it explains much that is rotten with the system.

Having recovered from the hideousness that is the Henry Cotton award for kindness, we are presented with who Kitty Dukakis is. The partner of Michael Dukakis, the American presidential candidate of the late 1980’s who continues to receive maintenance ECT at the age of 80. Apparently, the Dukakis’s think well of electroshock, although you are left wondering if Kitty just doesn’t want to remember anything.

The Chapter on Sadism and Spike Milligan also stands out. I liked the analytic bent that takes seriously the drive to hurt others, as acted out in the electroshock ‘suite’. To quote from another chapter, the author suggests shock doctors (mostly white men of course), should ask themselves, “Why do you think you want to electrocute children?” Newnes’s prose on informed consent for psychiatry is even better. I am tempted to plagiarise this spiel for when I next work in an NHS MDT.

Although the book left me feeling sick that I work in a system that condones this shit, I am buoyed by the fact that someone from my own profession has written a book like this. For anyone early in their career trying to work out which way is up, read it. For anyone involved in research or academia, read it.

For anyone still deluded about the ethics of psychiatry, most definitely read it. It may look like a home brewed book from the cover, but it is a most serious work and something I will likely refer to again and again. As they say, once you have seen something you can’t exactly unsee it. Unless…

You can buy A Critical A-Z of Electroshock here, or on Amazon, either as a paperback or on kindle.

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The strange mysogyny of the climate contrarians

February 28, 2019

Contemporary history requires us to take a second look at recent events. Richard Black does just that…

Back in 2009, during the Copenhagen summit, Sunday Times columnist Charles Clover wrote an article noting that the contrarian interpretation of the emails hacked from the University of East Anglia ‘has unleashed upon the rest of us the phenomenon of the born-again climate sceptic, the kind of man (always a man, almost invariably wearing a tweed jacket) who now materialises beside me at parties and confides that he has been having second thoughts about climate change’.

As I explained in my book, Denied, Clover had hit anecdotally on a conclusion borne out by research such as the 2009 ‘Six Americas’ survey. The 7 per cent of the US population most dismissive of climate change, they found, comprises twice as many men as women.

Today, the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s Board of Trustees and Academic Advisory Council together number 36 men – and just one woman. The group of contrarian commentators in the UK media also includes a single woman, Melanie Phillips – and she is not now a frequent writer on the issue. The Spectator’s infamous pre-Paris Agreement ‘special edition’ featured not a single woman among the featured contrarians.

Why this might be is a question that would necessitate a whole other book. Suffice it to say that statistically, the odds of it occurring by chance are vanishingly small. But what is also undeniably true is that at least some prominent contrarian men have a problem treating women as equals.

This is doubly noticeable in an era when some of the UK’s best energy journalism – traditionally the preserve of men – is being done by women. Jillian Ambrose, Emily Gosden at The Times, Nathalie Thomas and Sylvia Pfeifer at the Financial Times are among the finest journalists on the beat, and they are not alone. Their gender and age appear to be problems for some contrarians.

It certainly appears to be an issue for climate sceptic and blogger Paul Homewood and his supporters, among whom the widely-respected Gosden is dismissed as ‘little Emily’. ‘Dear little Emily does not get it, does she?’, he opens a 2016 blog post.

After she moved from the Telegraph to The Times, he was equally outraged about her equally respected successor Jillian Ambrose who, he writes, ‘seems just as soppy’.

Commenters on his blog seem quite happy with this tone of discourse. One suggests that neither journalist would know the difference between a combined-cycle and an open-cycle gas turbine (CCGT and OCGT) and would ‘probably think it’s something to do with gin and tonic.’

Another recalls former Telegraph environment correspondent Louise Gray, and suggests that all three are ‘jejeune ladies’ who ‘don’t do techie stuff’. On another post, Homewood weighs in on Telegraph columnist Lucy Mangan, dismissing her as a ‘silly little girl’.

Nigel Lawson has not been above such comments himself, referring in 2014 to Dame Julia Slingo, one of the UK’s most decorated climate scientists and at the time Met Office Chief Scientist, as ‘just this Julia Slingo woman’.

To James Delingpole of Breitbart News, the equally decorated Professor Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London, until recently the Royal Society’s scientific lead on climate change, is a ‘puffed-up missy’, and Dr Emily Shuckburgh, Head of Open Oceans at the British Antarctic Survey, ‘some foxy chick’.

Why this male corner of climate and energy discourse should hold half of the human race in such apparent disregard is not clear to me. However, a clue appeared in a comment posted on my BBC blog from Copenhagen – the blog highlighting the over-representation of men in the contrarian community.

The person commenting – a man, I presume – suggested it was because men were more intelligent than women and were thus better able to spot holes in the edifice of climate science. It was apparently made seriously.

Though other contrarians might privately be appalled by all of this, none, to my knowledge, has called out his fellow travellers.

Whatever the reasons behind it, it is surely abundantly clear that such attitudes will win you few friends. As a strategy for gaining kudos in the twenty-first century, belittling women is as poor as it gets.

It is another reason why, as I explain in the book, climate contrarianism is now virtually at an end.

Richard Black’s book Denied is available here.

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Dunkirk spirit? Boris may regret it…

February 10, 2019

I was fascinated by Peter Fischer Brown’s suggestion, on the Radix blog, that there are people in the Brexit camp who believe that a no-deal Brexit the hard way is likely to be as successful and unifying as our national escape from the Dunkirk beaches.

This was, as I said in my book about Dunkirk, during the last Brexit – when they decided their hand had been forced, and that they had to abandon their French allies.

But I wonder whether it might be worth following the parallel a little further.

The miraculous escape of the BEF from the beaches, minus their equipment – and with a little help from Hitler’s controversial stop order, was not in any sense a victory. It was bitter and tragic in terms of loss of life.

It was also the result partly of luck and partly of the extraordinary wildcard administration by Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who made it happen through sheer willpower, the sacrifice and exhaustion of his crews and a brilliantly innovative staff.

Do we have anyone of remotely the same calibre now? If so, they should be appointed immediately.

But the other key point is that the nation remained divided over the war even then, just as we are about Brexit. And, although there were few enough voices raised for staying out of the war – broadly the Brexiteer position at the time – after Dunkirk, those responsible for out humiliating exit were seriously punished by the electorate and the political class emerging below.

So if Boris Johnson and his colleagues – who have not descended to the special part of hell reserved for people who plan to leave without working out how (Donald Tusk) – think they are following in Churchill’s footsteps, they may find they are actually following in Chamberlain’s and those of the much-reviled Guilty Men of Munich.

Yes, Dunkirk was a unifying moment, but it was also a bitter one. And those who were responsible for this national humiliation were soon out on their ear – making way for those who had saved the day which they had so comprehensively lost.

Nor should we forget Churchill’s comment on Dunkirk that “wars are not won by withdrawals’.

I fear he was right. Even if we do have to withdraw – and I increasingly feel we must now face up to that – people will not easily forgive those who plunged us so blithely into this godawful mess.

We are afraid this title is only available for the time being on Amazon. You can also buy this as an ebook for Kindle here (published by Sharpe Books).

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Mowgli can still save us all, even now

February 06, 2019

Now that the film Mowgli: Lord  of the Jungle has finally been released on Netflix, we asked Swati Singh – author of The Secret History of the Jungle Book – to see it. This was her reaction…

It’s very good. Brilliant in many parts, though mediocre in some. Shere Khan is menacing and dominates the frame. Mowgli is small and vulnerable. Mowgli’s journey from a man cub to man explored wonderfully.

The scene where Mowgli hides terrified under water while Shere Khan stands above, to the point where he stands in the open challenging Khan, Mowgli’s journey comes full circle.

The movie is not exactly based on the book but rather very heavily and intelligently inspired by it. In fact very well scripted. Mowgli’s crisis of identity has been made the focus of the movie. The movie shows how Mowgli bridges the divide between man and nature owing to his unique in-between position. In fact, the movie has a nice message on man- nature conflict.

The controversial King Louis character has been totally removed, though the monkey people stay. A good watch. Not possible to capture the complexity of the text in an hour long movie but a very commendable job.

You can get hold of Swati Singh’s book The Secret History of the Jungle Book: How Mowgli Can save the World here, on kindle here and also as an ebook download in ePub or pdf.

 

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Getting the Munich Crisis wrong…

January 07, 2019

David Boyle writes…

Those fascinated by the events of Munich eighty years ago will be aware that there are two books out which assume rather different interpretations. On is by the novelist Robert Harris, who has made no secret of his pro-Chamberlain views. The other one is by me, and Munich 1938 puts rather greater weight on the testimony of the pro-Czech writer Shiela Grant Duff than he does.

Now, it so happens that I have been sent a copy of the letter sent by Shiela to The Observer three decades ago, complaining about Robert Harris’s opinions back then (thank you, Penelope). I reproduce it here without further comment:

“20 September 1988

In his monstrously misleading article as your guest political diarist, Robert Harris follows the now embedded myth that what was at stake at Munich was whether we should fight for the Czechs. In fact, Chamberlain’s concern was, above all, to prevent the Czechs from fighting for themselves, and the French from honouring their solemn treaty obligation to go to their aid should Germany attack.

Munich was only the final scenario of a policy which the British government had been following more or less consciously since it came to power in 1935. The ‘wets’ in the Foreign Office were not those who opposed appeasement, as Robert Harris seems to think, but those who concealed – or perhaps honestly did not recognise – the true war aims of German policy and the iniquity of the Nazi regime.

The Czechoslovak government realised this from the start and, with greater foresight than ourselves, immediately began to fortify its frontier, build up its army and air force, augment its massive armaments industry and tried to develop the only international security system which would have prevented the German general staff from allowing Hitler to fight a war on two fronts – the Franco-Czech-Russian alliance.

Throughout the pre-war period, we not only refused to have anything to do with this allowed Hitler to “enter his backyard” in the Rhineland, thus depriving France of this demilitarised safety zone on a frontier, and positively encouraged him to look for German expansion in central Europe. Neither Austria nor the Sudetenland had ever formed part of Germany before.

What appalled Chamberlain was not the weakness of Czechoslovakia but its strength, in the dreadful fear that, if the Czechs defended themselves, we and the French would be drawn in. The Berchtesgaden-Godesberg meetings were concerned, not with preventing Hitler from invading Czechoslovakia, but making sure that the Czechs would neither defend their fortifications, nor use their army or air force.

At 2 o’clock in the morning of 22 September 1938, the British and French ministers aroused President Benes from his sleep to tell him that, if war broke out, not only would neither we nor the French intervene, but on the contrary, would hold the Czechs responsible for any catastrophe which followed. Benes surrendered. The German armies marched in, took possession of the tanks, planes, the guns, the armament factories, and turned them against us and the French on the Western front, defeating the French and expelling us from Europe just two years later.

“A triumph for all was best and most enlightened in British life”?

Shiela Grant Duff

Observer correspondent, Prague, 1936-8″

You can buy copies of Munich 1938 on kindle and as a paperback.

 

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Why we need to re-discover Kipling

December 03, 2018

Swati Singh. author of The Secret History of the Jungle Book, writes: 

From as long as memory serves me, I remember being a reader, a voracious reader of almost anything that I could lay my hands on. This love for reading was inculcated in a home where both my parents were continuously engaged in creative discussions on almost every topic under the sun. It also helped that, being something of an introvert, I always found the best company in books which faithfully transported me to a make-believe world where I could be a silent observer of life’s goings on.

My father, teaching English in the local college of the small town India I belong to, and a young mother determined to pursue her studies rudely cut short by early marriage and kids, meant that the atmosphere of my home was continuously charged with an environment of learning that only a fortunate few are blessed with. I was introduced to the classics of nineteenth century British literature at a very young age and read all that our personal library and the public library of my father’s college could offer. It was in these early circumstances of my life that the seeds of my writing were sown.

Kipling happened to me by accident. I was familiar with Kim as the only work by Kipling worth being read, a consequence of Kipling’s ‘imperial’ notoriety which banishes him completely from the Indian academic scene except in his one Indian novel which fetched him the Nobel for Literature. I had seen The Jungle Book, and not read it. It is important to consider this, as I discovered in the course of my work that The Jungle Book I had known was worlds apart from what Kipling had written.

When I took up my research I was actually keen on working on the women diaspora writers of India, a topic that has fascinated me with its living reality of the women in modern India. It was my excellent guide, Professor Joya Chakravarty (Dept. Of English, University of Rajasthan) who actually asked me to look back to the classics of British Literature and think of Rudyard Kipling. I must admit that I took up this writer a little hesitantly, unaware of the treasure trove of writing that was to overwhelm me.

In the course of my research I have been struck with the extremes of hostility and admiration that Kipling has inspired in his readers down the ages. It struck me as to how Kipling was being denounced on the one hand as a writer of the Empire and on the other hand being acclaimed as one of the greatest writers of children’s literature.

As I navigate through Kipling’s troubled legacy in my research, I remain aware that Kipling sadly remains forbidden territory still, and is yet to be discovered by a vast majority of our world. The magic of Kipling’s writing still remains in the shadows and the world loses out on one of the greatest story tellers of all times.

Through The Secret History of the Jungle Book, and in my own humble way, I attempt to reintroduce the writer and his most famous work to the lay reader as also to the student of literature with an alternative approach to the universal sensibility of Kipling’s writing. I believe the time is ripe to reintroduce Kipling to our academic institutions and to re-read him without the prejudices of the past. My purpose is served if my work inspires even a few people to take up and read Rudyard Kipling once again.

You can buy The Secret History of the Jungle Book for kindle here. and in paperback here.

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Why the climate contrarians lost the argument

November 19, 2018

This post is taken from Richard Black’s new book Denied, published today…

This is the story of a coup-d’état that failed. A coup against science, against the will of peoples from the Arctic to the Equator, against nature itself. A coup attempt that, although it has failed, may have damaged the interests of future generations and the only planet that humanity is ever likely to inhabit.

The story takes place on a Planet Earth that is becoming increasingly turbulent. The last four years have been the hottest since record-keeping began. Mountain glaciers that store drinking water for more than a billion people are melting away, slowly in the Himalayas, faster in the Andes. Arctic summer sea ice is locked in a death spiral that terminates in about 30-40 years’ time, with melting permafrost set to release more warming gases into the atmosphere. Birds, insects, frogs and fish are moving away from the equator towards the poles and up mountain slopes to escape rising temperatures; sometimes, they cannot escape. Ocean water is changing from alkaline towards acidic faster than some marine life can stand. More and more often storms, heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires show the fingerprints of climate change, making them more frequent, longer-lasting or more intense.

This is the real world in 2018. And it concerns citizens. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the world’s population expresses concern, even alarm, on climate change. Governments and businesses are responding – quickly enough to have brought about earlier in this decade a three-year plateauing of carbon emissions unforeseen by anyone.

This is a world, then, in which nature, business, culture and discourse are being shaped by climate change. Laws are being written, investments shifted, behaviour changed and popular movements started, all in the name of responding to climate change. Most notably, virtually every government has accepted the scientific reality of man-made climate change and agreed that its main cause – the burning of fossil fuels – has to stop, on a timescale of decades.

However – on this same turbulently warming planet, there exists a parallel reality – far smaller, but influential way beyond its scale. Here, climate change does not exist. Or it does, but it is less serious than any number of other issues. Or it is serious, but the cure is worse than the disease, and the better option is just to deal with the impacts as they arise. Sometimes all three of these are held to be true simultaneously. In this world, scientists are fraudsters, ordinary folk do not care about climate change and detest renewable energy, poor countries will burn coal forever, and measures to trade in fossil fuels for a clean energy economy will return developed societies to the Stone Age.

Despite contending from time to time that they have no platform, the inhabitants of this unreal world have been remarkably effective at getting their arguments heard in high places. Their beliefs have been debated in parliaments and declaimed in courts. In places, their proponents have dominated the media commentariat. Now, their highest profile recruit ever, Donald Trump, sits on the throne of the world’s most powerful nation, dismissing climate change with the same casual mien with which he questions why the US admits non-white people. As a result, some Unrealists claim that they have won. Trump will turn back the clock on coal and oil, they say. He will nuke international climate change treaties and build a wall against the human tide of public opinion – and the rest of the world will have no option but to follow.

Were this true, it would be the most Pyrrhic of victories. There would be little enough to celebrate in ushering in a world where, science indicates, yields of staple crops are likely to fall even as the number of hungry mouths increases, where natural miracles like coral reefs wither and die, where rising seas threaten the integrity of capital city after capital city.

Fortunately, it is not true. In the real world, the Unrealists, the contrarians, have lost the argument. In China, in India, in western Europe, across the Pacific, even in the US itself, seismic shifts are taking place that are moving society away from untrammelled fossil fuel use towards a future of clean energy, smart tech, electric cars and, accordingly, healthier lives. Existential concern about the impacts of climate change is one driver – alongside, now, simple economics, and competition to own the industries of the near future rather than those of the recent past.

In the real world, investors now put more money into electricity generation from wind and sun than from coal and gas – and renewable energy is or soon will be cheaper than the old alternatives in virtually every nation. In the real world, governments increasingly take the view that tackling climate change will be good for their economies. Military top brass plan for a greater risk of conflict if it is not tackled, doctors scan the horizon for the advent of new disease epidemics, religious leaders highlight increasing pressures on the world’s poor, businesses analyse climate risks to their supply chains, wealth funds withdraw their money from coal-connected companies, and young Britons see climate change as a more important issue than crime.

Ten years ago, the picture was far less clear. Then, the network of contrarians had much to say and much to ask that was useful. They probed the practices of science in a way that led to positive reforms. They queried journalism, forcing those of us involved in it to be more precise and more rigorous in our reporting.

Yet if a week is a long time in politics, a decade can bring a sea-change in both scientific understanding and economic realities. The integrity of climate science emerged intact from the many inquiries into it. Whereas the pace of global warming appeared to have stalled for a while, it has since accelerated again with a vengeance – and science now understands much more clearly why such accelerations and decelerations occur. Nation after nation, led by the UK, has shown that it is perfectly possible to grow an economy and reduce carbon emissions simultaneously.

The side-benefits of adopting clean technologies in electricity generation and motoring are clearer than ever. Public support for clean energy, in the UK and elsewhere, is startlingly high. And despite Donald Trump’s as yet unfulfilled promise to withdraw, the Paris Agreement shows unequivocally that the vast majority of governments see a transition to a clean energy economy as being in their national interest.

To sum it up, you could say that the events of the last decade have proven contrarians wrong on all of their core arguments. And you would be almost entirely right.

You can read Denied in paperback and on kindle.

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“You’ll end up in Saint Nick’s” and other reasons I wrote A Critical A-Z of Electroshock

November 08, 2018

Craig Newnes writes about his book A Critical A-Z of Electroshock

I loved my grandad – still do, I suppose. Trouble was, too many others did as well. He had a double gift – of the gab and generosity. The latter wasn’t much in evidence when he swanned off with Maud in around 1962, leaving my grandma (who everybody loved) to fend for herself.

He had eighteen brothers and sisters. The story was that three of his brothers went down on HMS Hood and his mum received three separate telegrams of condolence. One brother died in a strait-jacket in Thorpe Asylum – my first introduction to psychiatry though, like the three naval brothers, was his death was during World War Two. I didn’t come along until later.

By the time he left to live – and eventually die – in a caravan in Fakenham, I had another reason to fear psychiatry; the usual alarmist warning to anyone who misbehaved in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties was, “You’ll end up in Saint Nick’s,” the bin on Great Yarmouth sea front. And an imposing place that was. My beloved grandma spent two nights there – but more of that later.

Electroshock – called, for marketing purposes, Electro-Convulsive Therapy, was big at Saint Nick’s. Unsurprising really – electricity is a form of magic and psychiatry and psychology have a love affair with magic.

There is far too much to say about writing on electroshock – the whys are as complex as the hows. A couple of whys. One: It’s hidden, surfacing only when someone famous gets blasted or, as in the recent debate hosted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, when a couple of Psy folk go head to head in the media (see: https://www.madintheuk.com/2018/10/the-57th-maudsley-debate-interview-with-professor-john-read-and-doctor-sue-cunliffe/)

Two: Psy professionals target older women with it – and, as I said, I loved my grandma; everyone did. She had distant cousins who had died in various camps. Her father had the good sense to leave Germany at the end of the nineteenth century and eventually settled as an undertaker. He was still alive when the synagogue in Great Yarmouth was burned down in the 1920s – one reason that Jews became a serious minority on the East Anglian coast.

But all of that has little to do with electroshock and psychiatry – unless you count the way in which Jews were eventually classified as a sub-human species and, thus, deserving of no mercy. My grandmother eventually became – in her words – a bit “doo-lally” and was found wandering around the garden by her neighbour who happened to be a social worker.

She was admitted to Saint Nick’s on the Friday which was the day the hairdresser visited. Grandma’s unkempt hair was unacceptable – so it was all shaved off. By Saturday she looked like any one of millions of face-less folk. But, for her, the transformation was like stepping back into a distant history of pograms and worse.

All of that left me with no great love of psychiatry but I was already training as a clinical psychologist and – as it happens – married to a psychiatric social worker. Electroshock was rife, tranquillizing drugs (marketed as “anti-psychotics”) everywhere and the only people who in-patients trusted were domestic staff. So, I watched and learned, understood that words meant little in case conferences and it was better to inscribe older people as dementing rather than depressed as it would save them from electrocution.

Many, many years later, I wrote a paper called ‘ECT, the DCP and ME’, published in Clinical Psychology Forum, in which I suggested that my profession was doing nothing to speak out about electroshock. The outcome? The DCP committee suggested they might fire me as editor for potentially upsetting a few psychiatrists and fellow clinical psychologists.

They didn’t. But that was a kind of turning point. The work of Peter Breggin, Steve Baldwin and Peter Lehmann became (unsettling) bed-time reading. The experience of survivor activist friends needed publishing. So I edited and published their work. Maybe, these are the reasons why I write on Electroshock. The “how” is a different story.

I just sit, write and then structure whatever comes to mind and once in a while publishers like PCCS Books or the Real Press come along and I can offer some additional academic substance to the various Facebook groups speaking out about the excesses of Psy. Perhaps, it’s all for my grandma – perhaps it’s so that in a thousand years the British Library copy of A Critical A-Z of Electroshock will stop some fool expert electrocuting a stranger on the grounds it will “help”.

You can hear Craig Newnes speak about the book at the 2018 Olive Bucknall Memorial Lecture on Friday 23 November 2.30-4pm, at The Gateway, Chester Road, Shrewsbury SY1 1NB. Olive Bucknall was a much-loved mental health activist who died in October, aged 97. She was a fierce critic of electro-convulsive therapy, having received it herself after a breakdown caused by witnessing the damaging effect ECT had on her son Terry. An obituary of her appeared in this month’s Guardian newspaper. Craig was a close friend of Olive’s and is a leading critic of the Psy industry. He was Director of the Department of Psychological Therapies in Shropshire’s NHS Trust for almost 20 years. There will be opportunities after the lecture for questions and comments from the audience as well as to buy signed copies of A Critical A-Z of Electroshock. Paperback available here, ebook available here.

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Police, camera, action: a year on from Fourth to First

October 31, 2018
Steffan Aquarone, co-author of Fourth to First, writes:

There’s a saying that, if no one’s complaining, you’re doing something wrong.  In spite of this, the feedback on my how-to-do-it book Fourth to First has been fantastic!

I couldn’t be happier to learn that so many people have found the book to be somewhere between mildly amusing and practically useful.  If good people stand for political office, we all stand a better chance of getting the politicians we deserve.

One reader, however, was not so enamoured.  In fact, they reported me to the police!

I’ve never been the subject of a police investigation before, and actually I wouldn’t mind doing it again. I even got to go to Wymondham where all the serious stuff like counter-terrorism and serious organised crime get dealt with.

The professionalism and courtesy of Norfolk Constabulary was remarkable.  They apologised for the time it took to carry out the investigation, and explained that they’d been dealing with an unprecedented level of violent crime in the city centre.

You’d have to be bold to suggest this isn’t a result of austerity and cuts to public services – which makes it even more of a shame that the reader who thought they’d ‘shopped’ me was a Tory!

Happily, the investigation concluded that there had been no wrongdoing.  In spite of investing all that money in campaigning, car stickers, and cash handouts (sorry: actually showing up and talking to people), we’d kept meticulous records of our expenditure.  But everyone has a right to report something they believe is a crime.

The most important thing that’s happened since Freya and I wrote Fourth to First is actually that I’ve had over a year in the job, and it’s been fascinating.  You couldn’t make up the sorts of things I’ve come across, from low-level nuclear waste in a barn, to a case where I had to call on the county council’s own lawyers to make sure a constituent got the personal care they were entitled to.

It’s been, variously:

  • Incredibly satisfying, when more things like the Save our Lollipop Lady campaign happen – like saving our mobile libraries, which has been a huge victory this year
  • Deeply frustrating, when you see the way even good Conservatives fall into line to serve their own interests
  • One of those things that expands to fill however much time it’s given
  • A good thing to do, that I’m very glad I did

What has really struck me though, is realising how broken our politics is. In particular I’ve felt first-hand how big the gap in conversation is between politics and people. I’m not surprised – I’ve long thought that politics in general has a recruitment crisis. But something needs to be done beyond just having values, campaigning, and trying to win elections.

That thing is very much what I hope will come next.  We need to do something to counter the effects of extreme movements that are dominating the political discussion, and just changing what we say won’t fix that.  We’ve got to change who it is speaking, and bring masses of people into the conversation again.

This is exactly what we’ll be trying to do as Liberal Democrats in North Norfolk, alongside our ramping up of the district council campaigns heading into 2019.

Get in touch with me here on if you’re interested in finding out more!  Or if you want to show your support, you can donate here.

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Happy 80th anniversary, Munich Crisis!

September 29, 2018

Here’s the main point: this weekend marks the eightieth anniversary of the Munich crisis, the moment when the UK prime minister Neville Chamberlain gave away a chunk of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany – with some slightly unwilling help from the French.

As it turns out, by flying to meet Hitler and Mussolini in Munich on 29 September, Chamberlain also unwittingly caused the cancellation of an army plot to kill Hitler – when the team was armed and in position and waiting for their order to storm the Chancellery.

I have three reasons for being interested in these events. First, my great-aunt, Shiela Grant Duff, was Observer correspondent in Prague until shortly before them. The Observer was an appeasement newspaper in those days, so she had resigned a few months before.

Second, my book Munich 1938 came out some months ago. It was intended to make the case that this was the great British mistake of the twentieth century, for a new generation that never knew the arguments.

Third and finally, because of the article I wrote for the Guardian today, where I compared Munich with the Salzburg summit, and – by implication – Chamberlain with Theresa May. It was one of those pieces where the arguments flew around in the comments ‘below the line’. It is worth reading that section alone for a cross-section of views – worrying perhaps that Chamberlain gets rather too much support in my view.

There is one parallel between them: both approached their defining European summit with a bullish disregard for reality, which led in very different ways to a critical crossroads for Europe.

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