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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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Time to think a little more ambitiously

September 04, 2018

David Boyle writes:

I watched the recent film Their Finest last weekend, with Bill Nighy and my favourite actress, Gemma Arterton, and very much enjoyed it. I am fascinated by the wartime media (and wrote about it in my book V for Victory). It is a romantic comedy set around a film set, as the writing team struggle to make sense of a new script about Dunkirk, within a whole range of new constraints imposed by one authority after another.

My complaint was that as boy and girl finally kissed, he was killed by a falling gantry. It was a desperate plot device that emerged neither from events nor characters – a little like the famous cheat where Thomas Hardy condemns Tess of the d’Urbervilles because she slips the letter, not just under her lover’s door, but under the carpet as well.

What was particularly irritating about their disposal of the hero in Their Finest was that the reason was obvious. It was the only way the heroine could end the film as a confident, independent young woman, earning own living/washing own knickers – which is the only ending currently acceptable to the zeitgeist.

And I thought they might, we might, aspire to being just a little more ambitious, and a little braver.
I thought of this again in the light of an unusually trenchant piece of criticism I received, anonymously of course, on the end of one of my blogs, suggesting that I should blog rather less and should never, ever, use the word I.

I’ve been lucky enough to avoid most online abuse (except of course when I write for the Guardian, where monsters live below the line). The first accusation is definitely correct – but perhaps should have been levelled at me in 2013/14, when I was blogging seven days a week. Even so, probably still right.

But I wanted to take issue with the second complaint. The reason I blog so much in the first person is not because I am obsessed with myself (though I am, of course!). It is because I want to relate my opinions to the lived experience of an individual.

I also think, when you say something in public, you have some responsibility to explain why you believe it and to link yourself to it in some way. Personally (again), I have a horror of bland, objective opinion which tries to pretend it came down from heaven, ready-formed.

What is the connection with Their Finest? It is that we deserve better of ourselves than to fall back on the ex-cathedra platitudes which everyone believes. We should dare to think just a little different.

Get a free copy of my medieval Brexit thriller on pdf when you sign up for the newsletter of The Real Press. 
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Why is using the railways now so degrading?

August 05, 2018

David Boyle writes (a version of this blog first appeared on the New Weather blog:

Yes, it is hot. The heat has also added a layer of what I can only describe as degradation to our public services.

But before I describe it, I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as someone who believes that all services should be managed by ministers, as they were before – say – the start of privatisation in 1984. I am not an advocate of re-nationalisation, because I don’t believe it is a solution to the fundamental problems – which are that they are organised into units that are inhumanly and unfeasibly big and that they are far too close to Treasury control. A bit like handing services over to 37-year-old paint-by-numbers specialists (in my experience, everyone at the Treasury is 37).

The problem with privatisation was that it has failed spectacularly to inject the kind of flexibility and responsiveness into the management of our services, as it promised to. Nor – as it also promised, though less explicitly – has it been able to provide either staff or users with any kind of ownership stake.

Which brings me to my journey to Salisbury a couple of weeks ago. As regular readers will know (if there are any), I am a critic of Southern Rail, and their part of the journey to Southampton was bad enough – broken air conditioning, unexplained delays, you know the kind of thing.

But really, I have to say, that the GWR part of the journey was far worse. Again late, again no air conditioning and no adequate ventilation, but the few carriages were so packed – I think they had cancelled a previous train – that I saw five fellow passengers managed to find some space to stand rigidly upright in the toilet. they finally deposited us half an hour late, without any explanation or apology.

One poor foreign tourist asked me if this was normal. It obviously is. You can read more about what that is the case on Southern in my short book Cancelled!

It might be possible to dismiss this as the slow collapse of the railways, which is well-documented. Were it not for somebody sending me the following description of the court system by a barrister last week (thanks, Nick):

I was fascinated to read this and begin to understand from these experiences what a degrading experience it can be now to deal with some public services, because of the absolute contempt with which the establishment regards service users of any kind. Not perhaps because they are snobbish or useless – though some of them may be both – but because they are technocrats blinded by target data.

They peer myopically at the figures that show the basic numbers and feel reassured. The passengers arrived, didn’t they? The case was settled, wasn’t it? What is all the fuss about, they may think to themselves.

Perhaps it is all of these mixed up together among the current monopolists and nomenklatura who manage and regulate our services – a sort of disdain which has grown up around Whitehall and the City for decades now, and a sad belief that the numbers that pour out of our services refer to something real.

All I can say by way of conclusion is that this situation is getting worse and it certainly isn’t sustainable.

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The old order is crumbling – what should we do next?

July 31, 2018

I went to the Social Liberal Forum conference last weekend and found it completely transformed – no more endless whingeing but real debate about big ideas for the future. They really had made the transition, as the Greens used to say, from opposition to proposition.

Anyone who has read my political blogs will know is how I believe the left needs to gear itself up: concentrate on the ideas; cut out the off-putting rage. See also John Harris on this.

I was there to talk about tackling monopoly and the future of liberal economics. It was refreshing. For me, at least.

But I have also been wondering, over the past week, how the transition I have been predicting for some reason would come about.

I’ve argued before that there is a four-decade cycle of central ideas in the UK. We had to change policy suddenly in 1940 when we withdrew spectacularly from the French alliance at Dunkirk, but the body of economic ideas which we needed to adopt were there waiting patiently, thanks as much as anyone else to Keynes.

Then came 1979 and another shift. If you read the cabinet papers of the period (as I have), it is clear that Margaret Thatcher herself had few ideas about what she wanted to do apart from helping homeowners (read more in my book Broke), but the revolution had been brewed by Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe and their young apparachiks, meeting in Howe’s flat in Vauxhall every Tuesday evening for some years before.

So, thanks to Trump and Brexit, the old order is now staggering again, and is probably fatally wounded, but neither administration in the USA or UK appears to have much idea about what to do instead. So where, I am asking myself, is the new philosophy going to emerge from?

There is no body of knowledge, or techniques, waiting in the corner of the Treasury ready to be picked up and enacted. As far as I know. Nor do we have long. Yes, there are ideas – but the Treasury’s waiting room is empty.

It seems likely that the markets will crash again in October (you read it here first, though the latest issue of Fortune carries the headline ‘The end is near!’). Trump is too backward to know what to do. So is the current UK government.

Otherwise, there is the exhausted remains of market fundamentalism, residing at the IEA and Cato Institute. There is the equally exhausted reheated thinking from 1945 wafting about. Neither is really going to cut the mustard, as they say.

Probably the only internationally recognised body of economic ideas which would stand the scrutiny are the ideas around inclusive growth – but these have mainly taken root in cities on both sides of the Atlantic, rather than governments.

It maybe that radicals and centrists would serve the future better, not by endlessly refighting the Brexit argument – but by making sure we have a body of ideas ready for when the roof falls in, sometime next year I expect. As I say, we don’t have very long.

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Jeremy Thorpe: why I believed in him at the time

June 10, 2018

David Boyle writes:

I watched the Thorpe scandal on the BBC series A Very English Scandal with a great deal of emotion. In fact, at the end of the last programme, I found myself in tears – and I’ve been wondering why ever since.

It was, of course, brilliantly directed, written and acted – and also brilliantly evocative of a period when I was first politically aware.

I remember vividly poring over the blow-by-blow accounts of the trial in the Telegraph in my friend Stuart’s room in college (I still have the cuttings somewhere).

That was before I knew Thorpe himself, many years later. He and Marion were very kind to me. He was also still a purveyor of the Liberal, and now the Lib Dem, besetting sin – policy wheezes designed to attract attention, but with virtually no content.

And admire him as I did, especially in those trial days – and I joined the party only weeks before the trial – that was the Thorpe problem: brilliant razzmatazz, genuine Liberal convictions, but no coherent programme.

I’m not sure if I was weeping for myself or for my party. Or indeed for Thorpe and Scott, who both seem to me – and the series portrayed this even-handedly – the victims of forces beyond themselves.

As I appear to be the only person on earth to remember what the late 1970s felt like, I feel some responsibility to explain what it seemed like at the time.

It certainly was hardly an easy time to be a Liberal (it was the pillow-biting that did it). I remember convincing myself, after reading the detailed account of Norman Scott’s meltdown during the trial – not included in the BBC drama – that his affair with Thorpe was a fantasy, though realising that Thorpe may, even so, be guilty of incitement to murder, along the lines of Henry II and Thomas Becket.

It was a period of complex conspiracy theories – now long forgotten – and so here are three to explain some of the background.

  1. The Apartheid Connection. It was widely believed that the acquittal of Peter Hain, then Young Liberal chair, on a charge of theft, was despite a plot to bring about a case of mistaken identity engineered by the South African secret service. Hain and Thorpe were two of the most prominent anti-Apartheid activists in the UK, so it seemed likely to us at the time that the Scott affair had some South African links too. That was, unfortunately, also what led us to dismiss the allegations made public by RAP about Cyril Smith.
  2. The Harold Wilson connection. It was strange, as I remember it, that the trial of Andrew Newton, the would-be assassin, took place on the same day as Wilson announced his resignation and Princess Anne announced her divorce. Wilson was connected because he had secretly contacted two Sunday Times journalists, told them he would guide them to a big story, and then got irritated because instead he had guided them to the Thorpe Affair, which they then failed to look behind. You can read what they found in The Pencourt File.
  3. The intelligence connection. What was Wilson’s real story? It seems likely that it was his conviction that the intelligence services were plotting against him. You can read more on this in The Wilson Plot. And here we find ourselves at the heart of the real conspiracy theory, during this strange period of private armies. In 1987, the Sunday Times reported on the 1975 plot to borrow the QE2, put Wilson and his cabinet aboard and take over the government. You can read a little about this shadowy affair, by members of the establishment and the military, here. Those involved, as the Sunday Times did not report, were also linked to the bid to make Margaret Thatcher leader of the opposition that same year.

I have long since abandoned the hope that maybe Thorpe was innocent. But equally I don’t think the Scandal series was quite accurate in its portrayal of a politician protected by the establishment. Of course, Thorpe was protected, but only because they had already thrown him to the wolves to distract from the real story.

Or have I myself become victim to the conspiracy mania that the 1970s seems to have generated?

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Do people really still hate Govia Thameslink?

May 24, 2018

David Boyle writes:

I remember some years ago a TV documentary called ‘why do people hate Ryanair?’ I found it so influential that I never flew with them again.

What particularly struck me was the way they hid the free or cheap options on their website. It was as if this had confirmed what was otherwise an uneasy sense that the company regarded their customers with some contempt.

So I have been wondering why people hate Govia, operators of Southern Rail. On the face of it, the last two years of insane disruption has not been their fault. CEO Charles Horton is a mere cipher, pushed this way and that between the demands of owners Go-ahead and the Department of Transport. The mess has been an inevitable result of a dysfunctional contract.

It is true he has not played a difficult hand that well, but even so. The mess – and the new train I tried to catch today (the 10.43 from Shoreham-by-Sea) has disappeared from the timetable after only four days – has been a result primarily of their failure to recruit enough drivers. But even that mistake derived from a contract that divides their interests from those of their passengers.

But then take a little look at their irritating ticket machines. They will no longer sell period returns, which is infuriating enough. But the main page only offers you tickets to London Terminals, which is £5 more expensive where I live than a ticket to London Victoria. But there is no option for that.

You can get the proper fare but only by searching for Victoria – a process that takes 15 keystrokes with dysfunctional machines and an impatient queue behind you.

I asked a technician about this earlier in the week and he said they would recommend a change to Govia. We will see what they say.

That may not be a good enough reason to hate a prisoner of Chris Grayling, but it doesn’t exactly imply customer care. You can read some of the history of all this in my book Cancelled!

Sadly the same abuses happen in most privatised services, just as they did before they were privatised. It isn’t a question of public or private, in fact. It is a matter of big versus small – and aligning the interests of operators with customers. Otherwise the gods clash in battles above our heads, us ordinary train travellers. And it isn’t fun.

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