Category Archives: Spin doctor

The UK needs more than ‘Supernannies’

A few weeks ago it emerged that the Youth Justice system in the UK has reached a crisis point – with literally only a few beds available.

In response, the Government is targeting parents with their £4 million “super nannies” scheme – which will install 80 child psychologists in high crime areas to teach parents good parenting skills.

I was speaking this week to an array of psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs and other health workers at a MindFields workshop and they were all in agreement that, whilst the intentions of the Government may appear to be good, changing the way children are brought up cannot be done as a short-term, ‘sticking plaster’ task of the kind politicians love so much. No one in the room felt able to trust politicians’ ability to do much to change things for the better. The feeling expressed was that they are floundering on the major issues of parenting, mental health and anti-social and criminal behaviour in just the same way they are over the war in Iraq.

To really make a difference requires long-term – a project lasting decades. That requires a bigger, more ‘true’ organising idea about what makes for a good life if it were to carry the population with it. The work would involve changing the very nature of our culture and its priorities. Just sending in 80 child psychologists to deprived areas to give ‘parenting classes’ only scratches the surface and, ultimately, will fail unless the fundamental needs of people can be met in the environment in much better ways than they are at present.

And it really must be seen as long-term endeavour. The brains of some children are already so damaged by their upbringing that they will remain a burden on the rest of us until they die. To stop this sad state of affairs getting worse will require an almost superhuman effort driven from a clear vision that guides the work over decades.

Until all agencies, education, health, government, media, work in tune with nature – the ‘human givens’ – and start to create a healthier culture by pushing for the kind of changes needed, there will be no meaningful improvements made.

The group I was talking to were unanimous that current government policies, by encouraging the infantilising of the population instead of helping it mature, are incapable of working because the laws and systems are too complex and hopelessly unrealistic. If this is a true reflection of the world we are now living in it’s not surprising then that many children are not growing up to fulfil in healthy ways what they might otherwise be capable of.

However hard parents try, many can’t help the fact that they are bringing up their children in a deeply uninspiring, criminally inclined environment that is culturally shallow. They live in a world where greedy, selfish behaviour is encouraged by strong exhortations to emotional expression that are constantly demonstrated and encouraged through the media (strong emotions, happy or sad, keep us ‘stupid’ and easy to condition) and families are collapsing.

When can we trust politicians?

We talk to a large number of people in the caring professions and education, thousands every year, and it is clear that there is a breakdown of trust between these people and politicians. No one expects politicians to do what is needed any more, yet they all expect politicians to interfere and make things worse. Despite this, changing our corrupting environment does require political leadership of intelligence and perspicacity. Even if only some of the taxpayer’s money that is wasted each year by government (£83 billion pounds according to the European Central Bank) was spent more wisely, much could be done to achieve what is actually needed, as required by the reality of the situation, instead of political ideology.

But on the present showing there seem to be no politicians interested in creating a healthier culture, or, if they do exist, they are so bogged down in power struggles and autistic bureaucratic political and civil service systems that they can’t operate. Whatever the reason, until politicians start to sincerely seek help from people who know how to facilitate making it easier for the innate needs of children and adults to be met more healthily in this country, and back them with money, the situation will deteriorate further. Children will continue to get their innate needs met but do so in ways that diminish them and society at large, as when a child’s need to connect up to larger groups and have status is satisfied by becoming part of the local delinquent criminal gang because they have no alternative.

Working with the givens of human nature should be the touchstone of any Government policy.

Posted by: Ivan


Ministers disguise conviction-based policies as evidence-based

“At best, ministers and shadow spokesmen cannot distinguish between anecdote and science. At worst, they can be dodgy operators who use research selectively to “prop up” policies, or even fraudsters who think nothing of scientific malpractice.”

Roger Highfield at the Daily Telegraph yesterday does not let slip by a report by the Commons Science and Technology committee that describes exactly how the government improperly uses scientific research to back up new policies to extents that go beyond “fuzzy thinking” and “ignorance”.

“… many politicians still seem unable to comprehend that science is a never-ending dialogue between theory and experiment, not the recruitment of convenient facts.

When the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, told one newspaper this year that more women should have babies at home, she signalled her determination by saying that she had even commissioned research to support her case.

What is even more ironic is that Tony Blair has affirmed “what matters is what works”. Evidently not.

Posted by: Eleanor

Alastair Campbell is depressed, but why?

alastair campbell

“Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s formidable spin doctor for seven years, has revealed that, far from being invincible in Downing Street, he suffered clinical depression.”

A short article in the Times today reports on how Campbell was crippled by his depression, once missing a media briefing because he was “unable to face it” and how he “was very depressed for a long time. You wake up and can’t open your eyes, you can’t find the energy to brush your teeth, the phone rings and you stare at it endlessly”.

It goes on to describe how Campbell was desperately self medicating with alcohol before his first psychotic “nervous breakdown” in 1989 when he was arrested whilst driving round and round a roundabout and further, how his more recent depression reached a peak on the day of David Kelly’s suicide in the Hutton inquiry.

An invaluable addition to this article would have been to explain why Campbell was depressed.

As an extremely short overview: The nature of Campbell’s job was a highly stressful one (obviously), and there was never any shortage of things to worry about, creating a lot of negative expectations.

Excessive worrying leads to over stimulation of the autonomic nervous system (emotional arousal). All these worries that are not resolved during the day (“Will I lose my job?”, “Will Tony Blair lose his job?” ) are translated into dreams during the night, which are designed to bring the emotional arousal down. Campbell was waking up tired because he was experiencing abnormal amounts of highly active REM sleep to counteract his excessive worrying, resulting in higher activation of the exhausting orientation response, and accordingly, deprivation of restorative slow wave sleep.

Eventually, with enough stress, the distinction between waking reality and dreaming reality is blurred, which in turn leads to psychosis – a frightening and uncontrollable ‘breakdown’.

Making it all worse were the “spiralling out of control” feelings that Campbell confessed to experiencing during the Hutton enquiry. Feeling in control of a situation is a given, and if there is nothing we can conceivably do about something, we are obviously more liable to feel that we can’t cope anymore and worry endlessly about something we cannot resolve.

Every time depression is mentioned in the media in this way, it serves to heighten awareness of mental health issues, but even better would be to give information about why these conditions occur, and perhaps even what could be done about them.

It is so frustrating to us to see these well intentioned articles (Alastair Campbell revealed this information in an interview especially for World Mental Health day) not being able to provide basic information about the causes and treatments of depression.

Posted by: Eleanor