Climate change – just another news story?

‘At what point will we realise that the world we see on our TVs is actually our world – and that it is time to act?’

I was on London’s South Bank last Thursday, and realised something extraordinary was happening on Waterloo Bridge. I’d chanced on the Extinction Rebellion protest. As an infrequent visitor to London these days, I was taken by surprise – unlike most people in central London, who’d found not only Waterloo Bridge blocked, but also Parliament Square and, famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view), with a pink boat, Oxford Circus.

I climbed over the crash barrier – wanting to enquire rather than directly participate. To find out more.  Warm weather helped. Trees and greenery had been brought in, a band was playing quietly (yes, quietly) and under an awning one of the organisers proffered advice on dealing with journalists and possible arrest to younger questioners.

For they were young, the protestors. Theirs is indeed the future. They have a claim on it, which we – we older folk – do not. It’s the point which the Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, has been making so eloquently. And we can’t, surely, just brush it off as another example of youthful high spirits and idealism.

The key aims of Extinction Rebellion? ‘The Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, … and act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.’

The upside: shaking us out of our lethargy regarding the consequences of climate change, and highlighting the action that must be taken to arrest it. (Whether or not a 2025 target is realistic, the aim is to shock.) The downside: commuter traffic has been seriously disrupted, and businesses and shops have suffered as a consequence.

Which side am I on? Are we on?

Section of the press would have it that the protestors are all middle-class hippies. The Daily Mail has printed pictures of the organisers’ homes in Stroud. Billionaire media owners are the beneficiaries of the status quo: yes, climate change may (just about) be real but responsibility is down to us as individuals. Plastic bags and the like. Governments, where lies the power to push through radical change, are off the hook.  

Readers of the Mail and Express and Telegraph, redoubtable papers all, are protected species in all this – protected from the imperatives of climate change. Given that reality, what choice do the protestors have but to put themselves out there?

So back to that question. What about us?

Are we prepared, as over a thousand were, to be arrested? Or is our support at second hand – we’ll argue their case (‘their’ case, not ours) and their corner, but we won’t join the front line. Or we’ll aver our support for action, but decry radical means to achieve it. (And thereby play into the hands of climate change deniers?)

There’s a rather dubious statistic doing the rounds. 3.5% of the population (only 3.5% …) committed to your cause and the momentum for radical change will be irreversible. I don’t buy this. But there is another tipping-point – beyond which we can’t avoid taking sides.

I’d like to think that could be now. I’m not going to rush to be arrested. But I know which side I’m on.

That same Thursday, 18th April, at 8pm, David Attenborough silenced any who question his commitment to action with his BBC TV programme, Climate Change: The Facts. No-one watching could be in any doubt about the terrible consequences of global warming. The facts as he described are brutal.

To repeat my opening line:

At what point will we realise that the world we see on TV is actually our world – and that it is time to act?

Fifty shades of folly

I thought I’d touch this morning on the many kinds of folly. Not fifty, I have to admit. But it makes a good title for this post.

Zenpolitics, born in the measured Obama era, in the first months, didn’t allow for folly. That was my big mistake. There’s much to criticise, much to be angry about, in the years 2009 to 2016, but the wheels just about stayed on track. We argued the parameters of austerity, whether they should be wider or narrower, about the boundaries of wealth and enterprise, and the constrictions of poverty and exclusion.

But I didn’t allow for folly. Which isn’t to say the follies I highlight below are in any way new. They are as ancient as the hills, in one form or another. But they now have become by twists of fate the dominant discourse.

Once folly take root, it shows up in many guises.  One of the most common, and damaging, is taking outlying incidents as the norm. Regaling us with incidents (I’m quoting a recent conversation of mine, typical maybe of half the nation, if polls are to be believed) involving Lithuanian criminals, and benefit scroungers, and over-crowded schools, as if these were the norm across the country.

Anecdote and emotion dictate the debate.

Taking sides is another variant of folly – you’re one one side or the other, no shades of grey inbetween, and that multitude who live on the other side of town from you, and claim benefits, they’re all shrinkers and shirkers.

Following the same line of thought, you’re a refugee, or you’re an economic migrant. The former good, the later bad. No shades of grey. And no recognition of the fact that all our forebears  were migrants once upon a time.

In dealing with mass movements of population, maybe the greatest issue of our time, it does no service to either argument or individual to stigmatise.

Brexit might in time, with a clear run, have learnt to speak truth, but with a siege mentality taking hold the old shibboleths are gaining new traction. The same mentality is feeding another kind of folly. Denial. Denial that it could all go wrong – has gone wrong. The comforting belief that Northern Ireland can be shunted forward forever as an issue. That we have a plethora of options other than a customs union with the EU.

Only last week the outgoing president of the CBI said that sections of UK industry faced extinction unless the UK stayed in the customs union.  And yet that is precisely what our prime minister has ruled out.

Denial invites rhetoric. Boris Johnson recently argued to Conservative donors that Britain is at risk of ending up in ‘a sort or anteroom of the EU’. He blamed this on insufficient resolve from the PM, and strong resistance from – the establishment. That old and easy target. (Who are Tory MPs, other than the establishment?) Keep the faith, and all will be well, I believe was the tenor of Johnson’s speech. Churchillian rhetoric may have a time and place. But it sounds foolish now.

That take us neatly on to another kind of folly – the strong leader. Oh, how we need one. Trump ‘would go in bloody hard’, argued Johnson. So we would be pugnacious toward the EU, and go cap-in-hand to a US president we can’t afford to offend… And we’re assuming that Trump will emerge triumphant from all his bombast.

And if he does, and the idea of strong leader triumphs, representative democracy will be the loser. It’s argued that American democracy is strong enough in its institutions to withstand Trump. Would our unwritten constitution stand up so well? It is folly to put it to the test – to attack the judiciary, to bandy words like traitor.

The folly of blame, and panic. Blaming the prime minister who ‘is a Remain voter who has sold out the Brexiteers at every possible opportunity’. (I’ve borrowed the paraphrase from the Economist.) Brexiteers are being stabbed in the back. Much could be said about the resolute incompetence our PM, but I’ll spare her that charge.

But I will level another – the curious pusillanimity of Remain-supporting Tory MPs who have lined up behind Brexit, mealy-mouthing their change of mind and heart, engaging in protracted acts of self-preservation, in the face of possible de-selection.

They may wish to row back from their conversion, but having changed their minds once would they dare do so again? They’re trapped. Maybe a few journalists out there, on the Telegraph, and the Spectator, find they’re in the same place. They’ve spoken out so strongly in the past – dare they turn their coats now?

The likes of Arron Banks have long sought to change the frame within which we see and understand our world – to something less liberal and more confrontational, the loner doing better than the pack, ideas backed by the Koch brothers in the USA, and realised after a fashion in Donald Trump. Folly lies in the failure of so many to realise that the frame has been manipulated, by money, Super-PACs in the USA, media owners in the US and UK, so they think they’re on the same song sheet they always were, but someone’s changed changed the words, and they haven’t noticed.

We haven’t reached that point here, but Trump’s caging of immigrant children, after separating them from their parents, should be simply inconceivable. Yet swathes of the American public went along with it. And Tory politicians here were slow to condemn, fearful of upsetting a government on whom they will depend to an unconscionable degree if a hard Brexit were ever to happen.

The frame becomes a cage. The folly of not reading and remembering your history.

Folly also lies in an increased propensity to lie as your position weakens. Brexit supporters always played fast and lose with the truth – promises come cheap and uncosted. The increase in NHS funding promised this week resurrected the idea of a Brexit dividend for the NHS, famously associated with the Brexit red bus. All serious commentators make it clear that the British economy will sustain significant damage as a result of Brexit. And even if that only applies to the short and medium term, and trade secretary Liam Fox is able to conjure trade deals further down the line that magic our GDP to new levels (an unlikely scenario) – that is the long term. The increases in NHS funding are for the period up to 2023-4. There can be no Brexit dividend over that period.

We have here a simple unvarnished untruth. Folly shades readily into untruth to protect itself. We’re engaged now in the most egregious and protracted act of folly in modern British history. When a pressure group surprised by power flounders. Historians will have a field day. Unless of course folly wins the day, and as in other countries historians come to toe a party line.

Hay Book Festival 2018 – Philippe Sands

The Hay Festival, as always, delivers. Tuesday (29th May) was a warm and cloudy day, shirt-sleeves after midday, which means the fair can be an outdoor as well as in-tent affair, and that always helps.

My first stop was Philippe Sands. His title, ‘Words, Memory and Imagination – 1945 and Today’. The title didn’t entice. It was enough that it was Philippe Sands.  What follows are expanded notes I took during his talk, with a few interpolations of my own.

Sands recounts the story behind his book, East-West Street, on which I’ve posted before. East-West Street is a street in a then Polish (now Ukrainian) town where his Jewish grandfather’s family had lived for centuries. He discovers how his grandfather’s life intertwined with that of Raphael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, two great lawyers and key figures  behind modern, and recent, notions of the pre-eminence of human rights, genocide,  crimes against humanity, and limitations on state sovereignty.  They studied at the same university in Lvov as Sands’ grandfather.   

Sands has spoken about the book on many occasions before. This time he puts it in the context of a letter to his friend Ahmet Altan, a Turkish novelist recently sentenced to life imprisonment by a Turkish court. ‘My dear friend, Ahmet,’ he says from time to time, as if his talk is addressing him directly.

[I’m adding here Ahmet’s own words before his trial: ‘I am writing these words from a prison cell … But wait. Before you start playing the drums of mercy for me listen to what I will tell you … They may have the power to imprison me but no one has the power to keep me in prison. I am a writer. I am neither where I am nor where I am not.’]

Why, Sands asks, did his book, East-West Street, appeal to so many?  

1] We like in the context of the big picture small details which we can connect to. Often those small details have a personal connection.   

One such is that Richard Strauss (a favourite composer for many of us) composed a song for Hans Frank in 1943. Frank as Hitler’s controller in Poland was directly responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Jews. He was a fine musician, a classically-trained pianist.  

2] The issues surrounding identity, so brutal in his grandfather’s time, and still so powerful today, across Europe and America – only a few brave Federal judges stopped a complete ban on all Muslins entering America. The assumption that someone who is a stranger to me must also be my enemy. 

3] More broadly, the connection to our own time. The authoritarian regimes of the 1930s, and the rules-based order that established itself after 1945, and how that order is under threat.

Hinterland – we all have our hinterland, and for writers it’s out of that that comes our writing. Ahmet has his readers, Sands has his. 

(What it would feel like to be incarcerated? That’s what I asked myself. And for life? For only speaking words… That’s what I asked myself as Sands spoke.)

Ahmet takes great delight in knowing his readers are still out there, he feels it like ‘a cloud touching his face’, as he put it, or something similar. Sands had to be taken through eight locked doors to meet him. He was Ahmet’s first visitor: his wife is only allowed to talk to him, on the phone, every two weeks. Sands gets to see him (and Ahmet’s brother, also incarcerated, who ‘only wanted to talk about globalisation’) in person. He’s representing the international court in The Hague, that’s how he gets access.  

Ahmet smuggles writings out. He and Sands meet and laugh at the absurdity of his situation. He’s lost weight – he has weights to work out with. (Where does civilised life begin, where end?) 

Ahmet implied that money moved out, and moved in, or something similar – enough to suggest someone high up was taking their cut. That was enough.

Judges – Appeal Court judges – are ‘enemies of the people’, in the Daily Mail’s language. Compare the UK and Turkey, where judges serve the president. Is this what the Mail would like? Remember we are the country who with the USA provided the leading lawyers at the Nuremberg trials. We established the European Convention on Human Rights, which Theresa May would now have us leave. ‘Citizens of the world are citizens of nowhere,’ she insisted. Does she, Sands asks, really understand what she’s talk about? (How much was she simply being fed lines by her team?) Compare also Boris Johnson’s reference to ‘half-Kenyan Obama’, as his explanation for Obama’s attitude to Brexit UK. Africans ‘with melon smiles’ – Johnson’s words. ‘Piccaninnies.’ And it’s he who represents us.

Johnson and May welcome Turkish president Erdogan a few days ago: the talk was only of trade, not the fate of novelists, teachers and journalists. We no longer have influence in the world, not least because we need trade deals too much – our trading partners know that.

The Chagos Islands – we lost a UN vote last year on whether or not the islanders have a right to return, which the our own Supreme Court has asserted they do not. Our main European allies abstained rather than support us. The case will now be referred to the International Court of Justice. And as for the ICJ – after ninety years of being represented there we now have no judge. It’s powerful evidence of our declining influence.  

Regarding Brexit, Sands believes the best we can hope for, and the likely outcome, is a Norway-style agreement – single market etc, but no influence. The idea that we could use arbitration effectively instead of the European Court of Justice is absurd. Arbitration at an international level, which is a specialist area for Sands, is both slow and unpredictable. 

Thousands of people have written to Sands. The Scotsman who voted yes to the union, but no wonders whether he wants to stay in an isolationist UK? How would he vote now?

Are we facing a breakdown of the post-1945 rules-based order? Ahmet still has hope. Turkey is not done for yet. But, worldwide, authoritarian and identity-focused politics are an ever-more-powerful threat. Europe and America need to take the lead, but is there out there a clearly expressed alternative scenario? Compare the current edition of the Economist on the subject of the Democrats in the USA. The Democrats are strong on race and gender issues, but what is their position on the America First agenda, resentments toward the rest of the world, trade with China, blue collar jobs, immigration – the agenda which helped Trump win the election? How can the Democrats regain some of that support which went to Trump?

How shallow is the support for Trump? Salman Rushdie in an interview later in the day at Hay recalled addressing a meeting in Florida recently. They were mostly Republicans, but they were civilised and courteous. ‘Didn’t he agree that the New York Times was simply telling lies?’ No. ‘The evidence for climate change is simply not there.’ But it is, argued Rushdie. ‘Where’s the evidence?’ he’s asked. His answer – just because you believe the world is flat, doesn’t mean that it is flat – it will still be round.  

Sands received a standing ovation at the end of his talk. Maybe from two-thirds of the audience. His talk was one hour long, no time for questions. Applause lasted at least a minute – maybe more like ninety seconds – I’ve never known anything like it at Hay.

And yet – for a couple chatting next to me as I left – ‘it didn’t seem to be going anywhere,’ he argued, though it did have a clearer focus at end. His partner agreed. Yes, Sands does range widely – but he never loses coherence.  It’s funny how what might seem heroic to me might be a matter of a shrug and indifference to others.

Conservatism – selling out to the new right

I began this blog eight years ago in a mood of optimism. Obama’s ‘yes we can’. Maybe we could find common ground across the political divide, enough to take agendas of enterprise, economic growth, internationalism and social justice forward together. We knew of the new right’s machinations, but didn’t foresee how their path to power might work out. And how conservatism would be re-interpreted, and buy into the politics and the moral neutrality of post-truth. To take a few examples:

# Referenda: the idea seems to be abroad in some circles that referenda results are for all time. Referenda if used at all, and they are too easily manipulated (by money and media) to have any significant role in any serious democracy, must be reversible, in the way that parliamentary legislation is reversible. It is extraordinary and irrational to think otherwise. And against conservative tradition…

# Conservative vs radical: it is no less remarkable how the Tory party has moved so far right without realising it, mirroring the Barclay brothers Daily Telegraph agenda and adopting the manners and demeanour of the Paul Dacre Daily Mail. We could indict the Conservatives under the trade descriptions act. (Tory – from the old Gaelic toraidhe, meaning outlaw. Altogether a better description.) The old Tory party, going back to Macmillan, Heath, even Thatcher, believed in the great British unwritten constitution, the wheels turned slowly, radical change and revolution were disdained. We have now arguably the biggest leap in the dark outside of wartime in two hundred years.

I am now the conservative. I’m not sure I like my new role too much – there’s too much in the world to be radical about.

# Economic forecasts from outlier economists such as Patrick Minford, given press and media coverage as if mainstream. Compare the wiser counsels of the FT and the Economist. Curious now how many rely on the Telegraph City pages: that’s a subject in itself.

# Assumptions that post-Brexit we will dispense with the ECJ – the European Court of Justice – and still achieve some kind of trade deal. Set up a separate quasi-judicial body? Are the EU for a moment likely to acquiesce in that?

# ‘Recent’ poll data suggesting wide support for a hard Brexit – quoted as fact in the media (including The Week) – when the data dates back to April and has been wilfully misinterpreted.

# Finally – diversion away from the issues which should be engaging us. Not least the tragedy (see recent reporting in The Times, and all power to them ) almost on our doorstep in Libya. 700,000 migrants camped and waiting. This is a crisis for all Europeans, and one so far which the EU, 28 countries with clamorous electorates, has simply failed to come to terms with.

Here in the UK we are obsessed by Brexit, preferring to close our borders physically, morally and politically. Rather, we should be in there, facing up to the crisis, putting forward proposals. Advocates within Europe, within the EU.

Suggestions, for example, for a wall across southern Libya, or funding repatriations… maybe or maybe not viable … but where are we?

Sidelined, irrelevant.

Brussels and Trafalgar Square

Two contrasting events from yesterday (Tuesday 28th):

First, Nigel Farage having the perverse temerity to turn up in Brussels to a session of the European Parliament and throw insults. ‘…virtually none of you have done a decent day’s work in your life’. Some of us would be inclined to level the same charge at Farage. Matched against a Scottish MEP, Alyn Smith, who begged MEPs to help Scotland stay in the EU. ‘I want my country to be internationalist, co-operative, ecological, fair, European …Scotland did not let you down. Please, I beg you, cher colleagues, do not let Scotland down now’.

Now, which side do we want to be on? The mean-spirited or the open-hearted? Europe is an attitude of mind. The Leave side claim to be European, but only if you believe in a Europe where we retreat behind our national frontiers. As part of that narrative the EU itself has to be pilloried. I like what I saw of the EU parliament yesterday. Not something I’d always say: no-one argues it’s a perfect institution! But you don’t leave an institution like the EU. You change, you reform, you build, you work together.

One addition: Quentin Letts, in the Mail, had this is today’s paper: ‘The parliament’s president, Martin Schulz, whose only previous job was running a bookshop, appealed for hecklers to desist.’ One could write a whole article about the idiocy of that remark. Running a bookshop is a far superior occupation to that of journalistic hack. I’ll leave it at that. I know booksellers, having been in publishing all my life. And I can recognise a hack at fifty yards.

The second event: the Colliers, Chris, Ben and Rozi, in Trafalgar Square for a pro-EU demo. Also Rozi’s best and oldest friend Lucy. My ex-wife Kathy was I’m sure with us in spirit. An international event, it’s London after all, and one I’m proud to have been a part of.  And I’m proud that our family though no longer together in one sense is so together on this. We all did something right over the last 30 years.

I had to leave the demo and head off to an evening class. In the rain, a 1/2 hour walk. I arrived and the tutor was in full flow… on the subject of the EU. Pro-Remain, but believing we should go along with the result. The class then got my riposte. ‘No pasaran,’ as they say in Spanish (they shall not pass), or ‘no lasagne’, as my mobile phone spellcheck suggested to me last weekend.

The emotions all this brings out are surprising. My plan had been for a quieter mretirement!

I learnt later that the demo had moved on down to the Houses of Parliament. Maybe not so much a demo as a celebration. Being a European, a citizen of the world, is a good place to be.

Iain Duncan Smith – can I not be cynical? 

A challenge.

My last post suggested that Good Friday is a day not to be cynical. And then we have Iain Duncan Smith. And he presents a challenge! After more than five years in post, knowing all the while his government’s agenda, and being a living breathing (I think) part of that agenda, making an apparent heart-on-the sleeve resignation, in a way that could not have been more public. Or damaging.

Another challenge to my self-imposed ban on cynicism is the Daily Mail. How I wondered did it respond to IDS’s resignation? They support a pensioner-friendly, undeserving poor, scrounger-hating agenda, so I expected they’d come down heavily on soft-hearted Iain.  So no surprise – his resignation was a ‘silly and petulant act’.

On the other hand, IDS is a leading Brexiter, and isn’t the Mail rather keen on Brexit? I’d like to have been at the Mial editorial meeting which decided which line to take. If I read the Mail more avidly maybe I’d pick up on the nuances of its response. (Although for a Paul Dacre-edited paper it doubt if there’s too much ‘nuance’).

What I’d love to see is legislation requiring as part of the freedom of the press agenda the publication of the editorial meeting minutes (and maybe a few private e-mails as well – thinking Hillary Clinton!) of the Daily Mail.

And while we’re at it – all owners and editors fully UK domiciled and tax-paying.

That’s enough cynicism for one Good Friday.

OK – mild by some standards!

The press and the bedroom

In an interview which focuses on where to locate parliament during the coming major refurbishment, the speaker (of the House of Commons), John Bercow, also took in other subjects, including the tabloid press, in a way that politicians, constrained by party, rarely do.

Would that more politicians felt able to speak truth to the nation.

He denounced much of the UK tabloid press as what he called the ‘more downmarket, low-grade, fifth-rate scribblers on newspapers – if they could be called such – that might be thought to be racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic, comic cartoon strips’.

Right on! Few in the media will dare to repeat or report this, and yet it’s the way so many of us feel.

Another big cheer this week followed the Court of Appeal ruling that the so-called bedroom tax ‘discriminates against a domestic violence victim and the family of a disabled teenager’. The bedroom tax euphemistically called by the government the ‘spare room subsidy’ is one of those pernicious pieces of legislation which fails to take into account the realities of ordinary life – the lives of ordinary people. Reduces them to statistics.

Cameron’s comment that it is ‘unfair to subsidise spare rooms in the social sector if we don’t subsidise them in the private sector’, entirely misses its damaging effects. No spare room means no family or friends to stay, no room for emergency, no place to escape. What happens in the private sector is an irrelevance. The iniquity of opposing a Mansion Tax while supporting a bedroom tax, where the occupant in the one case by definition has resources and the other doesn’t, is self-evident.

Policy-makers have to mix with the real world, and have to remember as I’ve argued many times that if your policy fails the basic test of compassion, then you should scrap it.

Establishments rule

There’s a piece in the Telegraph by Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher’s biographer, where he grumbles about the ‘shadowy establishment’ at the heart of Europe… This elite political power is supported by a much wider establishment, controlled by patronage and money…. All given a stake in the EU which is much much greater than the average citizen’.

At heart this is timeworn conspiracy-theory stuff, the elite working against the little man. Taken to its logical conclusion all major issues should go to referenda.

And if the media happen to be all of one persuasion, the monied establishment, the press, of which Charles Moore himself is so much a part, then that’s bad luck. The Barclay brothers, Murdoch, the Daily Mail and Paul Dacre … they have a direct line to us ordinary folk, they understand the way we think before we think it, and we’re only too glad to see our opinions expressed for us each day in a nice forthright way. Why should we ever have thought differently?

(The press is the establishment that most worries me. They and their owners should be directly accountable, UK-owned, UK mainland resident, and public figures, so we know who they are – not just shadows in the night. How about having meetings of publishing or editorial boards open to the public? Or at least part of the public record. This is a public debate we do need…but it might be just a little bit hard to get started.)

We have Owen Jones on the left of the spectrum, and Charles Moore on the right, going on about establishments. Maybe they should come together, and we could have flat tax for everyone, no exceptions, so no space for financial disagreement. Leave the EU and buy and sell only what we produce ourselves. So no need for a foreign policy. Just an army along the English Channel.

Sadly power does get shunted upwards, and we have to make certain that at each level ‘they’ are as accountable as we can make them. But the ‘big businesses and the banks, the scientific and agricultural interests, universities, judges, lawyers, regional governments, big media organisations [glad to see they’re mentioned], charities, pressure groups…’, all the groups whose greater stake in the EU than the ordinary Joe Charles Moore bemoans…. yes , they have a bigger stake because they’re all engaged, they are all active in the real world, not passive and grumpy readers of the popular press.

Inevitably, if there’s a multi-national set-up like the EU power gets shunted upwards, and the European Parliament has done a poor job in holding the Commission to account. So we have to be vigilant, monitoring day-to-day, and restricting the authority we do actually shunt upwards.

We can’t just close borders and minds and imagine there’s a conspiracy against us and insist on a ‘direct’ democracy which might have suited ancient Athens – and would well suit the Daily Mail.

Better to be part of the conspiracy.

Not quite an ideal world

A recent comment suggested I was writing about an ideal world, and that worried me.

The puzzle and challenge for me is the everyday: how we can better link insights into our human condition to our working lives, to our personal and our social lives, to the national agenda. The insights come from Zen and wider Buddhist ideas and practice, but they connect easily with our own Western traditions. Most of us fully appreciate the benefits of finding peace and calm in our lives, though we protest that we’re too busy to slow down. We regret our ill-temper, bouts of anger, self-serving pleasures. If we show kindness and compassion we’re pleased and rather proud of ourselves. We got it right for once.

But we don’t act on what we know, and I’m arguing that it’s not so difficult. Meditating, mindfulness, walking, even standing still, shutting out 24-hour news and 24-hour noise, setting aside space for ourselves – start small, just get out for a walk, it’s no need to be heavy duty. You don’t need to sit in a triple lotus…

(A fridge magnet I saw today ran as follows: ‘Stress is the confusion created when one’s mind overrides the body’s basic desire to choke the living shit out of some asshole who desperately deserves it.’ I love it – and it’s not quite what I’m arguing.)

You may have read about a new series: Ladybird books for adults. Already bestsellers. There’s even one on mindfulness. And one on dating. Mindfulness fits my argument slightly better. But if that’s too trendy, then I still like the basic idea. Start simple. (One date at a time.) Don’t over complicate.

Benefits – I hope they’re evident from what I’ve written elsewhere, if they’re not I’ve failed miserably.

I’m not anticipating a brave new dispensation just around the corner. If for some there’s a sense of a new consciousness, a new wisdom, which could yet change the world, then I thought that forty and more years ago, and it didn’t happen. I’m none too optimistic now about it catching on with readers of the Daily Mail, or indeed the billion plus who make up the Han population of China.

Though who knows, give them time.

For now 82 million members of the Communist Party in China have a lockdown on opinion. And mindfulness and the Daily Mail don’t go too well together, though if you’re into mindfulness and an avid reader of the Mail, then I apologise.

But if we can be simply a little slower to judgement, look a little more widely before we leap, then by small increments we can make the world a better place. And who know we might just have a Great Leap Forward.