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Believing in Britain – Crisis of ‘British’ Identity

by Rachel Castagne I am honoured to publish this  ‘guest post’ by Rachel Castagne,  director and co-founder of the Centre for Human Emergence – UK – the foundation of which I wrote about in Britishness’ at the Regent’s College Summit. I am reading Ian Bradley’s book on ‘Believing in Britain’. I used to think it was ‘just me’ or that I was in a minority when I didn’t consider myself British (being born in Trinidad gave me the perfect excuse!) or want to, was in fact ‘ashamed’ of being British. When my daughter came home from school a few months ago and said she was ashamed of being British, I wondered if I had ‘passed on’ the sentiment, like a hereditary gene – although I knew she hadn’t always felt that way, she’s become aware of ‘Britishness’ as a national identity in her adolescence. Turns out, its not ‘cool’ to be Brit – turns out she’s not the only teen that feels that way…. In fact Bradley reports some interesting stats:- 2005 Social Attitudes Survey found 44% of the population said ‘British’ was the ‘best’ or only way of describing their national identity, as against 52% ten years earlier. Amongst those… Read More

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Afghanistan: Sex or starve! What’s the Issue?

If the stories are true – and there does seem to be some confusion in the accounts – then Hamid Karzai’s government sneaked into law on 27 July an amended version of the Personal Status Law for Afghanistan’s minority Shi’ite population. (Around 15% of the country’s 30 million citizens – the vast majority of whom are Sunnis, to whom the new law does not apply.) The coming into law of this measure certainly does seem ‘sneaked’. With the likes of Barrack Obama, Gordon Brown, France’s Human Rights Minister Rama Yade and NATO boss Jaap de Hoop Scheffer joining the international chorus of protest against the original version of the bill in the Spring, Karzai promised to review the measure before implementing it. Now, just days before the increasingly tightly-contested elections, he appears to have sneaked it into law with some different words but the same meanings. Human Rights Watch says it has seen a copy of the final law that requires Shia women to satisfy their husbands’ sexual appetites at least every 4 days, an article which critics have said could be used to justify marital rape. It enshrines a husband’s right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if… Read More

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The Thatcherite Project is ended. Whither Britain?

As Gordon Brown sits in 10 Downing Street and contemplates the terrible drubbing the small turn-out of disillusioned voters inflicted on Labour in Thursday’s local elections – 273 Labour seats lost – while hoping desperately that yesterday’s emergency reshuffle of his Cabinet will at least temporarily stall the intra-Labour campaign to oust him and that Sunday’s European election results will not be as bad as predicted, there is one crumb of comfort for him in all this…. The Thatcherite project, which, with his roots in traditional Socialism, he must have hated, is at an end. Margaret Thatcher’s philosophy of the pursuit of individual wealth in an unregulated market, with few or no social responsibilities, was an ethos driven by the ORANGE vMEME. And, for quite a time, that philosophy seemed vindicated. After being the ‘sick man of Europe’ in the 1970s, Britain once again become an economic powerhouse and a country of standing on the world stage, with Thatcher seen clearly to exert influence on those ‘leaders of the free world’, Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. Thatcherism reached its Capitalist zenith in 1989 with the collapse of European Communism and even China starting to crawl towards a sort of… Read More

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The Sons of Iraq – a Step towards Stratified Democracy?

The level of violence in Iraq has decreased to the point where troop withdrawals by both the British and the Americans are once again being discussed seriously. Iraq and the United States have reportedly set a preliminary timetable to start withdrawing American forces from Iraqi cities from next June, according to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari last week after his meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The Zebari-Rice agreement would link troop reductions to the achievement of certain security milestones. But, given how cautious President George W Bush has been to committing to a timetable for American withdrawal, for his Secretary of State to agree to one at all is an indicator of how much better things have become. And, of course, a few weeks before, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a statement to Parliament announcing the intention to further reduce British troops in 2009. Who would have thought it a year ago? So, what’s changed the battleground so much in the past 14 months? Partly the much vaunted ‘surge’ of American troops in Baghdad, while merely displacing many insurgents to other parts of the country, did create short-term some of the essentials for peace at least in parts… Read More

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NEETs – are the Tories on the Right Path?

What a pleasure when, from a sociopsychological point of view, some of the politicians appear to be getting it right for once. Or at least partly right! Taking some tentative steps on the right path, maybe…. David Cameron and David Willets have declared they want to solve the ‘NEET problem’ as part of the Conservatives’ plans to sort out ‘Broken Britain’. In case you’re not familiar with ‘NEET’, it’s the acronym for ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ – and the London School of Economics says that 18% of 16-17-year-olds are NEETs. (Department of Children, Familes & Schools (DCFS) data about a year ago had the figure at around 11%. (Although we didn’t call them NEETs back then, the focus of the HemsMESH project 1999-2001 was how to make unemployed teenagers more employable. The national average then was said to be 14%.) According to research by think tank Reform, NEETs are more likely than their peers to use drugs, be involved in crime, have poor health and have children young – nearly two-thirds of NEET females were mothers by the age of 21, 6 times the rate in the rest of the population. Willets, Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities & Skills, has… Read More

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Time to turn against Cannabis!

The dangers of cannabis use are back on the front pages thanks to a report just published in The Lancet from a team led by Theresa Moore & Dr Stanley Zammit. From their meta-analysis of 35 studies from around the world, Moore & Zammit inferred that any use of cannabis – which means even taking the drug just once – was associated with a 41% greater risk of experiencing some form of psychosis – and possibly even developing full-blown Schizophrenia. People who smoked the most cannabis were the most likely to suffer a psychotic breakdown; for frequent users, the risk rose to between 50% and 200%. Overall, cannabis could be to blame for one in seven cases of Schizophrenia and other life-shattering mental illness. With up to 40% of teenagers and young adults in the UK believed to have tried cannabis, the researchers estimated that the drug could be behind 14% of cases of Schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses. Perhaps fortuitiously Gordon Brown announced on 18 July that the status of cannabis was to be considered as part of a wide-ranging drugs review commissioned by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. The Brown-Smith move was initiated a week after former Tory Party leader Iain Duncan Smith called for reclassification of cannabis from ‘C’ back to ‘B’ in… Read More

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A Message for Tony Blair?

Well, Gordon Brown certainly had an ‘interesting’ introduction to his new life as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. 3 British troops killed in Iraq on Thursday 28 June (the day after his assumption of power), 2 car bomb plots somewhat miraculously foiled in London in the early hours of Friday 29th and the dramatic Cherokee Jeep bomb attack on Glasgow Airport Saturday afternoon (30th). British troops are being killed or injured in Iraq now on a fairly regular basis; so there may or may not be any significance in the timing of the Basra roadside bombing. But there is much speculation about the supposedly-linked London and Glasgow attacks and what their meaning might be. A number of commentators are of the view that the car bombs are some kind of message from al-Qaeda to Gordon Brown. Quite what that ‘mesage’ might be is harder to fathom – especially since there has yet to be any kind of statement from a recognised agent of the terrorist network. Nor has there been any indication so far that the police have relevant information on either motive or instigating source from the suspects they are interrogating. Certainly Brown has signalled that ‘change’ is going to be his motif… Read More

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Inside the Mind of a Suicide Bomber…?

“Their cause is not founded on injustice. It is founded on belief, one whose fanaticism is such that it can’t be moderated. It can’t be remedied. It has to be stood up to.” – Tony Blair, London, Saturday 16 July 2005. In every point in that statement, other than the first one, Tony Blair is correct. In saying it is not founded on injustice, he makes a fundamental error. Injustice, in fact, feeds their cause. Back in the Autumn of 2001, I was seriously impressed with the way Blair went around the capitols of the Middle East and Asia, persuading the kings and the sheiks and the generals and the dictators that, if they would not openly support the imminent American onslaught on Afghanistan, then at least not to publicly oppose it. He learned passages from the Qur’an to support his case with Muslim leaders. For a time I actually wondered if Blair could do 2nd Tier thinking. What he did was certainly way beyond the red/BLUE simplistic black & white thinking of George W Bush. However, Blair’s support for Bush’s 2003 war on Iraq showed a distinct dearth of global or strategic thinking. Defeating the military of Saddam Hussein, seriously degraded… Read More

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Are the Tories sitting on an Election Winner?

The received wisdom of the political pundits is that 2005 will be an election year. It doesn’t need to be, of course. Constitutionally Tony Blair can go on to May 2006; but prime ministers often like to put themselves to the vote after 4 years – especially if they think they are ahead of the Opposition and/or they think things are likely to get worse. The Labour Government looks tired and no longer so sure of itself – particularly in terms of  policies. (For example, House of Lords reform is bogged down and the fox hunting ban is a mess.) Blair is unpopular with much of his own party and much of the country – tainted by his unremitting support for the American war on/in Iraq. The media continue to speculate on just how sour relations are between Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown. And the Prime Minister’s unequivocal public support for Home Secretary David Blunkett right upto the morning of his forced resignation has once again brought into question his judgement. With the Government seeming to stumble from one poor/unpopular decision to another, you would think Blair would want to hang on as long as possible in the hope of things somehow improving. That to go to the… Read More

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