How to run an Election!

I think all Newspaper and TV coverage of Domestic Politics should be banned during a period of somewhere between 6 and 12 weeks leading up to a General Election.

Each party should be allowed exactly the same, reasonable, budget to put together a multi-segment video detailing their Manifestos for broadcast in equivalent time slots on The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 during the period of the Coverage Ban, these should be accompanied by the same information on a central State Website and in printed form on request. All these sources should be checked for inconsistencies, they should all match.

Quality Control: Prior to being accepted they should be fact-checked by a panel, who would have the power to demand the evidence on which any claims are based to be produced and made available. Any claims found passable, but based on assumptions, should have a “Confidence Rating” provided to give an indication how likely they are to be possible.

Party Members out canvassing for votes would be required to stick to the published “official” Party version. Any unsanctioned claims to be treated as an offence under the Elections Act that would have to be implemented to bring these changes into force.

Polls should be banned too. Exit polls though may a good idea, so long as their implementation is monitored and meets a set standard for sampling and compilation.

Once elected, a Government should face an annual review of their performance. These reviews would look at whether the Government was sticking to the Manifesto put forward in their Election Campaign, as well as how effective the measures were proving.

In the event that they were performing poorly, modifications to their policies would have to be put forward and agreed by a parliamentary majority. suggestions for the changes should put forward by MPs from any Party. There would be an onus on the Elected Government to work with the other parties to find an acceptable solution.

In the event of a suitable agreement not be arrived at, a coalition comprised of a proportional number of each party based on the percentage of seats held, but with a minimum of one Representative per party, could be formed until the next General election is due. A maximum period to agree should be set to force the parties to get on with it!

As a very last result a new General election can be called, although this is to be discouraged, perhaps by publishing details of the negotiations on a central State Website as well as fact-checked and neutrally reported news accounts of the proposals and the responses of all those involved. This would highlight anyone who was just holding out on unreasonable grounds. This would act as a deterrent to negative argument and encourage positive negotiation.

Note the same rules regarding TV and Press coverage and presentation of arguments for and against should also be applied to any further Referenda. This will prevent problems like the recent Brexit debacle.

This is difficult to achieve in the current climate of unchallenged lies and misrepresentation of the facts. Worsened by the setting and magnification of agendas by a press that has sunk below the level that can be accepted in any reasonable and decent nation.

In order to make a rational decision on important issues we need an educated and properly informed electorate. Without that, “Democracy” is just another misused term.

Robin McBurnie

16-01-2017

(Edited 22-01-2017)

Thoughts on Mental Health

An overview of some of the problems relating to having a Mental Health Condition.

I posted the first version of this about two years ago, recent experiance has caused me to read through and update it slightly (24-02-2017).

Note that some may feel that the mention of a specific political party towards the end of this post is out of place, but I can honestly say, they need mentioning!

1 The Problem Of Definition

1.1 What is a “Mental Health” condition?

The first hurdle faced by many people with Mental Health conditions is that, unlike say a broken leg, it is often extremely difficult for anyone else to see what the problem actually is. Sometimes it is even very hard to see there is, in fact, a problem at all.

Assuming that other people do recognise that someone has a problem, it is not always the case the person themselves will be aware of the exact nature and cause of the problem. Sometimes indeed they will not even be aware that it is a Mental Health condition.

There will also be cases where everyone agrees that a person has a Mental Health condition, when in fact the person is perfectly well and it is the prevailing attitudes of the society they live in that are the problem!

1.2 Yes, It’s Personal!

The fundamental thing to understand about Mental Heath issues is that they are personal, individual and unique to the person. With the exception of problems with underlying physical causes, such as tumours, it is impossible for anyone else to directly see the problem.

It’s inside your head and it’s all yours!

Which is not to say that the problems cannot be analysed and reasonably well understood by Mental Health practitioners. However, it is often difficult for even experts to accurately convey the reality of what their patient is experiencing to another person, particularly where that person has no prior experience themselves.

The result of which is that it is often very difficult for other people to understand and empathise with someone who has Mental Health conditions. It is not unusual for those close to the person with the problem to be at a total loss as to what to do to help. It normally requires some quite considerable time, and patience, for understanding to evolve.

1.3 If It Can’t Be Seen Is It Real?

One of the most difficult attitudes that someone with Mental Health conditions will come up against is the “It’s all in your head” argument. This implies that because the problem exists in the person’s head, which it is in a very real sense, it is not a real problem (irony intended).

This leads to the biggest social acknowledgement problems faced by people with certain types of Mental Health condition.

Denial

  • There’s nothing wrong with you (It’s all in your head)!”
  • Don’t be so silly!”
  • Stop Swearing! You’re not allowed to swear…”

Trivialisation

  • Pull yourself together.”
  • You just need a routine.”
  • Why don’t you try doing something that’ll be fun?”
  • Just try to concentrate…”
  • Just sit still, it’s not that hard to do!”
  • The worst thing you can possibly say: Calm Down”

Trivialisation by Overuse

  • Someone who’s simply feeling a bit down: “I’m depressed”
  • Someone who just happens to like to keep their home or office tidy: “Oh, it must be OCD”

These are obviously just a very small sample of the sort of really helpful reactions and bits of insightful advice that are received on a daily basis by many people with very real problems to overcome. Often they spring from a genuine spirit of concern and/or wish to persuade the person at whom they are directed, that they do not have an insurmountable problem and that it can be dealt with very simply.

If directed at someone who does not have a Mental Health condition, and is indeed just experiencing a temporary difficulty or reaction to a specific event, they are often appropriate and fair advice.

Not at all so if the person to whom such gems are addressed does have a real problem, in which case the solution is very rarely simple, nor is it quick. Typically the problems are more complex than they may at first appear and the process of healing can take anything from weeks to a lifetime.

The difficult bit is knowing how to spot the difference. And the reality is that in many situations it might not be possible to tell in advance at all. So the best policy for anyone is to go very carefully with any pearls of wisdom they plan on imparting.

1.4 Ok, you do have a problem, but what is it, exactly?

Assuming a person’s Mental Health condition is accepted as existing, the next hurdle is developing an understanding of what it is. The first step is separating symptoms from causes. The next is ensuring that the apparent cause is not the result of some other underlying problem. There is also the question of whether the person has a single problem, a group of problems with a single underlying cause – or a set of entirely separate problems.

The point being that diagnosis in the cases of Mental Diseases and Disorders is often not straightforward and simply reaching a diagnosis, although the initially apparent symptoms may be obvious, can take an extended period of time.

2 The Variability Issue

Variability is a major concern faced by many people with Mental Health conditions. In terms of both the degree of severity and rate of change experienced with many conditions. It is, for example, quite possible to be going about your life in reasonable normality on any given day — but be utterly unable to function as part of society by the next. In reality there are obviously a huge range of levels and time scales, many of which can still seriously affect day to day life.

2.1 So Just How Ill Are You?

One of the social effects of this variability is that people often don’t understand the extent and nature of your problem. Most people with Mental Health issues will in fact try to keep their problems hidden from view as much as possible. This is largely due to the long standing prejudice against people suffering from any such condition.

2.2 When Your Condition Suddenly Makes Itself Visible

Assuming you have largely managed to keep your condition concealed, but then you suddenly have a particularly severe episode or relapse, it can then come as quite a surprise to the people you encounter everyday. This of course often makes things far worse, at least for a while, as your secret weakness is suddenly revealed for all to see. You are completely exposed at just the time when you are least able to deal with that.

2.2 Social In-Security

Unless the person is on a health-related benefit, the effect of this is to cause uncertainty and fear with regard to employment, home and even basic supplies and utilities. As one of the first casualties in these situations is usually communication, simply letting others know that there is a problem can be a significant problem in it’s own right.

3 Communication Breakdown

The first thing to fail when someone is having problems is usually the ability to communicate effectively. This takes many forms and is not a case of simply “not wanting to talk to anyone” as it is often described.

3.1 What Happens When The Silence Descends

The onset will often lead to a tendency to withdraw from normal interaction with others. This is both a symptom and an aggravating factor in a lot of problems people experience.

Then there is the increased feeling that people with whom you might otherwise communicate are in some way blaming you for your problems. It begins to feel that they see you as at fault for having such mental health issues. This has the effect of making you even more defensive and less likely to hold a rational discussion with anyone!

Eventually you are likely to reach a state where you will avoid all communication as far as possible – even in cases where you may be legally obliged to do so. In particular any avoid any situation where you feel you are being “judged”.

Where avoidance is completely impossible some people will tend be either very withdrawn, which is often seen as being uncooperative – or very agitated, which can appear aggressive to anyone not acquainted with your condition.

3.2 The Overall Communication Problem

When communication becomes a problem, everything becomes a problem. This is the key danger for people with Mental Health conditions.

This is the most common cause of avoidable death in people so afflicted.

It is also the reason so many people with Mental Health conditions end up in arrears with bills, taxes and other such things. Of course dealing with such things during, for example a bout of severe depression, is completely impossible. This usually leads to further problems as the debts build up and further increase the likelihood of the depression worsening. This leads to a cycle that is difficult to break.

Very often even official organisations, such as Town Councils, make the matter worse by sending threatening letters about things like Council Tax and end up adding ridiculously high “enforcement” fees etc., rather than finding out what’s wrong. This is more common than generally acknowledged, and is one of the things that urgently needs to be stopped.

4 Effect on Employment

For someone with a Mental Health condition, employment can be full of pitfalls and other horrors. In the first instance matching your condition to a suitable job, can be quite difficult.

It is also an area where a many very insulting things can be said about people with Mental Health conditions. Indeed recently members of the Conservative party have been guilty of extremely crass and downright disgusting statements regarding people with Mental Health conditions. As members of a party in government these are very serious offences.

Too often Mental Health conditions are related in people’s minds with lack of mental ability. This is one of the most heinous of discriminations against those with such conditions, as many are in fact perfectly capable mentally. They may have trouble with the kind of day to day crap that “normal” people find easy, but are sometimes able to handle concepts that the same”normal” people can’t. There is a huge degree of difference between individuals of course, but there is simply no excuse for suggesting that anyone with a Mental Health condition is worth less than anyone else. Once again the Conservative-led Governments of 2010- Present (2017) are guilty of serious derogatory and degrading attitudes, which have not been spoken out against by the Leadership.

4.1 The Employer

Certain Mental Health conditions can lead to periods during which a person may be absent from work, perhaps suddenly, and for varying periods of time. They will often fail to keep in contact with an employer, which leaves the employer in the situation of not knowing why their employee is absent and when — or indeed if — the employee will return. In cases where the employer does not have the resources, including understanding of the nature of the kind of condition that their employee is experiencing, it is often the case that the employer will seek to terminate employment at the earliest opportunity.

It is, in fact, probably unfair on employers without such resources to be expected to engage, or continue, the employment of someone when the more extreme forms of some conditions manifest themselves. This is particularly true of small businesses where the unpredictable absence of even one person can have a major effect on the day to day operation of the company..

4.2 The Employee

From the point of view of the person who is experiencing the condition this is an extra factor which is extremely likely to cause a worsening of the problem as a form of feedback loop begins to establish very quickly. The person will often feel they are “letting down” their colleagues and employer. This can quite easily lead to a deepening of the condition and an even greater disinclination towards any form of communication with anyone to do with their workplace. Once again the communication problem is the greatest one to overcome in the first instance.

5 The Role of The State

Unfortunately the Conservative (Lib Dems don’t really count as they are hardly noticeable) Government of 2010-2015 did a lot of direct damage to the Mental Health of both people with pre-existing conditions and can even be said to be responsible for the onset of conditions in others. Their attitude and language, or the language the Leadership has allowed to go unchallenged, has been both insulting and damaging to those with Mental Health conditions. The Current Conservative Government has continued and even worsened the situation.

It is the duty of Government to take steps to reduce contributing factors over which it has has control and to enable the provision sufficient and effective assistance for the treatment of those that it cannot directly influence.

Simple steps such as allowing people to register their predisposition to certain conditions with a central department that would respect patient confidentiality  but would allow monitor the payment of things like rent/mortgage and Council Tax of anyone registered and act swiftly to intercede  in order to prevent these from becoming a problem. In some cases automatically switching the person to the appropriate benefit automatically and ensuring that the situation is brought to the attention of the most suitable Mental Health treatment groups, who would then liaise with the monitoring department for however long it may prove necessary.

Vital to the success of any such scheme would be that it is operated for the benefit of those affected and never be used to attempt to coerce anyone into treatment. Persuading people of the the need for treatment should be entirely the province of Mental Health specialists (and family / friends / carers). This is because it can sometimes take a person with a Mental Health problem to accept that they need the help, but trying to force them can make the situation worse.

5.1 Not Making it Worse by being Illogical

The current government is absolutely guilty of this. I will not cover this here in this blog post. I am working on a further, more in-depth post on the subject.

5.2 Taking the Lead in Preventing Discrimination and Abuse

The Government has a central role to play in ensuring that discrimination against and abuse of people with Mental Health conditions is prevented. They have to take a strong lead, ensuring that it starts within Government itself! The Government needs to send an absolutely clear and unambiguous signal that this is unacceptable. It then needs to follow the words with actions to ensure that discrimination and/or abuse by the parts of Government, State or anyone else is not allowed to go unchallenged. The challenge must be immediate and robust.

6 Conclusion

Mental Health is every bit as real and important as physical health. It needs to be treated as such, while acknowledging that the treatment may sometimes need to be approached differently.

Detecting the onset of an episode of a Mental Health condition needs to be improved and action taken far more quickly. Confidentiality and Respect are absolute essential to the success of this.

If someone you know suddenly goes quiet, find out why. You may just save their life!

 

Thoughts On Human Rights and Society

Human Rights are a basic requirement of any form of social structure. They are the basic agreement amongst groups of people as to the minimum standard of treatment any individual member of that group may expect from any other member, or group of members.

The exact nature of this minimum standard has of course changed over time. Changes which one would hope would be recognised as an improved direction. Unfortunately deteriorations have also occurred in different Cultures and Geographical (Political) regions.

This Agreement is unfortunately almost always expressed in terms of explicit Rights, without direct specification of the corresponding implied Responsibilities. Human Rights could be better described as Human Responsibilities as understanding the Responsibility implied by any “Right” actually defines the case of and for that Right better than simply stating the Right itself.

When looked at as a set of responsibilities, Human Rights can never be considered to be contrary to any local or religious customs, traditions or laws. The reverse, however may not be true – as those laws, customs or practices would have to incorporate the responsibility of both individuals and the society in question to respect the right of the individual.

Of course there are many Societies, Specific adherents to certain Religions and Governments that fall short – in some cases dismally so – of even recognising, let alone meeting, their most basic responsibilities in this respect.

I should state that my interest in this has been roused over the last three years or so due the fact that in Britain, which was often regarded as one of the key drivers behind what we could described as Modern Human Rights, we are seeing an erosion of the implementation of these rights in a way that most people of my age (born in 1964) would not have believed possible in such a “developed” nation during their lifetime!

We even have the current UK Government talking of “Withdrawing from Human Rights Legislation”. Thus indicating that it regards these Human Rights as an External and not Indigenous concept. This is of course incorrect as most of the core of “Modern Human Rights” has it’s origins within the UK. Certainly from the late 1700’s to the very recent past, this was the case. Although the Magna Carta is often mentioned as a major point in the history of Civil Rights, it was perhaps not quite the great triumph for General Rights sometimes ascribed to it, more a tiny little step in the right direction, for a few but not the majority.

It is also worth bearing in mind that archaeology has thrown up evidence suggesting that some of the earlier (Stone, Bronze and Iron Age) social groups had reasonably agreeable levels of social justice, so it’s not just a new thing – Nor is it a one-way journey!

It is with this in mind that I see the importance of constant vigilance regarding human rights not simply as a bunch of “Do-Gooders” from the EU or UN to try to coerce so-called developing nations into adopting Western Ideologies. It is something more of a constant fight between those who would try to evade their responsibilities (usually in Governments and Corporations) and those who would hold them to their responsibilities (a wide and varied band of individuals and organisations acting both independently and in co-operation).

It could be argued that “doing your bit” to uphold those responsibilities is the most fundamental Responsibility and Right of all.

The Declaration Of Human Rights and it’s relation to Law

As stated above the problem of a declaration of Rights as opposed to Responsibilities is that the Responsibilities are implicit, rather than explicit. That creates the problem of first having to work out how to define a set of guidelines that provide suggestions as to what the final laws to implement such Rights at an international level would “Look Like“. A template, in effect.

It then follows that various conventions have to be drafted and eventually implemented by the creation of specific local laws across a wide range of Political and Cultural National and Social structures and groups.

This is what we have seen so far, in the various International Conventions on Human Rights – and the widely varied interpretation and implementation of them across the spectrum of Nations that have “signed-up” to these Conventions.

Described as Responsibilities however, they actually form an automatic foundation on which to build good law – which is, by nature, law that can be understood by the average person without recourse to higher education!


A quick (very simplistic) example of  Rights vs Responsibilities:

First there is the most important part of any declaration of human rights, as recognised from the very start of the “Modern” Human Rights Movement, This should be read as both a Right and a Responsibility:

“All persons are equal”

There follows my view of seven Rights, listed first as Rights, then expressed as Responsibilities. Note that the responsibilities for individuals differ in some ways from those of “The State”.

Rights

These Rights apply at all times.

  1. You have the right to Life

  2. You have the right to Sufficient Food and Drink

  3. You have the right to Safety and freedom from violence

  4. You have the right to Shelter, which provides Privacy and you may regard as home

  5. You have the right to Liberty

  6. You have the right to a clean and ecologically sound Local and National Environment

  7. You have the right to Freedom from Discrimination and Disparagement in respect of Race, Gender and Physical or Mental Attributes

Responsibilities

Responsibilities for individuals:

  1. You must not cause or allow to be caused through your actions, or lack of reasonable actions, the loss of any other person’s life.

  2. Where you become aware of any person who is being denied access to sufficient food and/or drink to sustain health you must make your best effort to ensure that the situation is remedied by the appropriate authority.

  3. You must not endanger deliberately, through lack of care or lack of reasonable actions, the safety of any other person.

  4. Where you become aware of any person who is being denied access to shelter and privacy (a home) you must make your best effort to ensure that the situation is remedied by the appropriate authority.

  5. You must not deny any person their liberty, or hold them in bondage (slavery).

  6. You must not deliberately, through lack of care or wont of effort destroy, damage or otherwise adversely affect the shared environment.

  7. You must not actively or passively discriminate against anyone due to any Race, Gender and Physical or Mental Attributes they may posses. You must not disparage, treat with lesser respect or mistreat anyone due to any Race, Gender and Physical or Mental attributes they may posses.

Responsibilities of The State:

  1. You must not cause, or allow to be caused, through your actions, or lack of reasonable actions, the loss of a person’s life. In every single case where this is not possible, a full, independent, examination of the case must be carried out to ensure that the given justification is valid.

  2. You must not deliberately, through lack of care, through inaction, or through slowness of response, allow any person, within any territory under your control, to be denied sufficient food and/or drink to sustain health.

  3. You must not endanger deliberately, through lack of care, or lack of reasonable actions, the safety of any person where you have, or may be reasonably expected to have, sufficient influence to act.

  4. You must ensure that no person, within any territory under your control is denied access to shelter and privacy (which should constitute a home).

  5. You must not deny any person their liberty for their views or opinions. You must not deny them their liberty without good reason, or for excessive periods. Any person denied their liberty must be provided with access to effective representation and their case processed in as short a time as can be safely achieved.

  6. You must not allow individuals, groups, or businesses, to deliberately, through lack of care, or wont of effort destroy, damage or otherwise adversely affect the shared environment. Where an effect on the environment is unavoidable, all steps to minimize this and make reparations are to be enforced on the parties responsible. If the there is a danger of the environmental damage being excessive, affecting the health and well-being of people, the choice to err on the side of safety should be taken, until a means of preventing  the adverse effects can be put in place. If the effect on the environment passes beyond the boundaries of the State territories, agreement from any other affected State(s) must be sought, ensuring that the same responsibilities are applied within any affected State.

  7. You must not permit any group to actively or passively discriminate against anyone due to any Race, Gender and Physical or Mental Attributes they may posses. You must not permit any group to disparage, treat with lesser respect or mistreat anyone due to any Race, Gender and Physical or Mental attributes they may posses. The State must never, under any circumstances, engage in any activity or use language, laws, rules or other statutory means, that in any way discriminates against, mistreats, disparages or treats with lesser respect, a person or group due to any Race, Gender,Physical or Mental attributes they may possess.

No doubt it is open to debate as to the specific list of Rights / Responsibilities I have provided. It would however be interesting to to see if there is any part of current Human Rights proposals that cannot be directly, or no more than slightly indirectly, derived from the above seven!

RM 04-09-2014  edited 22-09-2014