Monthly Archives: December 2006

Who is the most effective political liar?

The London Review of Books recently published an article on lying in politics, describing the actions of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at the Labour Party Conference (where Cherie Blair was overheard saying “well, that’s a lie” when Brown professed his ongoing affection for the PM), as a case of where “the boldest and best liar won”. The author goes on to describe the deftness of Tony Blair’s skills in deception and fidelity to the spirit of contemporary politics in terms of fabrication. The article also describes another case where a Prime Minister made a deal with his deputy about accession and then apparently reneged: the current situation with Australian PM John Howard and Deputy Peter Costello.

It got me thinking about who would be the “boldest and best liar” if you compared John Howard and Tony Blair, particularly through the prism of their effectiveness in deceiving the electorate, winning elections and keeping power (ie., shafting their deputies).

Now, I do remember that Blair’s nickname for a time was “Teflon Tony”, as he seemed to have an uncanny skill at keeping electorate approval despite his government making unpopular decisions. However he is now infamous for lying to the electorate about the reasons for the Iraq war and it may be argued that this has led to him being a liability to his Party in terms of re-election. Blair has kept his deputy in check, but it seems only just, and for only a matter of time…

But Blair has nothing on John Howard in terms of effectiveness in lying to the electorate and getting away with it. Howard has been in power for longer than Blair and fought more elections (5 to Blair’s 3). He has been “caught” lying on more occasions (about the “Children Overboard” affair, Medicare, Iraq, industrial relations, etc.). This is the man who was so blatant about lying to the electorate to get elected that he established the concept of “core” and “non-core” promises, now part of Australian political life. His ability to play wedge politics is second-to-none and he continues to have a high approval rating, unlike contemporaries Blair and Bush.

There was a great letter to the editor after the “Liars” article in the LRB extolling the merits of Blair and Howard, and who is the more effective politician:

“Howard is a politician par excellence, and Tony Blair will never hold a candle to him. Why? Well, to use the parlance of the Australian street, Blair may be as flash as a rat with a gold tooth, but Howard is as cunning as a shithouse rat.” Michael Wong, 16 November 2006

It makes me proud to be Australian.

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United Kingdom: 21st Century Panopticon?

A couple of months ago I saw the film “Red Road” whose story centres around a woman who works as a CCTV camera operator and the man that she surveils: as the film progresses it is clear that the two characters have a prior relationship, and in thriller-style we don’t learn the truth until the end. There are several scenes where the female character stares at a bank of 30 or so CCTV screens, watching the behaviour of people on the streets of Glasgow: the act of impartially watching also a reflection of her dissociated interior world (as we discover in the film).

When it came to reviews of “Red Road” some foreign journalists asked the director whether it was a science-fiction film, as they could not believe that such sophisticated CCTV set-ups existed. In the United Kingdom the degree of surveillance of town centres that is shown in the film is not a fiction, but rather a standard prevention of crime practice in most cities.

It is estimated that in London the number of surveillance cameras in private premises is around 400,000 and the total number of cameras in the UK is around 4.2 million. In comparison with other countries the UK has the highest number of surveillance cameras per capita, with one camera for every 14 people.

Robert Hughes describes in “The Fatal Shore”, his detailed history of the convict beginnings of Australia, various ideas for penal reform that were in vogue in late 18th century, including a building plan for a prison called a Panopticon. The Panopticon was designed by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, with the aim of creating a prison building that would allow the guards to have complete observation of prisoners, while the prisoners were unable to tell if they were being observed or not. This design was for the deliberate purpose of increased control over the prisoners through the apparent omniscience of the guards.

This was to be achieved by a design that used a concentric building with a central tower for the observer, and the periphery made up of non-communicating cells, where the prisoners would be held in isolation and invisible to each other; an asymmetric system of lighting and wooden blinds that ensured that the prisoner was constantly visible while obscuring the observer from the prisoner’s view. Bentham stated that his design would create a “sentiment of an invisible omniscience” with the Panopticon as a “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example”.

In these times of increased concern about terrorism and crime it would appear that surveillance is regarded as a sensible strategy for authorities and private citizens in the UK. I do wonder, however, whether this focus on surveillance has created the potential for a “technological Panopticon” in British life – Bentham’s “sentiment of an invisible omniscience” no longer needs a physical structure, but rather can exist through the sheer number of CCTV cameras in cities and towns, as well as other forms of surveillance. I have also wondered what is the effect of a surveillance society upon the behaviour of citizens, aware that their (public) actions may at (nearly) all times be observed by hidden others. Who observes the observers?

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Working as an Australian psychologist in the UK: Statement of Equivalence etc

In 1998 I wrote a little article (below) for the West Australian branch of the AACBT about the process of getting work in the UK as a clinical psychologist. Mostly this article was about the process of applying for membership with the British Psychological Society and, in particular, the scrutiny of Australian clinical psychology qualifications to determine equivalence to the UK training.

Reading this article again makes me think about how optimistic I was about moving to the UK to work as a clinical psychologist, and how I still had a somewhat-ironic sense of the process of getting Chartered through the Statement of Equivalence that was mandated by the British Psychological Society (see below, again). My ironic detachment did not protect me from becoming frustrated with the process when I did move to the UK, but that is another story (and one I share with a number of other foreign-trained clinical psychologists)…

“Baseline”, April 1998

Working as a Clinical Psychologist in the UK

Eric Morris

Every year a number of intrepid clinical psychologists from WA travel to the UK and extend their stay by seeking employment to ply their trade. Aside from the advantage of having overseas experience on the resume, the UK offers other delights for clinical psychologists in terms of more attractive working conditions, strong psychology departments, greater prestige and training opportunities. Moreover being “where the action is, psychologically” (i.e., the Northern Hemisphere) ensures an intellectually stimulating environment in which to further develop your skills and attend world-class conferences. The UK is also the natural choice for West Australian Clinical Psychologists as the qualification and training model is closest to our own, compared to other English-speaking countries (namely the USA and Canada).

So how do you get to work in this mythical land of opportunity and what will it be like when you get there? Over the next couple of issues of “Baseline” we will be featuring a number articles about the UK experience and providing some advice about what to expect if you decide to go. This first article is concerned with the process of getting your qualifications accepted for employment in the UK.

Getting there: Your Qualifications

In the UK the British Psychological Society (BPS) is responsible for the regulation of professional psychologists and maintain a Charter of Clinical Psychologists. To practice independently a person must achieve “Chartered Clinical Psychologist” status, which involves acceptance of your qualifications and experience by the BPS through the Committee for Scrutiny of Individual Qualifications.

It is best not to be complacent about getting your training and experience accepted as this Committee is notoriously pedantic, and some would say bloody-minded, in their scrutiny of your qualifications. A number of people have discovered this to their detriment over the years as the dreaded Committee have requested that they do further placements, essays and/ or even another Masters-level research project before they can achieve Chartered status. Thankfully there is an appeals process if you feel that the Committee have not considered your case fairly.

The following comments about the scrutiny process are based upon the experiences of an unashamedly-biased sample of 5 Clinical Psychologists who have braved the rigours of the Committee. View these comments with your obviously-formidable skills of detecting histrionic exaggerations and blatant irrationalities (a la CBT), and if you do better than previous applicants, more power to you!

The process of becoming Chartered

The first thing to do is to contact the BPS and inform them of your intention to work in the UK (this can be done by post or email). This will be replied with a pile of information about the BPS and the process to achieve Chartered status (Statement of Equivalence in Clinical Psychology). To engage in this process you must join the BPS (filling out their general membership form), nominate academic and clinical referees, and complete a form regarding your training and experience. Do not be fooled by the simplicity of this form and its usual presentation of being a photocopied sheet that does not need to be taken seriously. Your life hangs upon the balance of filling out this form correctly, and if this sounds deliberately Kafka-esque just wait until you get the reply from the Committee.

The best thing to do when faced with The Form is to read the accompanying guidebook regarding the Statement of Equivalence in Clinical Psychology and use this carefully structure the answers to the questions. This will probably make the decision regarding your Equivalence easier for the Committee and possibly save you a lot of trouble. The Committee do have the unfortunate tendency to send requests back for further information (sometimes for what seem like piddly little details, like the unit specs for that postmodern feminist theory course that you did 10 years ago when you held the outmoded idea of getting an education for its own sake). This frustrating tendency does result in the process taking longer than expected, and a good rule of thumb expect that a final decision will not be made in any shorter period than six months (rumour has it that the longest period for a final decision has been twelve months). The length of time is not helped by the infrequent meetings of the Committee, which means that your swift reply to their query still results in a two month wait before you find out your status.

A review of my sample suggests that unless you are incredibly experienced expect at the very least to be asked to do a supervised placement and the odd essay or two before gaining your Chartered status. It is important to consider also the kind of experience that is required, as the BPS requires experience in the areas of Adult Mental Health, Older Adults, Child and Adolescent, and Disability at the very least. This experience has to be 65 days minimum and can be made up of a combination of course placements and work post-qualification. It does pay to move around a bit in your career if you ever want to work in the UK!

At the time you get the final decision you will be informed that the required further training, essays etc. will need to be completed in the UK rather than addressing the requirements in Terra Australis. This will require finding a Chartered Clinical Psychologist that will supervise you and this can be negotiated as part of your employment over there. Supervised placements are usually organised as part of your paid employment, as the shortage of clinical psychologists in the UK works to your advantage.

Finally as part of this process you will be cursing our pitiful currency’s exchange rate as you pay for the membership of the BPS and the “processing fee” for the Committee, which lately has cost in excess of A$500!!

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The First Post

For some reason I have been toying with the idea of keeping a blog (or is it tending to a blog? Perhaps like a garden). Mostly I like the idea of having a place where I can compose my thoughts and link to things that I have read.

Perhaps you, gentle reader, may enjoy reading this. Perhaps not.

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