Say you like it

 

 

 

There’s enough going on, I’d have thought – including the global computer-hack that brought down part of the NHS system, and an operation, probably Russian, that infected the Twitter accounts of 10,000 Pentagon workers – to make laughable the claim that in leaving the EU Britain will be taking back control of anything other than the colour of its passports. But now there’s this.

“We are talking about the most powerful mind-control machine ever invented in the history of the human race,” said Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. “And people don’t even notice it.”

The “machine” is a project to influence the minds of Facebook users. In three deeply-researched articles in the Observer by Carole Cadwalladr1, it is alleged that it was used to influence the outcome of the EU referendum. In February Cadwalladr started an investigation into Robert Mercer (“the money behind Donald Trump”) and his links with an American data analysis firm called Cambridge Analytica, which was involved in the Leave campaign in the UK. In May that investigation ended up in a place whose outlines will be clear to anyone who has ever innocently volunteered a piece of information and then had it used against them. Not in a terribly bad way, some may think. It’s just used to change their minds. Without their noticing it.

The Observer articles referred to here are the subject of a legal complaint on behalf of Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections Ltd, its parent company. Cambridge Analytica denies it worked for Leave.EU or had any involvement in British politics; however, Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s communications director, said that it had. There’s also a video, from which the Observer published a clip (14 May), showing Brittany Kaiser, an executive of Cambridge Analytica, on the podium at Leave.EU’s launch event.

Is this already sounding complicated? It gets far worse. Cadwalladr’s articles painstakingly join the dots between people and organisations that have gone to a lot of trouble not to be linked. However, what they’ve been doing seems to me considerably more frightening than their attempts to conceal it.

Andy Wigmore described Facebook as the key to Leave.EU’s operation, and the “like” button as its “most potent weapon” (Observer 26 February). From the “likes” a user clicks, a picture can be built up of that user’s personality, preferences and sympathies. The more the clicks, the more detailed the profile. With 150 Facebook “likes”, the model “could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse,” said Michal Kosinski, lead scientist of Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre, on whose research Cambridge Analytica built its psychometric model. “With 300, it understood you better than you understood yourself.”

I am not a button-clicker, and was inclined to doubt this until I started to think about it. Three hundred casual, impulsive, sent-into-the-ether-without-a-second-thought clicks of the mouse. Anonymous, apparently. Not a commitment to anything. Not public.  Yet, at the same time, social. You like this photograph, you agree with that opinion, you admire what this person did? Go on, click the button. Be part of things.

Three hundred times. Over months, perhaps years. A direct route to the unconscious.

It’s very clever. If I were theologically minded, I would be inclined to say it was devilish.

The next step is obvious. There is the personality, with its foibles and weaknesses and sad little dreams. Now, target it! Send it, to its Facebook page, information which you calculate will nudge it in a particular direction. The information may be true or false, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s convincing to that target. The target has already told you how it wants to be talked to. Nuance is important. The process must be invisible.

Whether this has actually been done on the individual level is disputed, although it could be. It has certainly been done on the group level, focusing on people thought to be vulnerable to influence. In the case of the UK referendum, it’s estimated that only 600,000 votes needed to be swayed. In the USA, Cambridge Analytica claims to have psychological profiles based on data from 220 million American citizens.

Computers amass the data. But people determine the direction in which targets are to be nudged. The basic direction is towards the right. This technology is a tool of the rich.

Robert Mercer is a billionaire who made his money in computer science and is joint owner of one of the highest-performing hedge funds in the world. He is a friend of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, and an associate of Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to whom he gave $10 million when Bannon was running Breitbart News. Mercer funds the Heartland Institute, a climate change denial think-tank.  Since 2010 he has donated $45 million to Republican campaigns, and another $50 million to right-wing non-profit organisations. Though reclusive, he has a fun side: he likes yachts, and owns a $2.9 million train set.

He has a 90% stake in Cambridge Analytica, an offshoot of a British defence company called SCL, which contracts at a high level (to NATO, the State Dept., etc) for military psychological operations. SCL has specialised in “election management strategies” in places like Afghanistan. “It models mass populations and then it changes their beliefs” (Observer 26 Feb.).

Mercer introduced Cambridge Analytica/SCL to his friend Farage’s Leave.EU campaign.  During the referendum period, Cambridge Analytica’s Vice President was Steve Bannon, who wanted to “change the culture” in Britain. The data firm, which had worked on Ted Cruz’s campaign, transferred to the Trump camp when Cruz pulled out of the race. Leave.EU’s campaign director Andy Wigmore told the Observer that the Trump and Leave.EU campaigns had “massive parallels.”

At the same time, the “official” Leave campaign, Vote Leave, fronted by Boris Johnson, was going down the same route: it hired a data analysis firm based in Canada called AggregateIQ and spent half its campaign budget on it. Three other minor campaigns affiliated to Vote Leave – Veterans for Britain, the Democratic Unionist Party and BeLeave – also hired Aggregate. This was a very obscure company, and where it had come from remained mysterious for some time. However, it is now known that AggregateIQ’s intellectual property is owned by Robert Mercer.

A source who worked for Cambridge Analytica told the Observer, “The Canadians were our back office. They built our software for us. They held our database” (Observer 7 May). But the connection was never supposed to come to light. It is still denied, although there is documentary evidence (Observer 14 May). So is any accusation of meddling in British politics.

It’s important to remember the kind of psychological techniques and models that are being used in the project. They come from the military .2  They were developed inside the defence establishment for use against a hostile or potentially hostile population. They were turned against a friendly population in a democratic country. (It is horribly easy to imagine them being used to turn a population against one of its minorities: ethnic, religious, sexual…)

The secrecy is also important. Openness is crucial to a democracy. The fact that Robert Mercer was connected with AggregateIQ  had to be followed through companies that did not exist and links that appeared on a web page one day and were gone the next. Connections between the various players were buried and had to be diligently unearthed. A diagram of them was published in the Observer on 7 May and it is not comforting: all of them end up in the White House.

British electoral law was certainly broken. Campaigns must not be co-ordinated unless their expenditure is declared jointly; Vote Leave and the smaller affiliated campaigns that employed AggregateIQ did not do this.  If work is “donated” by a foreign organisation to a campaign, it must be declared to the Electoral Commission. The work done by Cambridge Analytica for Leave.EU was not. It is against the law for a foreign national or foreign company to interfere in a British poll.

What redress do we have?

Not much. The use of data analytics “for political purposes” is being investigated by the Information Commissioner. But the most important evidence is offshore. AggregateIQ is beyond British jurisdiction. And the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office are, by all accounts, toothless. The worst they can do is impose a fine, which is not going to make much impression on a man who can spend $2.9 million on a train set.

We are now in the middle of yet another election, this one called to shore up the power base of a Prime Minister who wants extra muscle with which to implement the Brexit of her choice, which presumably is Mr Mercer’s choice as well. Data analysis is still at it. Thomas Borwick, Vote Leave’s chief technology officer, was on the BBC’s The World at One today (26 May), talking blandly about it and its democratic credentials.

The Observer asks whether Mrs May knows “something she isn’t telling us” about all this. If she does, and has the grace to be uneasy about it, she is not the woman to take a stand against a power that is working in her interests.

Goering liked train sets, too. He had one in the attic of his mansion at Karinhall. Presumably it’s to do with control. And being interested in the workings of a complex mechanism.

By the pricking of my thumbs/ Something wicked this way comes. 

1 “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire,” Observer 26/02/17; “The Great British Brexit robbery,” Observer 07/5/17; “Follow the data,” Observer 14/5/17.

2   Cambridge Analytica is now working inside the Pentagon.

Magical thinking

 

“I’ve got my country back,” said the proprietor of the garden shop.

There was no triumph in it, just a quiet satisfaction. Outside, on the pavement, the sun smiled down on his zinnias and verbena. He sat at a small overloaded desk in a narrow space, doing his paperwork. I thought he was probably a pretty good businessman.

I said, “You never lost it.” It was not what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t there to say what I wanted to say. In any case, although I was in his shop by invitation, I was supposed to be out on the pavement with the zinnias.

“I voted to join Europe in 1975,” he said.

“So did I.”

“I voted to join a trading bloc.”

The conversation opened at once into a dozen forking paths, any of which might be taken.

“That isn’t an argument,” I said, “for leaving it when – ”

“All those laws.”

“You mean the regulations?”

“Over-ruling our Government. Telling us what to do.”

“The regulations are protective,” I said. I thought of the list I’d made a few weeks previously for a blog post: if I’d had it with me, I would have placed it under his nose. Clean air, workplace rights, safety of roll-on roll-off ferries, axle weight of lorries, standards for vehicle brakes and lighting, lead-free petrol, food safety, chemical pollution, consumer protection, climate change… it’s quite a list. It’s probably just as well I didn’t have it with me.

“Unelected officials,” he said.

Brexit becomes a labyrinth at the drop of a hat.

“Can you tell me,” I asked him, “one thing those regulations stopped you doing that you wanted to do?”

He couldn’t. He produced something nonsensical about square bananas. He knew it was nonsensical and he was smiling.

I asked him what else, given that square bananas were a fantasy of Boris Johnson’s.

He still couldn’t think of anything else but it didn’t matter. He was very pleased that we could make our own trade deals now. We would do it within two years. There was no problem: countries would be happy to sign up with us.

“People who negotiate trade deals,” I said, “say that it will take ten years. Minimum.”

“No, no, no.” He waved it away.

I referred to the considerably more than two years it had taken Greenland to negotiate a deal that only concerned fish.

He didn’t want to talk about deals with the EU. He put aside his sheaf of papers and became lyrical. “Australia. New Zealand. The Commonwealth we abandoned!”

“Yes,” I said.

“For years they fed and clothed us. We ditched them so we could get into Europe.”

It was true. Europe was on the doorstep and we had needed a market close to home. We could have behaved better. I admitted as much.

He wasn’t interested in the reasons for that decision or how it could have been better managed. He was suddenly an idealist. A romantic. It lies just under the skin of many Leavers.

I was quite enjoying the conversation but I had been in there too long. I thanked him for his time and courtesy, and left the shop.

I returned to my post between the Britain for Europe stall and the zinnias. On the stall, the pile of blue and yellow badges had diminished and the signatures on the sign-up sheets for supporters had multiplied. That was encouraging. A woman with a girl of about ten came by; the girl was her niece and had a French mother. The girl smiled proudly. I gave her a badge saying “EU citizen.”

An Iranian engineer who had lived in Britain for 30 years stopped and said he thought what we were doing on the pavement was honourable. I was struck by this word, which is now hardly ever uttered. He said the way politics were discussed here reminded him of Iran. He thought it was good to feel strongly about politics, but not good to feel too strongly.

Five Leavers in t-shirts went by in a bunch and said they were absolutely fine with Brexit, thank you. A middle-aged German, resident here for most of her life, was very unhappy with it. An elderly lady who had recently moved to the area from London confessed to extreme confusion about who was standing where and for what in which election, and a frail-looking pair, also rather elderly, gazed at the blue ground of the EU flag and said in fright, “It’s not the Conservatives, is it?”

It was shortly after this that an enraged woman hurtled out of a nearby café and said she hoped “that flag” would not be on display for much longer.

I thought, that evening, that Theresa May should leave her minders behind and get out on to the pavements. She might then stop pontificating about how the country is coming together and realise that there is a chasm running down the centre of it, through every city and down every street.

How will this chasm be bridged? It is not even a chasm. Quite literally, Leavers and Remainers do not inhabit the same mental universe. I had not dented the certainty of the garden shop proprietor, not because it was based on facts I had been unable to challenge, but precisely because it was based on nothing but itself. It moved seamlessly in a circle from one focus to the next, each blending into the succeeding one, division and therefore analysis being impossible because it was all the same thing.

I am not talking about his intelligence – he was certainly not a stupid man – but the way he was using it. He was employing magical thinking. In magical thinking, everything is connected. Any part invokes, and evokes, the whole. To deny any part should therefore be to threaten the whole, but denial can never succeed because its target is constantly shifting – from country to sovereignty to accountability to bananas to loyalty towards old friends. For the same reason, a discredited part can be simply dropped, as was the £350 million for the NHS by the Vote Leave campaign, and the waters close over it at once.

Arguments in favour of Brexit are always magical thinking. This is why it is impossible to convince a true Leaver by rational arguments. Magical thinking is not only impervious to both logic and evidence, it is very attractive. It is magical. To convince a magical thinker by means of evidence, you need to pile up the evidence so high it starts to block out the sun. (This will, of course, eventually happen.)

Because the same idea runs all though it, Leavers don’t need to think: everything is there already, as in a revelation. They do not see at all what Remainers see: a complex web in which each element must be separated out and the arguments appropriate to it marshalled. The part is the whole and the whole is the part. There is no thread to follow through the labyrinth, only the divine light that bathes the hills. If they are nice enough, they will feel sorry for us.

This has produced two belief systems that annihilate each other like matter and anti-matter. What one group regards as patriotism is what the other regards as a complete betrayal of country. What to one group is a cause for pride is to the other the cause of deepest shame.

These are not positions between which a bridge can be built. They are positions which, on one side or the other, can only be abandoned in hopeless defeat or held for a lifetime.

I find myself thinking of the American Civil War.

And, yes, it is like that. What I wanted to say, when the garden shop proprietor told me that he had got his country back, was, “And I’ve lost mine.”

 

 

 

 

They need us more

 

Let’s talk figures. It’s in the national interest.

Our exports to the EU comprise roughly 44% of our total exports. The EU’s exports to Britain comprise roughly 16% of the EU’s total exports.

This is rather dreary so let’s talk about cakes. The Government likes cakes. So, there are two cakes. One has a piece cut out of it that’s just less than half the cake. The other has a piece cut out of it that is about one-sixth.

Now perform an imaginative feat and make the second cake much bigger. So big that the piece that is cut out of it is slightly larger than the hefty piece cut out of the first cake.

You have not, of course, changed the proportion that is cut out of the second cake. It’s still about a sixth. It’s bigger than the piece cut out of the first cake because the cake is bigger.

Because our exports to the EU total £240 billion and the EU’s exports to Britain total £290 billion (2016 figures), the Government would like us to think that the EU exports more to us than we do to them (true in a limited sense), and therefore that they need us, as an export market, more than we need them (completely untrue). And I am sorry to tax the patience of my readers, who I am sure understand the whole thing perfectly, with this business about cakes, but the population as a whole does not understand it perfectly and the Government has taken good care that it shouldn’t.

Exports were top of the alternative-truth soundbites during the referendum campaign and now, with the general election, they’re back. The highest-ranking Government apparatchik to parrot “they need us more” recently has been David Davis, in an interview with John Humphrys on Today (May 3). Davis, for all his apparent confidence, said nothing in the course of ten minutes and sounded nervous. Davis often does sound nervous, if you listen carefully, but it’s getting worse. He laughs too much. He fiddles with his glasses too much. He knows where it’s all going, and that it will take him with it. Meanwhile he is stuck in the role of the fall guy who hasn’t yet fallen, and he had, at all costs, to stop John Humphrys from getting at the truth about those exports.

He succeeded. He is not ex-SAS for nothing. It was radio so I was unable to see exactly what he was doing to Humphrys, whose voice at one point became strangely muffled, but by the end of the exchange the truth had not emerged. We had not got beyond the money, which isn’t relevant, to the proportion, which is.

I volunteer at a pro-Europe stall sometimes; if people stop, I talk to them. Some of them know exactly what the Government is doing with the trade figures, but those who don’t have a tendency to back away if I try to explain it. It is not my lack of charm or the fear of a parking ticket. They don’t like figures. Moreover, when someone starts to dispute figures for a political purpose, they are instantly suspicious, which is entirely reasonable. However, I’m not the one who is being tricky: it’s the Government which is being tricky. And the trick works.

The £240 billion/£290 billion fabrication is crucial to the Government’s claim that we have a strong hand in the negotiations with the EU, and it has to maintain that claim in order to keep on side the constituency that voted Leave. The Land of Leave has already been destabilised by tremors of doubt. How will the NHS manage if nurses stop coming here from abroad? Why are we being told that immigration might not fall? Does it matter that the banks are relocating? Will the farmers get their subsidies?

These voters have to be reassured. This is no time to rewrite the banners of last summer’s campaign. The fiction that the EU needs us more than we need it becomes, in this context, both a claim that cannot be abandoned, because too many have been abandoned already, and a huge comfort blanket that smothers all worries. There may be bumps ahead but we can sort everything out. Theresa May holds a strong hand. They don’t want us to go. Look at all the German cars we buy!

For some time, truths have been emerging that make it impossible to keep this muddled fantasy intact. Now, the EU has openly called it a fantasy. In any case, we are nearing the point where May can’t control the flow of information in this country because information will be flying all over the place in Europe. This must be her worst nightmare. She pleaded with Juncker to keep the talks secret and he rightly said they could not be. If he had not been such a gentleman he would have laughed in her face. How could she possibly have expected to keep them secret? Europe has a free press, even if we don’t. Soon everyone will know how complex and difficult the negotiations are going to be and how few cards the Government really holds. (Only one, actually: the luckless EU nationals.)

Belatedly, May has started to prepare the country for this. She has put a spin on it that she hopes will serve her well. The talks are going to be tough but that is the EU’s fault: it is “lining up against us.” This puerile rubbish goes down well at the Daily Mail and can readily be dressed up in the Union Jack. And that is very important because there is an election campaign going on.

This election is about Brexit, the Prime Minister says (it isn’t). There is division at Westminster (there isn’t: the Article 50 Bill went through with no amendments). She needs a stronger mandate in order to make best use of the strong negotiating hand she has. This is clever but not clever enough. Even Theresa May cannot pretend simultaneously that negotiations are going to be easy and difficult; more to the point, the size of her majority in Parliament will make not the slightest difference to the negotiations, and Brussels has several times said this, as well. She is confusing negotiation with hand-to-hand combat, which doesn’t bode well.

No matter: the more Brussels protests at her ridiculous assertions the better, because Brussels has been cast as the villain and every counter-assertion it makes will translate into votes for her. To make sure this continues to happen, she is losing no opportunity to provoke the leaders of the EU. If they seek to clarify something, she snarls. If they issue a quiet rebuke, she bares her teeth. It is all going splendidly.

She does not seem to be aware that she is alienating the only people who can help her. The negotiations really will be difficult, and she will be desperately in need of wise friends. The EU has been remarkably patient. It won’t be patient for ever, and it has indicated that, too.

Perhaps she thinks her luck – “a lucky astuteness” in Machiavelli’s apt phrase1 – will come to her aid. Or perhaps she doesn’t care. The whole edifice, being built of lies on a foundation of sand, is going to crumble. However, even that doesn’t matter very much, as long as it falls down after the election.

Beyond that, she has no plan. Win a big majority by declaring war on Brussels, clobber Corbyn because dissent of any kind is intolerable, and ride out the storm. She must know there will be one. If we crash out of the EU, an outcome she is doing nothing to prevent,  there will be a storm such as we have not seen for decades. That is what the hoped-for majority is really for. Not for dealing with Europe, but for dealing with us.

For what purpose, finally? What purpose could there be? The good of the country has already been sacrificed on the altar of her ambition. The purpose can only be her own survival as Prime Minister. The ship may sink, but she is the Vicar’s Daughter and she knows she will come through.

 

1  The Prince, IX, referring to the quality a private citizen needs in order to become ruler “by the favour of his fellow citizens.”

 

Put it on the bonfire

 

In Ben Elton’s 1989 novel Stark,  a consortium of the super-rich are planning to escape to another planet from the devastation they have caused on this one. The plan, naturally, has to be kept secret, or they and their bespoke spaceship will be torn apart by the enraged populace whom they have robbed of a habitable home.

This story resurfaces in my mind whenever there is news of a privately-funded initiative to explore space. It resurfaces when there is particularly dire news about the environment.

It resurfaced last week when the Government lost its attempt in the high court to keep its plans to tackle air pollution under wraps until June. The Government was ordered in November to provide these plans by April 24. It appealed against the order with only hours remaining before the deadline. Its grounds were that the policy would be controversial and should be withheld   until after the general election in case its publication breached “purdah,” the pre-election period in which politically contentious announcements should not be made by local or central government.

Mr Justice Garnham said that purdah was not a principle in law, the Government should not try to hide behind it, that its failure to comply with directives and regulations constituted a significant threat to public health and it must publish its draft plan on 9 May. Then it must comply with his original order of November and release its final policy by July 31.

Three cheers for the judge, I thought. But who is winning? The Government has been refusing to publish its plans for tackling air pollution for seven years.

Air pollution is believed to be responsible, according to Defra’s own figures, for 40,000 premature deaths per year, of which nitrogen dioxide from diesel traffic causes 23,500. According to a Labour party analysis, 59% of the population lives in towns and cities where nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution is above legal limits. Asthma and cardiovascular disease are among the effects. Children are particularly vulnerable. The cost to the NHS is in the region of £6.6 billion per year.

All the time it is prevaricating, inventing excuses and consulting lawyers, the death toll continues. NO2 pollution costs 64 deaths per day (Government figures). How many lives might have been saved if Andrea Leadsom had decided to do her job and publish that draft plan in, say, December?

I suspect there was no draft plan until the judge’s ruling.  They will be doing it now quickly on the back of an election leaflet. However, I don’t think that is the real reason for its non-appearance. I think for the past six months Andrea Leadsom, instead of talking to health professionals, has been talking to motor manufacturers.

To allege that public servants are in fact working against the public should be a very serious matter. I should be afraid of a writ, or something of the sort.  I am not, because everyone knows that it happens. If the Government has failed for seven years to make plans for cleaning up the air we breathe, it can only be that it doesn’t want to make such plans. And that can only be because it cannot resist the pressure put on it by groups in whose interests such plans are not. It is a familiar story.

But this is the air we breathe!

Hence, presumably, the acerbity of Mr Justice Garnham’s ruling. The Government will now, belatedly, comply. But if it has taken seven years to get the British Government to attend to our air, what can we expect in future? And to whom can we look? The courts, it’s to be hoped, will continue to defend our rights. But on the basis of what law?

The regulation which the Government is required to implement is an EU regulation. It is part of EU Directive 2008/50/EC that sets air quality limits for all member countries. The level for NO2 was set in 2010 and the UK has been in breach of it ever since.

The EU has regulations and directives on dozens of issues from anti-competitive behaviour to workers’ rights, from clean air and consumer protection to the safety of shipping and the protection of birds. It concerns itself with waste disposal, chemical pollution, the control of scientific experiments on animals and standards for windscreens. Over the years these regulations have saved and improved many lives, and made many enemies.

There are people in Britain who are intent on destroying these regulations. This requires that the country leave the European Union.

It took me a while to accept that this was what lay behind the drive for hard Brexit. When I first came across the idea I was shocked: I felt that it ascribed to certain unnamed individuals a depth of cynicism that was barely credible. Yet it made sense when nothing else did. What, I had often wondered, was in it  for the rabid Brexiteers, if they were not so stupid as to believe their own propaganda?

Well, they are now telling us openly what’s in it: a low-tax, low-regulation economy. They think they are speaking to initiates and will not be understood by people who voted Leave believing they were voting against Spanish trawlers. Fortunately we have among us people who will decode the signal. Here is A.C. Grayling:

“They want to make it [an]… economy where they and they alone can flourish. Such an economy will not have the resources for the NHS, a good state education system, a welfare net or environmental protection. It will strip away consumer and employee rights… Brexiters have stated in public their intention to make a “bonfire of regulations” to make money-making easier. And that is the key. It will make things easy only for money – money and nothing else.

“The only people who do not need an NHS because they have private medical insurance, the only people who do not need a state education system because their children go to private schools, the only people who will never need a welfare net because they are too rich to care, the only people who do not need clean city air and clean beaches in the UK because they have country houses and take their holidays abroad, are the rich.” (The New European, April 28-May 4, p. 15).

It explains everything, doesn’t it? The rejection of all forms of soft Brexit, the refusal to offer assurance to EU nationals living in Britain, the wilful provocation of European institutions. Theresa May’s crass insistence at a Downing Street dinner on concessions she had been repeatedly told she could not have; since then, open belligerence towards the EU. Taken together, all these must result in an impasse in the negotiations, leading to Britain’s unceremonious exit from the EU. At the mercy of the bandits who have brought this about.

What, I wonder, will the bandits do when they get their wish and then the bottom falls out of that plan as well? Greed, by definition, has no limits. But a swindle cannot go on for ever, and a looter will in time run out of loot. They could move on to the rest of the planet, of course, where their counterparts will be doing the same thing. But even the planet…

Yes.

The thing is, Mars and all those places aren’t ready. They should have started planning earlier.  And they aren’t very hardy, those people, in all probability. They are used to air-conditioning and having their martinis mixed. They aren’t going to do well in a place that has no atmosphere and where the lighting is all artificial and everything tastes funny and they can’t go outside.

But there is hope for them. It’s to be found on another page of The New European  (“Going Underground”, by Frank Heinz Diebel). The fashion for converting underground Cold War-era bunkers into survivalist refuges has spread to Europe from the USA, catering to a moneyed clientele worried about social unrest as well as dioxin, climate change and polluted rivers. A 2,500 sq ft apartment at Europa One in Germany comes with access to a wine cellar, restaurants, bakery, a hospital and a zoo. (I have no information on the zoo.) Applicants will be invited – or not – following an interview. The Oppidum in the Czech Republic offers a swimming pool and underground garden.

There appears to be something along these lines at Chislehurst, but it sounds a bit of a muddle. Herr Diebel says it’s not a bunker any more. Does this mean it isn’t underground? If not, there doesn’t seem to be much point. Fleeing Brexiters would have to get themselves into one of the European ones, which might be awkward.