ISMISM New concepts for the Nineties No. 7: Clausefourphobia

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The new Oxbridge psychomedical dictionary gives two definitions of Clausefourphobia.

1. Clausefourphobia: a morbid fear of confined political spaces. Applies only to those active in the world of politics. The word derives in part from the Latin (claustrum: an enclosed space), in part from the British Labour Party (four: the fourth and least comprehensible part of a party constitution) and in part from the Greek (phobos: deep fear).

The term now denotes a denial of the past, caused by a pathological inability to reinvent oneself. So, for instance, "Margaret who?" might indicate the classic symptoms of a Conservative Clausefourphobic. "Robert Maclennan, didn't he play Dr Snoddie in the remake of Dr Finlay?" from a Liberal Democrat, on the other hand, is a healthy sign.

Originally the condition was discovered in leading members of the Labour Party in the late Eighties and mid-Nineties. It was observed that these sufferers felt substantial discomfort that their freedom of manoeuvre was constrained (patients would describe the feeling as "caught in the Webbs"). Psychological worries would become embarrassingly physical, with Labour Clausefourphobes complaining of the impossibility of maintaining an election.

In the early days of this condition's diagnosis, some doctors would do little more than advise a change of scenery, party and the wearing of less constricting underwear. Others told patients "it was all in the mind" or, even less enlightened, that their worries were irrational (the "who reads the bloody constitution anyway?" school). Their advice was to sit a little closer to Tony Benn every day and see if the feeling would diminish.

More recently we have seen the development of a new breed of specialist psychopoliticians, who prefer surgery as a response, involving the excision of those parts of the body politic that cause concern. Such surgery, usually performed at night, is described with black humour by those wielding the scalpels as "debate". Medically, "debate" has helped cure some Labour Clausefourphobia, but has also stimulated:

Agoraphobia: the fear of wide open ideological spaces. In particular an aversion to market places (Greek: agora, market-place). Sufferers are people who cannot go out at night, unless there is a small, smoky room with several other agoraphobes in it to offer solidarity and affirmation (see also Abbott, Diane; Cash, William; Galloway, George and any combination of Party, Tendency, Socialist, Worker's, Europe and Democratic). Patients suffer terrible delusions that "old ways are best" and mentally transform appalling defeats into glorious victories. Agoraphobes also have difficulties with elections - but don't notice.

or: 2. Clausefourphobia (see top): The second meaning is more widely based and can affect anybody who reads broadsheet newspapers. A feeling of inescapable bewilderment at the actions and priorities of the political class (see Labour and ownership, Conservatives and Europe etc). Characterised by an enormous sense of relief when "debates" are concluded.

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