There's this John inside who's refusing to come out

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The Independent Online
The siege of Downing Street has lasted nearly a year, and shows no sign of ending. Inside that ordinary-looking house at No 10, the ordinary-looking man who believes he is the British Prime Minister and has a mission to rule the country, still holds out against all shows of force, all blandishments, all threats and all appeals to reason.

It is difficult to know exactly what is going on inside there, as the house is guarded closely by police who vet all comings and goings, but it is known that the man is not alone. 'John', as he likes to be known, is surrounded by a group of fanatical 'advisers' who have backed him in every statement and every refusal to give in. Indeed, there seems to be some sort of internal link with the house next door, No 11, where a man known only as 'Norman' appears occasionally at an upstairs window, shouts: 'Everything is coming up roses]', cackles maniacally and vanishes again.

'It's a classic picture of siege mentality,' says Dr Zeb Rugge, a psychologist who specialises in these situations. ' 'John' has convinced himself that he has a divine right to rule the country, and once that is in his head, everything else, no matter how crazy to us, seems to follow logically to him.

'At the moment we are going along with his demands, to keep him non-violent. He demands television time. We give it to him. He demands that we all display cheerfulness about the British economy. So we say, 'Economy's looking good, then, John]', and it seems to quieten him down, although it flies in the face of all reason. He says we should condemn more and understand less, and we all tell him he's right, although we don't have the faintest idea what he's on about.

'He also insists on issuing lots of demands which he calls, rather strangely, citizens' charters. Now, nobody in Britain can issue citizens' charters. None of us is a citizen, for a start. We are all subjects, while the monarchy exists. And these 'charters' are lists of well-nigh meaningless, nearly unenforceable guidelines which wouldn't change people's lives in the slightest. But these 'charters' are obviously very close to his heart, so we have to pretend that they make sense in case he does something more drastic.'

What does he say? What does he seem to believe in?

'In these cases,' says Dr Rugge, 'you can't deduce a lot from what a man says. It's usually confusing and self-contradictory. For instance, when he started 'ruling' the country, he said it was very important not to tax domestic fuel. The other day he came out and said he was sorry but he was going to tax domestic fuel.

'He said it was very important to have a rail link from London to the Channel tunnel, but you just ask him about it, and you find he has no idea where it is going or who is going to pay for it. One moment he's in the ERM, one moment he's out. It's a maze of inconsistencies.'

The men inside 10 Downing Street with 'John' (there seem to be very few women in there) are known to be fanatical followers of his. 'Ken', 'John', 'Michael', 'Peter' (members of the cult are usually known by their simple first names) and the others all conform to the picture of middle- aged under-achievers who are attaching themselves to what they fancy is a power base.

Even those who have escaped from the cult's HQ are still fanatical. For instance, 'Chris', who is safely in Hong Kong, retains utter faith in his 'leader', and even believes that with his powers he can conquer China single-handed. David, who resigned from the cult before Christmas because of 'girl' troubles, still believes everything that 'John' says.

'It's weird,' says Dr Rugge. 'It flies in the face of all reason, yet they persist in believing. I really don't know how long this siege can go on, but it could be a very long time. Oh, well, better look on the bright side. Imagine what it would be like if 'John' and his buddies really were running the country.'