Positive Energy Conference

Findhorn resident Mattie Porte shares information about the current conference on positive energy at

This is one of my favourite times to be here as a member of staff of the Findhorn Foundation. It's a time when our whole community pulls together, everyone contributing their skills and resources and talents to ensure our guests have a deep and meaningful experience. It's also a time when our community is enriched and enlivened by the co-mingling of thoughts and ideas and creative expression of both fellow community residents and guests alike.

It's my job to do the online reporting for our conferences so I have a bird's-eye view of what happens on stage and behind the scenes. Each day we bring reports of events and presentations to the Foundation's website. There's also a discussion forum for people to engage from afar.

This week-long conference has been in the making for 15 months, bringing together some of the world's leading thinkers, activists and practitioners to explore creative community responses to peak oil and climate change. And what better place to do so than right here in the heart of the Findhorn community itself.

Among the presenters are:

Joanna Macy, a teacher and author, is the creator of the Work That Reconnects. Drawing from Buddhist practices, systems theory, and love for life, her workshops empower environmental and social activists worldwide. Her many books include Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives Our World; World As Lover, World As Self; Widening Circles, A Memoir; and translations of Rilke's poetry.

Dorothy Maclean is a co-founder of the Findhorn Foundation and community. She continues to dedicate her life to teaching and supporting others to make their own inner connection to God and to nature's intelligence. Described as a true planetary citizen, she has recently released a new book, Come Closer: Messages from the God Within. Dorothy is our keynote speaker.

Richard Heinberg is one of the world’s foremost peak oil educators. He is a Research Fellow of Post Carbon Institute, a member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and a core faculty member of New College of California where he teaches a programme on Culture, Ecology and Sustainable Community. He is the author of seven books including The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies.

Richard Olivier is Artistic Director of Olivier Mythodrama, a unique leadership development consultancy. He was a leading theatre director for 10 years. His work is at the leading edge of bringing theatre into the development of authentic leadership. Richard is the founder of Mythodrama — a new form of experiential learning which combines great stories with psychological insights, creative exercises and organisational development techniques.

Megan Quinn is the Outreach Director of Community Service, Inc. She served as Master of Ceremonies for the first, second, and third US conferences on Peak Oil and Community Solutions in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and at the Peak Oil and Environment conference in Washington DC in May 2006. Megan has a degree in Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She co-wrote and co-produced her organisation's documentary, "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil."

Rob Hopkins is founder of Transition Town Totnes, the first transition town project in the UK. Transition Towns are an emerging approach to enabling towns to prepare for peak oil and climate change and act as catalysts for the community to explore how the end of the age of cheap oil will affect them. They are based on the simple assertion that life beyond cheap oil and gas could be preferable to the present, but only if we engage in designing this transition with sufficient creativity and imagination.

The week has begun by encouraging participants to open to their creativity, to their passion. Joanna Macy is here to lead a two-day exploration of deep ecology while Richard Olivier will lead a one-day workshop on Green Leadership using the themes in Shakespeare's As You Like It. We then transition in the second half of the week to look at the many positive responses that are already emerging from communities around the world.

The last two days of the conference is a mini-event, From Crisis to Opportunity, in which we will be welcoming local members of the Moray community here in Scotland, along with Richard Lochhead, a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP).

Unlike some conferences where the presenter speaks and the audience is simply the audience, this is different in that it is largely experiential. This conference requires pure presence, full participation, the courage to see what we've done to the world, and an unflinching dedication to the healing of the planet for future generations to come. In her opening remarks on day one, conference host Margot Henderson said, "We are calling for a great turning — a monumental moment of grace." She then asked participants to consider the question, "What am I standing for? As we stand here together, what am I standing for at this time upon the earth?"

Keynote speaker, Dorothy Maclean, reminded us that we are nature and we can use our minds to connect or disconnect. We have freewill, a choice about our fate. Joanna Macy echoed this and encouraged us to find the solidarity that is our birthright — to feel deep connection — and to dedicate our work this week to shedding our fear. This will help us take ourselves seriously as part of the self-healing of our world. Joanna believes that Findhorn is the perfect place to do this work at this time because we are unafraid of deep feeling.

The energy of the sessions, thus far, has run deep and there is a genuine desire among the collective to go boldly forth toward what Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning or others call the Ecological or Sustainability Revolution. But the exploration has really only just begun....

For more information about the Positive Energy Conference please visit the Findhorn website.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories