Birmingham Salon

Good Tourist, Bad Tourist - From "Gringo Trails" to All Inclusive Bans

Thursday 11th February 2016

7.30 pm at The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham

Uppermost on the minds of many planning their 2016 holidays is likely to be the issue of security, given the blowing up of a plane of Russian tourists from Egyptian resort Sharm El-Sheikh and the shootings of British tourists on a Tunisian beach in 2015.  But should we be considering other things?  For a long time the package or all-inclusive holiday maker has been derided for prioritising familiarity and predictable routine, and not wanting to get too culturally involved in the place they were visiting. That has continued with criticism from the likes of Greek Prime Minister Alexander Tsirpas who proposed a ban on all-inclusive packages because their customers don’t leave resorts frequently enough to benefit the local economy.  

The independent backpacker used to be held as morally superior to the package tourist, seeking different and authentic experiences, culturally engaged and genuinely interested in where they are visiting. But the documentary film "Gringo Trails" now points out that many of the places they favour have been subject to the same environmental degradation and overcrowding as the traditional all-inclusive resorts.

So who is the right kind of tourist these days?  Is it the volunteer or the tourist who makes the most sustainable and environmentally friendly holiday choices? And as a quarter of Brits now choose not to have a holiday at all, are the ethics of how best to holiday putting people off?


Dr Chris Stone - Manchester Metropolitan University.  With a background in environmental planning and sustainability, Chris Stone has been teaching and researching tourism development and management in higher education for 25 years and has been consulted by industry and governments. 

Dr Jim Butcher - Canterbury Christ Church University.  Jim Butcher is the co-author of "Volunteer Tourism: the lifestyle politics of international development" and author of "The Moralisation of Tourism" and writes a blog on the politics of tourism.

Chair: Rosie Cuckston



Merry Christmas and a happy New Year

Birmingham Salon wishes you a merry Christmas and happy New Year.

In 2016 we are planning debates on whether you can be the right kind of tourist, on the anniversary of the Irish Easter rising and what it says about our attitudes to struggles for independence today, and if there's such a thing as dying well, among others.

Dates for next year's Salons are:

12th February
14th April
9th June
22nd September
10th November

We will also continue with our Salon reading group reading books on Europe in relation to the Institute of Ideas Academy 2016 and the referendum on EU membership.

We look forward to seeing you in 2016.

The Productivity Puzzle: What is Wrong with the British Economy?

Thursday 26th November 2015, at 7.30pm.
The Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN

The Bank of England reported recently that output per worker has been exceptionally weak since the downturn. And in July, commentators were shocked to discover that French workers, with their enviable work-life balance, are more productive than their British counterparts.   

The West Midlands has suffered devastating losses in its manufacturing sector in recent decades. So was it the 2008 global meltdown that slowed down productivity, or does the problem predate that?

We should ask whether the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is doing something usefully innovative that we can emulate. Or whether, in fact, the focus on cities like Manchester is more symptomatic of a broader crisis of ideas in central government, a lack of political will to tackle the underlying problems of our economy, a desperate attempt to find a painless model of success.

Jeremy Corbyn has proposed infrastructure as a potential solution to economic decay, and he is far from alone in that. But to what extent is the state responsible for growth anyway?

It has become a truism that manufacturers are clinging to a ‘make do and mend’ approach to plant and equipment. Maybe this is where the fundamental problem lies. Without modernising the productive base, is the UK, the world’s industrial birthplace, condemned to perpetual stagnation, enjoying only intermittent and fragile growth spikes?

At a time when GDP stands at 4.5% above its pre-crisis peak and unemployment continues to fall, productivity is nonetheless a problem that resonates widely, and politicians are discussing it openly, after decades of denial.

What difference would increased economic productivity make to our lives?


Phil Mullan
An economist and business manager, Phil Mullan is author of The Imaginary Time Bomb: Why an Ageing Population is not a Social Problem (IB Tauris, 2000). He is currently researching the economic features of decay and resilience in the Western world, and writing a book entitled Getting Back Our Mojo. In business, he is director of Epping Consulting, following eight years in senior management roles with EasyNet Global Services and Cybercafé Ltd.

Craig Chapman
Senior Academic for Research in the School of Engineering, Design and Manufacturing Systems, Craig Chapman has worked in Europe, USA and the UK, in a range of senior business and design roles. In academia, Craig’s career has taken him from Senior Research Fellow, Head of the Knowledge Based Product Development Lab at Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick to Head of the Knowledge Based Engineering Lab and Senior Academic for Research at Birmingham City University.

The debate is produced and chaired by Sarah Bartlett.

Recommended Readings

Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation. HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2015
The UK productivity puzzle. Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, Quarter 2, 2014.


No more Peaky Blinders? In 2015 violent crime is not inevitable

Tuesday 8th September 2015, at 7.00pm
Birmingham Medical Institute, 36 Harborne Road, Birmingham, West Midlands B15 3AF

The Home Office’s PREVENT anti-terrorism strategy has been adapted to the area of serious and organised crime. Under this initiative, public services will intervene in cases where individuals are observed to be at risk of perpetrating violent crime, raising concerns about confidentiality and the use of public budgets for information gathering.

Even more problematically, the strategy applies the same measures to individuals who simply have a need that makes them vulnerable to the possibility of perpetrating violent crime. 

Is violent crime inevitable? Surely individuals can make their own choice about whether or not to perpetrate violent crime. Or can they? Maybe the ability to take responsibility for that choice is hindered by a whole range of vulnerability factors that limit their capacity to respond to reason in certain circumstances.

To help unpick this issue, the debate will imagine a number of contemporary Peaky Blinders characters:
Peaky Blinder A knows of few people in his family and social circles who make a lawful and peaceful living.
Peaky Blinder B has financial difficulties.
Peaky Blinder C is dependent on crack cocaine, alcohol and cannabis, experiences psychotic symptoms, and has an anti-social personality disorder.
Peaky Blinder D has limited skills and knowledge to make a living lawfully.

If public servants intervene with any of these Peaky Blinders, can they strengthen or limit choice and responsibility? And would those interventions hold a realistic chance of preventing an act of violent crime?

This debate is a collaboration between Birmingham Salon and the Birmingham Medical Institute.
The debate is chaired by Jonathan Hurlow.


Yvonne Mosquito - Deputy Police Commissioner
Sean Russell - Chief Inspector, and West Midlands Policing Lead for Prevention of Violence and Mental Health
Dr Hanna Pickard - Reader in Philosophy, University of Birmingham
Dr Damien J. Williams - Lecturer in Public Health Sciences, School of Medicine, University of St Andrews

Can a boy grow up to be a woman?

Thursday 11th June, 2015 at 7.30 pm
The Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN

Bruce Jenner, Lana Wachowski and Chelsea Manning all made the news recently by coming out as trans. This wave of high-profile cases prompted feminist campaigner Julie Bindel to condemn the prescription of hormone blockers to prospective trans kids as 'child abuse'. She was widely censured as a result.  

But is Bindel right? Is indulging a child's gender confusion in any way problematic?

Some would argue that individuals who are born and socialised as males can only ever become men.  However hard they try to alter this fundamental reality – with surgery, hormones, and even by looking like a woman – the change will only be illusory. They are still men in essence.  

Does gender have an essence?

Chrissie Daz will be in conversation with Helene Guldberg. Chrissie Daz is a cabaret performer and writer who is currently writing a book about gender.  Helene Guldberg is an associate lecturer in child development and author of "Reclaiming Childhood; Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear" and "Just another ape"
The story of two transgender children:

The rise of the 'third gender':

Bruce Jenner is not a woman. He is a sick and delusional man:

No, Bradley Manning, you are not a woman:

Apathy in the UK: does the political disengagement of young people threaten the future of democracy?

7.30pm. Thursday 23rd April 2015 at at The Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN
Recent UK research reveals young people to be politically disengaged, fatalistic and pessimistic about politics, and placing little faith in politicians. All this makes them less likely to vote. They believe their elected representatives should be more diverse and accessible, less stuffy in their appearance, and reaching out to them on issues they can relate to.

With better education about politics in schools, young people say, they might make more informed choices at the ballot box and get more involved in political life.  However they also think that their generation does politics differently, through such means as petitions and boycotts.

Voter turnout is falling right across the population, but older people are still more likely to vote than the young.  What does this mean for the future of democracy? With campaigns to encourage young voter registration, proposals for youth manifestos and assemblies, and plans for social media outreach among the political parties, are we in danger of seeing everything all our political problems through the eyes of the young?

Matt Henn is Professor of Social Research within the Division of Politics and International Relations at Nottingham Trent University.  He has researched extensively on the subject of young people and politics and contributed to Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission: Young People and Politics (Political Studies Association 2014) and Democracy and Protest (Merlin Press, 2003).

Dr Jennie Bristow is an associate of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent. She is author of Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict (Palgrave, May 2015) and Standing up to Supernanny (Imprint Academic 2009). She is also co-author of Parenting Culture Studies (Palgrave 2014) and Licensed to Hug (Civitas 2010).

Candice Holdsworth is founder and editor of Imagine Athena. Candice has an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics, and can usually be found discussing ideas and culture. Her writings also feature on Thought Leader and On Netflix Now .

The salon is produced and chaired by Rosamund Cuckston.

Recommended Readings
Twenty somethings, call off the generational jihad


Has Physics Destroyed Philosophy?

7.30pm. Thursday January 29th 2015 at The Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, Birmingham B1 1BN.

Philosophy is dead, Stephen Hawking argues. It has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. 

So Raymond Tallis relates in his essay Should we just shut up and calculate? Does Physics need Philosophy?At Birmingham Salon, Tallis will explore the gulf separating science and philosophy – the contrast between the world as we experience it and its representation in the physical sciences. 

It was not always this way. Tallis is at pains to point out that in ancient times, the philosopher and the physicist were often one and the same. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here” was reputedly inscribed at the entrance of Plato’s Academy. From the 16th century scientific revolution onwards, however, quantitative and empirical approaches progressively displaced ‘armchair speculations’. While Philosophy came to a standstill – or seemed to – science made spectacular advances that have transformed human lives. 

So what’s the problem?
Our daily lived experience and scientific theory have parted company, Tallis says, and this is especially noticeable in relation to time. The Special Theory of Relativity sounded the death knell for ‘tensed time’ with its clearly delineated notions of past, present and future. And yet this is a reality that underpins the lives of everyone, including physicists. Einstein himself was troubled by the disappearance of the ‘now’ and its meaninglessness in physics. That the theory of relativity cannot accommodate our lived experience and the contrast between the knowable past and the unknowable future ought to concern us all, argues Tallis.

At the Birmingham Salon, Tallis will make the case for a philosophical approach to complement physics  in reconciling scientific discovery with the everyday reality.

About Raymond Tallis

Professor Raymond Tallis is a philosopher, poet, novelist and cultural critic and was until recently a physician and clinical scientist. In autumn 2009 he was listed by the Economist'sIntelligent Life Magazineas one of the top living polymaths in the world.

Recommended Reading

Philosophy isn't dead yet. Raymond Tallis in The Guardian, 27 May 2013

Should we just shut up and calculate? Does Physics need Philosophy? In: Tallis, Raymond. Reflections of a metaphysical flâneur and other essays, 2013 

Mistaking Mathematics for Reality  In: Tallis Raymond. EpimetheanImaginings: Philosophical and other meditations on every day light, 2014.

The International Health Service: Will migration heal the nation?

7.30pm. Friday 9th January 2015, at Birmingham Medical Institute, 36 Harborne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 3AF

Does migration keep the NHS healthy or is it breaking the bank?

In the year ending March 2014, 243,000 people migrated into the UK. As an organisation with almost two million employees, it is reasonable to expect that some of these people will work in the NHS.
UKIPs Head of Policy, Tim Aker, on the other hand, has argued that open borders policies turned (the NHS) into an international health service, linking migration to two billion pounds of NHS expenditure.

Efficiency savingsseem to have gained popularity as an effective treatment for the long term health of the NHS ever since former NHS Chief Executive Sir David Nicholson set his challenge to save £20 billion by 2015. The Health Minister, Lord Howe, has launched plans to extend NHS charges to migrants to stop the abuse of our NHS. The Department of Health claimed that these measures could recover £500 million.

An alternative view was put forward by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. On Radio Fours Any Questions, he named and praised the Romanian social worker who helped his father when he was seriously unwell. Like the former President of the Royal College of GPs, Clare Gerada, he noted that you are more likely to meet an immigrant working as a doctor than sitting in the waiting room. Bring them on, he went on to say.


Professor George Tadros: Consultant in old age liaison psychiatry and a clinical lead for the pioneering Rapid Assessment, Interface and Discharge (RAID) service based at City Hospital in Winson Green.

Gisela Stuart:  Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston since 1997, and health minister under Tony Blairs government.

Dr Luke Evans:Freelance GP in practices around the Edgbaston area. Prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Birmingham Edgbaston.

Phil Bennion: Former MEP for the West Midlands, arable farmer and Chairman of the National Farmers' Union in Staffordshire.

Ken McLaughlin: Senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, teaching sociology, social policy, mental health and social work.

The debate is produced and chaired by Jonathan Hurlow, Member of the Birmingham Salon, Forensic Psychiatrist & former Research Officer for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform.

Recommended Readings

Guardian report on study suggesting that temporary migrants cost the NHS up to £2bn a year.

Collier, Paul. Exodus: Immigration and multiculturalism in the 21st century, 2013. Available on Amazonin printed and Kindle editions.


Risky business? Fracking and the future of energy

Thursday 13th November 2014, 7.30 pm at The Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN.

This Birmingham Salon debate is a satellite event of Battle of Ideas 2014.
In the UK, widespread disenchantment with the rising cost of fuel runs alongside fears that the dark days of power cuts are set to return.
How are we to generate the affordable and reliable sources of energy needed? As forecasters point to the doubling of global demand for fuel by 2050 – with the world’s population approaching nine billion – are politicians wrongly prioritising energy efficiency over availability?
In Europe, EU rules have led to the closure of many coal-fired power stations, and due to political prevarication, generating capacity has yet to recover. For the second half of this decade, the gap between peak demand and total power-station capacity will be close to zero. 
Meanwhile, alternative energy solutions are mired in controversy. The Fukushima crisis of 2011 continues to overshadow the nuclear power industry. Onshore wind farms, biofuels and hydroelectric dams fail to generate consensus in terms of social and environmental impact. 
So what about shale gas? Touted as a low-cost, low-carbon ‘bridge’ from coal to renewables, fracking nevertheless attracts noisy opposition, even at the test drilling stage. Are protesters’ fears valid, or have environmentalists simply united with NIMBY agendas? 
A more radical approach might be to look beyond quick fixes such as shale and wind, towards more innovative solutions. That would sidestep the need to ‘break the earth’ at least. But right now, developments such as nuclear fusion are dismissed as unrealistic, and meanwhile energy supplies remain worryingly tight. 
The real risk might be that a paralysing fear of the unknown prevents us from confronting a challenge that has huge implications for people’s lives.
How can the UK keep the lights on?


Chris Crean, regional campaigns co-ordinator (West Midlands), Friends of the Earth

James Woudhuysen, co-author, Energise! A future for energy innovation


Helen Guldberg, director, spiked; author, Reclaiming Childhood and Just Another Ape

Recommended Readings

Woudhuysen agrees to differ with George Monbiot on the subject of fracking.  

Professor David MacKay discusses land usage to meet energy requirements via different renewable energy routes.

Will Boisvert says we should embrace our high energy planet and refutes claims made by Naomi Klein about the energy solutions in the face of climate change.

US study finds that solar panels produced in China have high production-related pollution levels and carbon footprint.

Series of articles in The Guardian on the precautionary principle, which predicates much discussion on the risks of different types of energy solution.


Forced adoption, fatalities, and failure: what's up with the child protection system?

7.30pm. Thursday 9th October 2014, at The Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, Birmingham B1 1BN.

Speakers for this important debate include John Hemming MP, Chair of Justice for Families.

“The system keeps limping along – its feet bearing the self-inflicted gunshot wounds of trigger-happy policymakers." Professor Sue White, University of Birmingham

The Children and Families Act 2014 is the latest in a barrage of laws centred on the UK’s child protection system. Since the 1989 Children's Act, which established the primacy of child welfare and the importance of preserving home and family links where possible, an astonishing 21 further Acts of Parliament have focused on the protection of children.
So why have we seen such terrible fatalities over the same period?

Professionals point to problems such as performance targets, obsession with data, difficulties in recruiting and training social workers, and a lack of recognition of child protection issues in other professions leading to a failure of agencies to collaborate effectively.

But at the end of the day, the very system set up to monitor cases such as Victoria Climbie, Baby P, and Daniel Pelka, has failed to protect those children.

Recent campaigns highlighting the process of adopting out (forced adoption) children in care have indicated a possible class, disability, and race bias within the child protection system. And yet the Rotherham scandal suggests that it was the unquestioning culture of political correctness across the system that left large numbers of children open to sexual exploitation.

So is the child protection system interfering or incompetent? Is it under-funded, under-valued, over-stretched and over-criticised?  Or is it overbearing and morally compromised to the point that it loses sight of its own principles?

Putting the headlines to one side, what does the system look like when it works well? And are we all to blame for demanding quick fixes, when longer-term solutions that address the full complexity of the issues would be more effective?


John Hemming MP: Member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley and Chair of Justice for Families

Professor Kate Morris: Professor of Social Work and Director of the Centre for Social Work, University of Nottingham

Recommended Readings

Forced Adoptions and Mums on the Run - BBC R4 programme

Professor Kate Morris and others on rethinking the child protection system

Cathy Ashley of the Family Rights Group voices concern about the Children and Families Act 2014

Frank Furedi argues that making reporting of child abuse mandatory will be

The suspicion that social work doesn't work has been reinforced by the Rotherham report