Birmingham Salon

You, Me, and the EU – Should We Stay or Go?

Wednesday 15th June, 7.30 pm 
at The Victoria, 46 John Bright Street,  Birmingham

In the run-up to the EU referendum, both sides have played up the hazards of leaving or staying, leading to a depressing and fearful atmosphere. Competing lists of professionals or chief executives in favour of either side add noise rather than illumination.

The two sides in the referendum don’t divide neatly along party political lines. This means many of us voting either way will be in the company of those we wouldn’t normally look to for leadership. Those unsure of how to vote might well have felt  patronised by the £9 million leaflet when they wanted information rather than persuasion. 

Certainly, as we’ve been members of the EU for so long, the prospect of it not being a major part of our lives is unsettling. Neither the UK economy nor that of the Eurozone is performing well at the moment. How it will be affected if we leave or stay is difficult to call. Jeremy Corbyn suggests leaving will lead to a bonfire of workers’ rights. But others on the left have argued that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is just as big a threat.

For those who want to leave, the idea of remaining within a structure that operates on increasingly supranational lines is disturbing.  If the EU is so bad for sovereignty and democracy, our longstanding membership may have made us somewhat confused in our thinking about these things. For instance, does being in favour of UK sovereignty make you a pull-up-the-drawbridge nationalist leaving refugees to die in the sea? Can we make the EU more democratic by staying in?


Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green - to be confirmed depending on House of Commons business

Dr Huw Macartney, Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham.  Huw is a political economist whose work is broadly concerned with the politics of banking and financial services.  He is the author of European Democratic Legitimacy and the Debt Crisis, and Variegated Neoliberalism: European Financial Market Integration.

Rob Lyons, Science and Technology Director for the Institute of Ideas and Campaigns Manager for  Action on Consumer Choice. Rob is a journalist specialising in science, technology, health, food and the environment, and the author of Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder.

Chair: Rosie Cuckston

This is a free event.


European Demos - A Historical Myth - Section 2 dispels what it sees as the myths of the EU and Section 3 argues that the EU is in the European tradition of top down attempts at state building

Frank Furedi points out that European history includes the development of the ideals of toleration and liberty in whilst Yanis Varoufakis believes that a Brexit will give most likely give rise to nationalism and xenophobia


National Happiness, Immortality & Freedom Service: Are the UK’s Mental Health Needs too much for the NHS?

Thursday 12th May 2016.
6pm to 8pm at Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, 75 Harborne Road, Birmingham B15 3DH

As part of our ongoing collaboration with Birmingham Medical Institute, we will be exploring the extraordinary demands that mental health is making on the NHS, with a prestigious discussion panel that includes Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health.

In January 2016 the Prime Minister announced ‘a revolution in mental health treatment’. The previous year, the President of the Royal College of Psychiatry had advised the NHS in England to commit to ‘the biggest transformation of mental health care across the NHS in a generation, pledging to help more than a million extra people and investing more than a billion pounds a year by 2020/21’. A Mental Health Taskforce then set about creating and publishing a five-year all-age national strategy for mental health. 

Is this revolution enough to address what Luciana Berger MP has referred to as a ‘perfect storm”? After all, patients are struggling to get a referral, waiting times across the country are far too long, and ‘global recession and austerity’ place strains on people everywhere. 

Beneath all the talk of savings and efficiencies, you don’t have to be a health economist to understand that if there is less money in there will eventually be less care going out. Much is made of legally-enshrined definitions of quality as ‘patient safety, clinical effectiveness and patient experience’.  But if the primary aim and money goes to wellbeing, happiness and preventative health, how do you fund the treatment of pre-existing conditions such as psychosis?  

Alongside austerity, the number of people detained subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 has been growing, with the CQC informing us that ‘there were over 50,000 uses of the Mental Health Act in 2012/13 – the highest number ever recorded’.  Efforts to reverse the trend of costly and distressing detention with increased freedom and wellbeing can rub up against aims for safety and the tragedies of suicide and homicide. Inquiries all too often result in calls to observe patients more closely and not let them leave hospital. Indeed if health professionals fail to deprive people of their liberty, they are increasingly likely to lose their own liberty in the event of a death. David Sellu, for instance, was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence in 2013.
So in this brave new world, how can the NHS Mental Services meet the UK’s mental health needs?

Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health

Dr Jonathan Shapiro, Chairman of Education for Health

Tamar Whyte, Peer Worker

Inspector Michael Brown, Mental Health Cop

Dr Muj Hussain, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist

The debate will be chaired by Dr Jonathan Hurlow.

Recommended Readings

Easter Rising 1916 – Heroes or Villains?

Thursday 14th April 2016.
7.30pm at The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham B1 1BN

Easter 1916, one hundred years ago, Irish revolutionaries rose against the British Empire proclaiming a Republic from the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin. In five days of intense fighting, the men and women of the Easter Rising were defeated by the overwhelming force of the British Army, and their leaders were executed.

But the Easter Rising lit a fire that ended with the entire country turning against Westminster’s rule, and founding a nation.

Kevin Rooney will argue that the Easter Rising was an inspiration to those who were challenging the Empires of Europe – from India to Vietnam, from New Zealand to Moscow. It was an inspiration to British activists like John Maclean and Sylvia Pankhurst, and it was an inspiration to the Irish men and women who rose up against British rule to free their nation.

Kevin Rooney
Kevin Rooney is a teacher and writer, co-author of Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising? 1916-2016. Kevin first took part in the Commemoration of the Easter Rising in Belfast, 1972.

Recommended Reading:

Will poking around in the embers of Irish history rekindle old flames? Asks David Reynolds, New Statesman, July 2015.

Remember violence. Don’t glorify it. Argues William Devas, Irish Times, June 2015

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.