Birmingham Salon

The EU and the end of politics


James Heartfield, writer and lecturer.  
Author 'The European Union and the end of Politics', and an 'Unpatriotic History of the Second World War'

Holly Snaith, Teaching Associate, Politics and International Relations, Aston University, with an interest in European political economy, institutions, and governance.

Chair: Rosie Cuckston

Crises spread across the Euro-Zone from Cyprus and Greece to Spain, Portugal and Ireland.  But despite predictions of collapse, the European Union itself gathers ever-greater powers. To some it seems that the growing power of the European union must be a cover for some hidden power, whether Germany, capitalism, or the Bilderberg group. 

James Heartfield argues that the Union's power stems from the weakness of the national assemblies, and the declining participation of the voters in the member states. As their publics grow more alien, the elite get more authority from their relations to one another than they do from national parliaments.  

But does the recent electoral success of UKIP and the concern of UK MPs to ensure that they have the support of the electorate on the subject of Europe show that this is really the 'end of politics'? 

The EU and the end of politics - Zero books

Don't forget: Europe is very good for business - Jerry Blackett, Chief Executive Birmingham Chamber of Commerce

1995 Redux - John O'Shea - Labour Councillor for Acocks Green

The non-parochial case against the European Union

Who Benefits from Benefits?

SPEAKER: Neil Davenport, writer and politics teacher

Chair: Chrissie Daz

This year sees the introduction of Universal Credit, bringing together many benefits under one name. Whilst no-one is under the illusion that this benefit is going to be easily available to all, the name does chime with the fact that latest figures from the ONS show there are 14 million people on some kind of benefit, in or out of work, in the UK.

Recent cuts to benefits, especially concerning disabled people, have caused much consternation. The cuts are seen as not only cruel but socially divisive, pitting ordinary people against each other. Other observations on the benefits system include the suggestion that in work benefits are likely to help keep wage levels down and are subsidising companies that make huge profits. High levels of housing benefit are said to paper over the cracks in UK housing policy.

Is it right that such a large number of people in the UK are on some kind of benefit? Is it fair to ask this when the economy is weak, and to include people who have worked for a number of years, those in work and who are low paid or can only find part time work, or are pensioners? Are benefits a reasonable safety net, or are they too widely available?

Neil Davenport has written articles for Spiked Online criticising the portrayal of the workfare programme as slavery and stating that the education maintenance allowance benefit should not be brought back as it undermines the autonomy of young people.

Criminalising forced marriage: for better or worse?

Wednesday 6th March 2013.

SPEAKER: Rania Hafez, Director of Muslim Women in Education.

Every year between 5,000 and 8,000 people in this country are forced into marriage in this country alone, according to the Government, which has announced proposals to criminalise forced marriages. 

What difference will criminalisation make to the victims of forced marriage?

Rania Hafez has courted controversy with her stance that the proposed legislation is “unfathomable, unworkable and, frankly, plain silly” in her article Don’t protect us from ‘forced’ marriages. She maintains that the actions used to coerce individuals into marriage – such as violent assault – are already punishable by law, and that where emotional blackmail is at play families have to work it out themselves. Generational conflict is an integral part of growing up, she says; state interference in private family relationships infantilises ethnic minorities and “reduces young adults to the status of abused children”.

Taming the tabloids; purging the press

Thursday 24th January 2013

Chaired by Rosamund Cuckston
Mick Hume, editor-at-large of spiked, and author of There's no such thing as a free press… and we need one more Than ever. Mick will talk about press freedom, the power and role of the media, press regulation post Leveson, and tabloid versus 'ethical' journalism.
Ever since the 1992 headline "It's The Sun Wot Won It", there has been a sense of the media becoming an omnipotent force in society, with Rupert Murdoch as its Dark Arts Master. Some journalists seem to have embraced this new power, seeing themselves as heroic crusaders for particular causes, rather than sullying themselves with messy and opaque realities.
Celebrities have long complained about intrusions of privacy, but perhaps that is defensible in the interest of getting a good story. But when the News of the World Milly Dowler phone-hacking scandal broke, and it looked as if the press had really overstepped the mark, the Leveson inquiry was set up.
The original remit of the inquiry was to examine the culture, practices and ethics of the media. Since then the News of the World, which had been in existence since 1843 and was selling 2.8 million copies a week, has been closed down, and 46 journalists have been arrested and charged, with the majority then being cleared. Even that bastion of public interest reporting, the BBC, has come under scrutiny, with journalist Iain Overton, member of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, failing to check his facts about an alleged paedophile.
While campaigns such as Hacked Off and the Free Speech Network accept the terms of Leveson, bothering only to debate the degree of regulation required, should we instead demand our own First Amendment, US-style, to guarantee press freedom? And is there really such a difference between the tabloids and the 'serious' press? Or are the misdemeanours of the press so deeply shocking that removing their freedom is an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice? Maybe, with the media oligarchy in place, the idea of a genuinely free and independent press is illusory, with the profit motive undermining objectivity in reporting.

Trust me: I’m a scientist

Trust me I'm a scientist 12-10-12 (excerpt)

Thursday 11th October 2012

Politicians, campaigners and other public bodies often invoke science to support their proposals and to justify (the occasionally radical) changes they demand in people's behaviour. Such an evidence-based approach to public policy is widely supported as both rational and more practical than traditional political argument. At times, however, the science can be misleading. In autumn last year, for example, the BMA asserted that cigarette smoke is 23 times more concentrated in a car with the windows open than in a smoky bar. The figure was striking, but unfounded. In 2010, the IPCC’s widely reported claim, that global warming would cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt by 2035, was also disproven.
There is a growing suspicion that science is being more abused than used in support of public policy, with obvious dangers to the credibility of science and scientists.
Should the public be more suspicious of scientific claims designed to influence our behaviour? Or is the real problem that there is too little trust in science today?
Should government, activists and campaigners make their arguments for policy on moral and political grounds, or is a scientific approach more rational and useful?
Speakers at this Birmingham Salon debate are:

Stuart Derbyshire – a Reader in Psychology at the University of Birmingham who has been at the forefront of scientific and political arguments since his first publication on foetal pain in 1991. He has presented evidence to the UK Parliament and the US Virginia Senate and has been an advisor for the NYCLA and the UK RCOG on foetal pain.Stuart has also published on climate change, the economy, consciousness, shopping and the brain.

Joe McCleery – a lecturer in developmental neuroscience at the University of Birmingham with a strong interest in science and public policy, with a focus on education and child development.

The debate will be chaired by
Nina Powell, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham, whose current work examines how and when moral principles emerge.
Some of the themes discussed tonight will explored further at the '
Ethical Battles in Science and Medicine' strand of discussions at the forthcoming Battle of Ideas Festival (October 20-21, Barbican Centre, London).

Have we got copyright wrong?

Thursday 13th September 2012
Gordon Bowker, a biographer of James Joyce, recently went public on the restrictions and even legal threats he’s suffered from Stephen Joyce, grandson and controller of the literary estate of James Joyce. Under copyright, creators of original works are granted exclusive rights, for a limited time (in the UK until 70 years have passed since the author’s death), protecting their works, and by implication revenues, generated from them.
So what do we make of the current copyright regime? Is it, as
Cory Doctorow and others argue, a principle that is impossible to maintain in the modern world where reproduction is almost effortless? Should we take his pragmatic line and formulate alternative licensing and business models that are adaptive to the new realities of the digital age? Or should we, as Brendan O’Neill argues, make a stand against the devaluation of works of art and entertainment as freebies, and defend the notion of social creations deserving of reward and accreditation? And as the British government prepares to make publicly available scientific research for everyone to read for free, are there separate principles involved in research literature on the one hand and artistic works on the other?
The debate was introduced by:
Simon Leach – a leading photographer and President of The Association of Photographers, the founding organisation of
Copyright for Clients.
Rob Styles –Internet technologist who has worked on large data projects for US and UK governments. Published technology writer and unpublished sci-fi author. Strong proponent of open sharing principles – co-author of the Open Data Commons Public Domain Licence. Blogs

Are Children Moral?

Thursday 12th July 2012
Nina Powell, researcher at the University of Birmingham will discuss her completed PhD thesis 'in-conversation' with Helene Guldberg, associate lecturer in child development at the Open University and author of '
Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear'.
Some recent research argues that 'ground-floor' and some sophisticated moral cognition develops as early as 14 months of age. Drawing on her Phd research Nina will argue that the case for an innate moral understanding that expresses itself before the age of 6 or 7-years-old is at best limited, and at worst, grossly misrepresented in some research. The implications of such misrepresentations of moral development are efforts to increase moral understanding in the early years through schooling and parenting interventions, as well as an overall problematic view that ignores the complexity and changeability of human beings and the way we think about morality.
If children are moral, then what implications does this have for parental responsibility? Should the age of criminal responsibility be lowered as some have argued? Is the distinction between adulthood and childhood, as presently conceived, acceptable given these new theories?

The Sanitised City: How public is public space?

Wednesday 8th February 2012

Introduced by

Alastair Donald is associate director of the Future Cities Project, and co-editor of The Lure of the City: From Slums to Suburbs (Pluto 2011). He is an urban designer, researching mobility and space at the Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies, University of Cambridge.

Nikki Pugh works in the grey areas between and across Art, Science and Technology. She is primarily interested in issues around interaction: how we interact with spaces and landscapes and, in supporting exploration and criticism. She is co-author of the
'Splacist Manifesto'.

For all the talk of reigning back the state, binning the red tape, and letting the Big Society emerge, the explosion of rules and regulations, bans and behavioural codes, shows no sign of abating under the Coalition. The securitised, commercialised and homogenised centres that dominate British cities have been to the fore in the urban discussion in recent years.
Privatisation, in the form of shopping malls or managed developments such as Brindley Place, are said to create ‘pseudo public spaces’, what one commentator describes as ‘pacification by cappuccino’; others point to the eviction notices pinned to tents outside St Paul’s Cathedral as showing that the interests of the Corporation prevail over the freedom of the people.

Are you what you eat? Is our obsession
with what we eat healthy?

Tuesday 6th December 2011

Introduced by
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked, the online current affairs magazine that takes the attitude that Humanity is Underrated. He writes on a wide range of issues, but takes a particular interest in the issues of environment, food, energy and risk.
Rob's book, Panic on a Plate: how society developed an eating disorder, was published by Societas in October 2011. He blogs about food at
He is a frequent commentator on TV and radio.
Over the last few years the smorgasbord of panics over food have included: bacon and bladder cancer, beef and breast cancer, canned fish and premature birth, trans fats and heart disease, breakfast cereals and high blood pressure, processed foods and mental illness, mad cow disease, GM, saturated fat, and salt.
Rob Lyons's intention in this book is to investigate food scares, both on their own merits and from an historical perspective, in order to understand our essential but often shaky relationship with what we eat. Today this means confronting and assessing the worth of a lot of government advice and challenging popular perceptions of modern mass-catering practices.

Warning: Women at Work!
Battle of Ideas Satellite Debate

Wednesday 12 October 2011

The very idea of equality in the workplace is no longer just about one issue. The 238-page Equality Act 2010 is intended to protect workers against discrimination not only on the grounds of sex, but also race, age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief and sexual orientation. Moreover, the act goes beyond prohibiting direct discrimination: employers will also be responsible for ‘perceived discrimination’ and ‘third-party harassment’. As one HR website explains: ‘If a heterosexual is perceived to be gay, lesbian or bisexual – perhaps because of mannerisms or rumours – and becomes the butt of banter’, or ‘if an employee is subjected to joking about their partner’s disability or a friend’s sexual orientation’, they have grounds for complaint. Should we welcome this as an extension of women’s struggle for equal treatment, or has the historic fight for equal rights at work now been reduced to policing one another’s comments and attitudes, and running off to the boss if colleagues indulge in un-PC banter?


Linda Bellos, chair, Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners

Anne Fergusson, director, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Jason Smith, freelance journalist; director, Birmingham Salon

Chair: Nina Powell, PhD candidate, researcher, psychology, University of Birmingham

Book discussion of "In Search of Civilisation, remaking a tarnished idea" by John Armstrong
Tuesday 9 August 2011

The idea of civilisation is a complicated one, tangled up for years in ideas of colonialism and politics. John Armstrong explores the nature and aims of civilisation, examining how civilising forces from the Greeks to the Renaissance have shaped and coloured the ideas of what a Good existence means. Only by bringing conversations about civilisation back into our everyday lives, argues Armstrong, can we rediscover our chance for wisdom and happiness.
Review links
Henrik Bering in The Wall Street Journal
Alain de Botton in The Observer
Dr Rob Clowes on Culture Wars

Film premiere. Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is Possible

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Saleha Ali, reporter and documentary filmaker at the development charity Worldwrite, will introduce the film for its Birmingham premiere and answer questions afterwards
In feature length essay form, Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is Possible, traces Sylvia's ideas, campaigns and political life. Researched and filmed by over 100 volunteers, it is packed with facts from primary sources, rare images from museums and archives, interviews with historians and compelling testimony from Sylvia's son Richard Pankhurst and his wife Rita.
Sylvia was imprisoned more than any other suffragette for her tireless campaigning and unlike her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel, who dropped the fight for votes for women to support the war effort, Sylvia refused to sacrifice the fight for universal suffrage until it was won. Her opposition to the war and her internationalism were and remain exemplary and her bravery in fighting for equality and opposing all misanthropic trends puts her, as one interviewee put it, 'up there with the angels.'

Visit the Worldwrite website.

The struggle for democracy in the Middle East and Africa: Can the Arab movements survive western intervention?
Wednesday 11 May 2011

Karl Sharro is an architect, writer and commentator on the Middle East. He previously taught at the American University of Beirut. Karl has written for a number of international publications, such as Springerin (Austria), Mark Magazine (Holland), Novo (Germany), Glass (UK) and Blueprint (UK), and he contributes regularly to the online publications Culture Wars and
The uprisings in Arab countries came as a surprise to most; even President Obama questioned US intelligence agencies’ failure to predict events. Those uprisings are driven by genuinely popular democratic movements, but their outcomes are still unclear. Given the lack of traditional forms of political organisation spearheading those uprisings, how will events unfold and who are the main players determining the outcomes? As the UN prepares to intervene on behalf of Libyan rebels while ignoring the foreign repression of Bahrain's protesters, can the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East keep control of their movements? Might their revolutions be taken away from them?

The uprisings put paid to the idea that democracy is exclusively Western, and show it is a universal aspiration. Yet the reaction from Western elites has been ambivalent at best: Can Arabs bring about a ‘stable democracy’? What do we make of calls from foreign ministries for an ‘orderly transition’, especially in light of Western powers’ history in the region? What do those revolts mean for the balance of power in the region, and for American hegemony?

Visit Karl Sharro’s blog at
Karl reMarks

Schools of the future: what is education for?
Wednesday 6 April 2011

Dr Shirley Lawes is subject leader for PGCE Languages at the Institute of Education, University of London and a member of the Institute of Ideas Education Forum and Battle of Ideas Organising Committee. In 2010 she was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques for services to French language and culture.
Shirley locates many of the current problems in schools within the system for training teachers. Our current model of teacher training is consistent in its capacity to produce a conformist and compliant workforce. New teachers may be skilled in the classroom. However, they lack any real theoretical knowledge that would enable them to take a critical distance from practice and have a principled understanding of education as a value. It is not enough for teachers to know what to do and how to do it. They need to know why they do what they do.
At a time when there is a distinct lack of clarity about what education is, or should be, we need teachers who are educational thinkers. We need teachers who know more than how to ‘deliver’ ‘effective’ lessons, who can rise above the perceived imperative of examination results, league tables, Ofsted inspections and a micro-managed school culture because they have principled views on education that come from theoretical and professional knowledge, and expert knowledge of their subject discipline.
We have seen the rise of managerialism, which has transformed schools. This involves a burgeoning responsibility for data-collection and micro-managing teaching. Further, the content of subject disciplines reflects an instrumental view of knowledge. The purpose of education has assumed a necessary link with the economy. Education for its own sake, it seems, is untenable.
Useful background is 'In Defence of Teacher Education: A RESPONSE TO THE COALITION GOVERNMENT’S WHITE PAPER FOR SCHOOLS (November 2010) By the Standing Committee for the Education and Training of Teachers (SCETT)
It can be downloaded

Reason and the Eighteenth-Century: salons, the Lunar Society and the novel
Thursday 24 February, 2011

Bill Hughes recently completed his PhD on 18th-century dialogue, communicative reason and the English novel.

Jan Bowman is author and illustrator of 'This is Birmingham', a history of the original Lunar Society and its effect on the city.

Our speakers will be discussing their work and the factors which made the Enlightenment such an inspiring, eventful milestone in human history. Jan's slideshow will situate the discussion in its visual context and explain the inspiration behind her book on Birmingham's original 'salon'.
300 years ago an explosion of new ideas and discoveries led to great social upheavals, and revolutions in the USA and France. This period -- the Enlightenment -- gave rise to such new cultural phenomena as the salon, the novel, and Birmingham's Lunar Society.
Wonderful new inventions, from soda water to fire extinguishers to pianos to steam engines, burst onto the world stage with a haste and frequency unsurpassed outside wartime. Alongside this technological revolution came a change in the way that debate took place.

Is economic growth feasible or desirable?
Tuesday 11 January 2011

Daniel Ben Ami, author of 'Ferrari's for All', will outline his arguments for unfettered economic growth.

Somnath Sen, University of Birmingham Dept of economics, will defend 'growth scepticism' as a way of defending the welfare of the poorest in society.

Since the start of the first Industrial Revolution, economic growth has generally been seen as good and desirable. However, over the last forty years, the growth of the economy and the spread of prosperity have increasingly been seen as problematic rather than positive. While some are still willing to defend economic growth, highlighting the gains to humanity it has brought in terms of material wealth, technological progress, increased life expectancy and personal consumption, others accuse prosperity of encouraging greed, damaging the environment, causing unhappiness and widening social inequalities.
So, does economic growth offer solutions to the problems of the world, or is it one of them? Are there limits to growth, whether natural or social, or are possibilities limitless? Isn't the pursuit of happiness more important than the acquisition of wealth? And, as the world enters yet another recession, is continuous economic growth even possible?
Ferrari's for all is a rejoinder to the growth sceptics. Using examples from a range of countries, the author argues that society as a whole benefits from greater affluence. Action is needed – not to limit prosperity, but to encourage creativity and growth in resolving the problems of poverty, inequality and the environment, to increase abundance and to spread it worldwide.

Are humans unique or are we 'just another ape'?
Wednesday 8 December 2010

Helene Guldberg will introduce her latest book 'Just Another Ape?' (Imprint Academic, 2010)

Jeremy Taylor will discuss his book 'Not a Chimp: the hunt to find the genes that make us human' (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Today, the belief that human beings are special is distinctly out of fashion. Almost everyday we are presented with new revelations about how animals are so much more like us than we ever imagined. The argument is at its most powerful when it comes to our closest living relatives - the great apes.
Should we extend the concept of "rights" to apes and, perhaps, other primates? The philosopher Peter Singer argued from a strictly utilitarian perspective that any animal for which there was proof they could feel pain should have the right not to endure cruelty and torture, nor be the subject of animal experimentation. More recently allied activist groups have campaigned in Austria, New Zealand and Spain for rights for chimpanzees to be enshrined in law and for chimpanzees to be acknowledged as "nearly human" - in direct comparison with young children, the mentally frail, or the criminally insane.

We’re all depressed now? Redefining mental illness in a therapeutic era
Thursday 21 October 2010

A Battle of Ideas Satellite Event
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies and Positive Psychology for Dummies join bookshop and library shelves already crowded with books promising to help us improve our mental health and solve our emotional problems. Social workers, teachers, psychologists, therapists and counsellors all agree levels of depression, anxiety, stress, self-harm, and disorders like Attention Deficit and Hyper-Activity Disorder are growing. According to UNICEF, British children are the unhappiest in Europe. Certainly, there is an increase in those treated for mental health-related problems. Recent reports suggest there has been a 65% increase in spending on drugs to treat ADHD over the last four years. Meanwhile, the health service issued 39.1m prescriptions for drugs to tackle depression in England in 2009, compared with 20.1m in 1999 – a 95% jump.

Rowenna Davis, Freelance journalist; political and social affairs commentator

Dr Ken McLaughlin, Lecturer in social work, Manchester Metropolitan University; author, Social Work, Politics and Society: from radicalism to orthodoxy

Sue Morris, Programme director, educational psychology, University of Birmingham

Dr Jerry Tew, Senior lecturer, Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham; author Social Approaches to Mental Distress

Kathryn Ecclestone (Chair), Professor, education and social inclusion, University of Birmingham; co-author, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education

What are libraries for?
Wednesday 22 September, 2010

Why is Birmingham investing in a new central library? Will it meet genuine needs or is it simply landmark architecture for the city and very little to do with library services?
Have libraries lost sight of their historic mission to educate the public and instead try to become relavant with dance studios, cafes, rooftop gardens but few books?
Introduced by Brian Gambles, head of Birmingham library services, and Andy Kileen, local author and library user

Concrete the Green Belt?
Tuesday 8 June, 2010

For the last twenty years, Britain has been building too few houses to replace those that are falling down, and nowhere near enough to meet the growing demand. Housebuilding is at its lowest since the Second World War.
What the country needs is a massive building programme. But that is the one thing that every official body and vested interest is opposed to. Growth has been blamed for blighting Britain - a prejudice that has stood in the way of getting people the homes they need.
Instead of Green Belts, protected habitats and restrictive planning laws, we need a massive efforts to rebuild. The culture has to change from one that says 'no' to one that promotes growth.
Introduced by James Heartfield, Author of 'Let's Build! Why we need five million new homes in the next 10 years.

Mr Science and Mr Democracy: The pursuit of modernity in China
Wednesday 21 April, 2010

The fashionable question to ask about China is 'does its development represent a threat or an opportunity for the West, or us? This begs the question who 'the West' or 'us' may be but even with this consideration in mind it's still the wrong question.
It seems to me much more important that, at the moment, China is emerging as the most dynamic economic power in the world, Chinese political influence is on the rise, and China is becoming an urban, modern society where all the historic hopes and aspirations associated with modernity are questioned and often rejected.
Introduced by Alan Hudson, University of Oxford

Whose general election is this anyway?

Tuesday 9 March, 2010

The election is an opportunity for us as the public to discuss and debate our own interests and priorities, and to begin to formulate a meaningful agenda for ourselves. By challenging prospective candidates to state their positions on the questions that matter to us, we can at least ensure that the election is not monopolised by issues dreamt up in focus groups with a view to tipping the electoral balance one way or the other in a few key marginal constituencies. Instead, we should gatecrash the party and insist on a serious public debate about the questions that are sidelined or obscured by the mainstream parties.

Introduced by Dolan Cummings

Dolan is an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Ideas, having been research and editorial director from 2001 to 2010. He continues to edit the IoI's online review, Culture Wars. He developed the Round Table Rumbles theatre debates at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2001-2004 and at the National Theatre in London in 2005, and he continues to organise regular arts discussions through the Culture Wars Forum.
He is also a member of the radical humanist
Manifesto Club

Is Childhood in Crisis?
Tuesday 9 February, 2010

We are told that children are under threat from strangers and paedophiles; obesity; becoming passive and apathetic or violent from playing video games and; stressed from being constantly tested at school. Meanwhile out-of-school activities are disappearing because adult volunteers would rather resign than undergo demeaning criminal records checks in order to prove they're not paedophiles.
Are over-protective paranoid adults unintentionally restricting children’s social and psychological development, and creating a nation of cotton-wool kids? Is risk aversion damaging children?

Introduced by Dr Helene Guldberg

Helene is co-founder and Director of Spiked, she teaches developmental psychology at the Open University, CAPA and IES, and is the author of Reclaiming Childhood, Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear. Routledge (2009)