Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Leeds Taking Soundings meting

The next meeting is on Wednesday October 26th at 6PM. The speaker is Jeremy Gilbert from the University of East London on the topic of 'Reclaiming Modernity: Why the Future isn't Conservative'. The location is Broadcasting Place A101.

Barry Winter on Tony Judt

Barry Winter recently did an excellent talk to the Leeds Taking Soundings group on the subject of Tony Judt and his book Ill Fares the Land. Barry has written up the talk and it available here on the ILP wweb-site.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Leeds Young Authors at Soundings, June 22nd

The next Leeds Taking Soundings event is about Leeds Young Authors. You will see a film and meet the film directors, some of the young poets, and the people who organise the project. It's on Wednesday 22nd June at 6pm in Old Broadcasting House, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds.

Leeds Young Authors are in desperate need of funds if they are to compete in a forthcoming poetry competition in the USA. They get no public subsidy. if you can spare a few pounds, this is the way to make your donation.

If you need to be convinced of what a good cause this is to support, read on . . .

The film about Leeds Young Authors, 'We are Poets' (described by Benjamin Zephaniah as poetry itself) won a prize at the prestigious Sheffield Documentary Film Festival last week.
Director(s):Alex Ramseyer-Bache, Daniel Lucchesi - Producer(s):Alex Ramseyer-Bache Co - Producer Khadijah Ibrahiim
Running time: 80 min

It might be the age of Facebook and Twitter, but a group of Leeds teenagers have chosen to define themselves through one of the most ancient forms of culture out there: the spoken word. But these aren’t any old poems but anguished, witty full-throated diatribes, voicing the concerns of a generation of British born teenagers. Brave New Voices, the most prestigious poetry slam competition in America, has chosen Leeds Young Authors to represent the UK at their upcoming competition in Washington DC (2009). Sheffield-based filmmakers Alex Ramseyer-Bache and Daniel Lucchesi, graduates of Leeds Met's Film School, follow the group as they prepare for a transformational journey of a lifetime. With a mix of cinematically crafted lyrical sequences with raw, intimate actuality documentary, 'We Are Poets' challenges our understanding of youth by giving them the stage, allowing them the chance to speak for themselves. Anyone tempted to dismiss today’s teenagers as politically apathetic layabouts better pay heed: here is electrifying evidence to the contrary.
More on Leeds Young Authors, founded by Khadija Ibrahim, here:

Leeds Salon on Valuing the Arts

Forthcoming Leeds Salon debate, now part of the Emerge Leeds Festival 2011:

Valuing the Arts in an Age of Austerity

Wednesday 22 June 2011
The Millennium Room, The Carriageworks, Millennium Square, Leeds,
5:45pm (for a 6pm start) to 7:45pm.
£5 waged/£3 unwaged on the door.

With the current economic crisis and widespread cuts in public spending budgets, things are even more financially precarious for the arts than usual; and many in the arts have been forced to reappraise how they argue the case for funding.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) is investigating techniques to assess the economic value of the arts, what it terms non-market goods, in terms of what people feel they would be willing to pay for things if they were not free.

And the February 2011 Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) pamphlet entitled Arts Funding, Austerity and the Big Society: Remaking the case for the arts states: "The Commission on 2020 Public Services at the RSA has called for more public investment to be evaluated in terms of a ‘social productivity test’: whether it builds individual and community engagement, resilience and reciprocity."

The pamphlet sets out to define a bold response to the challenge presented by the cuts in funding, but is there something wanting in the solutions offered?

This discussion aims to challenge the participation approach of chasing audiences, in favour of more compelling reasons why the arts should receive public funding, and ask some difficult questions such as: just how should we value the arts? Are the arts a luxury or a necessity? Do they have intrinsic value or are they best assessed in terms of outcome and impact? Does what the public think they want or like matter or should we fund the arts regardless? Do the arts even need or deserve public funding at all?


Angus Kennedy is head of external relations for the Institute of Ideas, working principally to programme the annual Battle of Ideas festival in London and its international satellite events. He chairs the Institute’s Economy Forum and helps organise its discussions. He writes for spiked and Culture Wars, among other publications, with particular interests in the Holocaust, classics, culture and the arts, economics and moral philosophy.

Moira Innes, Director Leeds Met Gallery & Studio Theatre. Moira has a post-graduate qualification in sculpture from Edinburgh College of Art and has since worked continually in the art sector. As a founding Director for Situation Leeds, she co-organised festivals of art in public realm in 2005 & 2007 and is currently developing a series of interventions that utilise the fabric of the city. She is currently Chair of Leeds Visual Art Forum and works strategically to the profile of the visual arts across Leeds.

Councillor Adam Ogilvie represents Beeston and Holbeck ward in south Leeds where he also lives. Since May 2010, he has been the Executive Board Member for Leisure on Leeds City Council; a portfolio which includes arts, culture and creative industries, museums and galleries, events, parks and countryside, sport and recreation, libraries and cemeteries and crematoria. He is also on the Board of South Leeds Community Radio, Beeston Festival and Holbeck Gala Committees and Chair of Leeds Grand Theatre.

Andy Abbott is an artist, writer, musician and educator. He graduated from the LCAD Foundation course in 2001 and has worked and studied in Leeds since. Currently he is undertaking practice-led research for a PhD in Fine Art at University of Leeds. From 2003 Andy has worked as part of the artist collective Black Dogs and has exhibited nationally and internationally from self-organised public interventions in Leeds, to events at Tate Modern and presentations in Italy and Greece. He also teaches part-time in the Fine Art area of Foundation at LCA.

Background Discussion
Can the arts save the economy? , listen again to this Battle of Ideas 2009 session
Just what are the arts good for? , watch and listen again to this Battle of Ideas 2010 satellite
Arts Funding, Austerity and the Big Society: Remaking the case for the arts, RSA pamphlet,
February 2011
Using art to nudge the public, by Jan Bowman, Culture Wars, 20 May 2011
Melvin Bragg: why the arts have replaced heavy industry, The Telegraph, 12 May 2011
Crisis? The arts have rarely been in better health, Simon Jenkins, London Evening Standard, 23 February 2010
Culture Linked to Improved Health, BBC New, 24 May 2011

To let us know you’re coming please reply to this e-mail. If you’re not on it already, join our mailing list at: http://leedssalon.org.uk/index.php?page=contact, and join our group on Facebook.

This debate is part of the Emerge Leeds Festival 2011 being held at the Carriageworks Theatre from the 19th to 26th June.

This is also a back-to-back event with Manchester Salon. So if you can’t make 22 June join the discussion in Manchester on Tuesday 21 June.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Multiculturalism, Interculturalism, or Muscular Liberalism?

The next Leeds Taking Soundings meeting is on 'Multiculturalism, Interculturalism, or Muscular Liberalism?' Wednesday, May 18th at 6PM in Old Broadcasting House. Our speakers are Max Farrar (sociologist and Emeritus Professor of Community Engagement at Leeds Metropolitan University) and Franco Bianchini ( Professor of Cultural Policy and Planning at Leeds Metropolitan University) David Cameron has coat-tailed ten years of assaults on multiculturalism with his criticism of 'state multiculturalism'. He proposes a 'muscular liberal' assertion of core British values to which all minorities must sign up. Max Farrar will show that multiculturalism has always been a contested notion. Franco Bianchini will outline an alternative conception - interculturalism - which has the potential to overcome some of the inherent difficulties with multiculturalism.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Salon on Middle East

The Middle East Uprising: Why Now? What Next?
Wednesday 16 March

Old Broadcasting House
148 Woodhouse Lane
Leeds, LS2 9EN
6:45pm (for a 7pm start) to 8:30pm.

The events in Egypt have come as a surprise to most, with even President Obama questioning US intelligence agencies’ failure to predict the uprisings in the Arab world. The drive behind the January 25 revolt is a genuinely popular democratic movement, but its outcome is still unclear. Who are the main players determining events – the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, young protesters, workers, the elite? And how should we characterise what Twitter calls #Jan25 in the absence of obvious leadership of the movement?
The uprising seems also to put paid to the idea that democracy is exclusively Western, and not a universal aspiration. Yet the reaction from Western elites has been ambivalent at best: can Egyptians bring about a ‘stable democracy’? Fears about an Islamist takeover are voiced as much by Westerners as by President Mubarak. What do we make of calls from foreign ministries for an ‘orderly transition’, especially in light of Western powers’ history in the region? What does the revolt mean for the balance of power in the region, and for American hegemony?

The Speaker

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 Muftah.org. He has spoken on a range of issues such as art, architecture, urbanism and politics. He blogs at Karl reMarks.


The Egyptian uprising: on the universal aspiration for freedom, by Karl Sharro, 4 February 2011

Why Tunis, Why Cairo?, by Issandr El Amrani, London Review of Books, February 2011

The Egyptian uprising: ‘why now?’ and ‘what next?’, by Brendan O’Neill, Spiked-online, 8 February 2011

Egypt’s Bumbling Brotherhood, by Scott Atran, The New York Times, 2 February 2011

Overdue End of the Old World Order, by Mick Hume, Spiked-Online, 23 February 2011.

This is a free event but a voluntary contribution to cover costs will be asked for on the night. To let us know you’re coming please reply to this e-mail. If you’re not on it already, join our mailing list at: http://leedssalon.org.uk/index.php?page=contact, and join our group on Facebook.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Hugo Radice on Bad News for British Economy


Hugo Radice

On the face of it, the fall in UK national output (GDP) reported on Tuesday just adds to the mounting bad news for everyone, not least Chancellor George Osborne. Fears about a ‘double-dip’ recession, which would officially arrive if a further decline takes place in the first quarter of 2011, now look considerably more likely. Not surprisingly, most Red Pepper readers will now be concentrating their energies on the fight against the cuts. But for us as much as for employers and the Tory government, it’s important to keep a close eye on current developments in the economy. So what exactly does all the bad news add up to?

First of all, we live in a world in which the financial markets pretty much dictate the government’s policies, or at least their room for manoeuvre. Now Osborne’s attempt to blame the fall in GDP on the bad weather seemed to cut no ice in the City. But there, the pundits and the speculators mostly concluded that the recovery had now stalled, and that the Bank of England would therefore delay the long-expected increase in its official lending rate of 0.5%.

Looking back on the growth recorded for July-September 2010, it now seemed all too clear that the sudden boost to construction activity in that period owed more to a rush to complete current contracts before the spending cuts hit local authorities and government departments alike; so the sharp fall in the last quarter was as much a case of back to normal, as the result of the big freeze.

In any case, last week’s unemployment figures made grim reading, back above 2½ million, with a particularly big rise in youth unemployment - and this well before the public sector cuts start hitting home in April. What is more, a host of recent attitude surveys, among households as well as businesses, have suggested growing pessimism about our economic prospects and therefore a reluctance to make any big spending commitments. Add in the unexpected attack on the coalition’s lack of a growth strategy from the outgoing CBI chief Richard Lambert, and Osborne surely couldn’t maintain for much longer that shiny smile and confident air.

But although there obviously is a Plan B somewhere on his desk – to slow down the spending cuts and encourage the Bank of England to pump more cash into the banking system – the Chancellor is terrified that a change of direction would be seen by his masters (that’s the financial markets, remember, not us) as a sign of ‘weakness’.

Osborne himself has cited the International Monetary Fund’s latest update to its World Economic Outlook, issued on January 25th, in support of his policies. The IMF, he said, approved of a robust approach to restoring the public finances. Well, yes, but only up to a point. The IMF update didn’t actually discuss the UK as such, and they qualified their approval of spending cuts by putting them in a wider context:

“A host of measures are needed in different countries to reduce vulnerabilities and rebalance growth in order to strengthen and sustain global growth in the years to come. In the advanced economies, the most pressing needs are to alleviate financial stress in the euro area and to push forward with needed repairs and reforms of the financial system as well as with medium-term fiscal consolidation. Such growth-enhancing policies would help address persistently high unemployment, a key challenge for these economies.” (Update, p.7)

Now, the Eurozone governments have, with a lot of delays and haggling, begun to sort out the debt problems afflicting their ‘periphery’ (that is, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain). They have created a Financial Stability Facility which has just successfully issued the first zone-wide Euro bond. The Chinese government in particular is keen on this development, because they want to diversify their own bond purchases away from the USA. But the markets, which as always in an uncertain recovery are particularly prone to rumours, fads and panics, are still worrying away at this issue. Oddly enough, this is good news for Osborne, since problems in the Eurozone make British government bonds more attractive to investors.

However, there are two other global issues which we need to keep an eye on. The first is the one raised by the IMF, namely ‘reforms’ of the financial system. Last week (22 January) the chair of the Independent (sic) Banking Commission, Sir John Vickers, gave a lecture on the progress that the Commission is making on this. Given the often-stated views of the Governor of the Bank of England – and most academic commentators – it was hardly surprising that he highlighted the need to segregate the risky activities of ‘investment’ banking (issuing and trading financial assets of all kinds) from the activities of ‘commercial’ banking (dealing with payments and routine borrowing by households and firms).

The British Bankers’ Association spokesperson, Angela Knight, immediately announced that if new regulations were brought in that were too tough on the banks, they would up sticks and relocate abroad. Short of revolution (not a bad idea?) the way to head off this threat is to make sure that pretty much the same regulations are brought in everywhere, and especially in the USA, UK and the Eurozone. In the more than two years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, progress on this has been painfully slow. In the USA, legislation was finally passed in July 2010 (the Dodd-Frank Act), but implementation is still being delayed, making because the banking lobby made sure that the proposals were incredibly cumbersome and riddled with contradictions. In the Eurozone, progress is also slow, partly because so many banks are massive holders of those dodgy Irish, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish government debt; so any financial squeeze on the banks threatens efforts to calm down the bond markets.

The second big issue is the tensions between China and the USA. Basically, for years there has been a dollar merry-go-round:
· ..... the US runs a big trade deficit with China, paying for the imports in dollars;
· the Chinese government then lends the dollars back to the US – mostly through buying US government bonds;
· the US government uses this money to keep taxes low, leaving households and businesses with more money to spend;
· and they spend it on Chinese imports.....
For years, US pundits have pointed out the irony of the richest and most powerful country in the world becoming financially dependent on what remains one of the poorer countries. But the vast majority of US citizens either don’t pay any attention to international affairs at all, or they just blithely assume that what Uncle Sam wants, he is entitled to get.

However, Chinese President Hu’s state visit to Washington last week brought the issue forcefully to a head. Treasury Secretary Geithner yet again called for an increase in the dollar exchange rate of the renminbi, to try to correct the trade imbalance. But the global context has changed dramatically since 2007. While the USA, as well as other major rich economies, have suffered sharp recessions and then slow jobless recoveries, China and other so-called emerging economies like India, Brazil and Russia took a smaller hit from the financial crisis, and rebounded quickly. Even Africa has in recent years experienced much faster growth than the rich countries.

This is a truly world-shaking shift. Back in the 1970s, the newly-confident post-colonial states of the Third World proposed, in the UN and other fora, a New International Economic Order. The idea was to place their development agenda at the heart of the international economic and financial order, using the leverage of their control over the supply of oil and other raw materials. At first the rich states tried to ignore these demands, so when oil prices were indeed raised sharply, they were plunged into inflation and stagnation. But from 1979, led by the UK and the USA, they took their revenge.

New economic policies of ruthless financial stringency plunged the Third World into a massive debt crisis and the ‘lost decade’ of the 1980s. Neoliberalism was unleashed across the globe, forcing debtor states to adopt policies that favoured capital (including foreign capital) over labour and private profit over state initiatives. And after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the USSR in 1979-81, this leaner, meaner sort of capitalism became the universal norm.

The great irony is that the success of this strategy – from a capitalist point of view, that is – turned out to create formidable competitors. The Chinese and other new capitalist powers are rapidly increasing their share, not only of world consumer markets, but also of available raw materials. New Chinese, Indian and Brazilian transnationals are displacing the tired old US, Japanese and European firms. China has in recent years outstripped the World Bank as a source of so-called ‘development aid’ to Africa (as always, the ‘aid’ comes straight back to the donor in the form of orders for their goods).

In these circumstances, the power structures of global capitalism have become more and more outdated. The role of the dollar; the permanent seats on the UN security council; the inter-state bureaucracies in Geneva and New York; the voting systems in the IMF; these and countless other practices are being called into question.

For the American people, it is especially hard: that famous ‘city on a hill’ is bankrupt and crumbling, unable to be a beacon for anything except xenophobia and gun law. With the Tea Party Republicans on the rise, threatening everything from bombing Iran to hanging Julian Assange, there are plenty of reasons to be fearful.

Fortunately, help is at hand. For the great irony is that America’s real rulers – the corporate rich – have invested massively in the new capitalism of the East and the South. Knowing full well that the newly-confident ruling classes of those regions fully share their own ideology and objectives, they will ensure that the new American nationalism remains a matter of rhetoric alone. The dollar-go-round will not be abruptly halted.

How does all this impact upon working people in Britain? Well, it makes the outlook a bit better for exports and unemployment. But under the government’s present policies, Mervyn King told us on 25th January what to expect: declining living standards for years to come. As he said, such a long period of decline hasn’t been seen in Britain since the 1920s. As he must surely know, but didn’t say, this strikes at the heart of the political love affair of the so-called middle classes with consumerism and free-market individualism, a key element in the post-1945 political settlement.

What can the left do about it? Well, obviously fight every redundancy and every pay cut. But also, please, this time round, recognise that workers all over the world are in exactly the same situation. We are being urged to accept pay cuts so that we remain ‘competitive’, that is, put workers abroad out of a job instead. And they in turn are being told just the same thing by their own rulers. Time for an old, old slogan: workers of the world unite!

27 January 2011

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Danny Dorling on Geography of Austerity

The School of Geography, University of Leeds presents a School Seminar with… Danny Dorling
Department of Geography, University of Sheffield

The Geography of Austerity: consequences of the coalition government cuts

WEDNESDAY 2 February, 4pm
(followed by refreshments)
Geography Lecture Theatre
Geography East Building
University of Leeds, LS29JT

In this talk Danny will show a few maps of Britain, current social evils, where the highest cuts and planned, but also who still receives the highest incomes and has the most wealth. He'll talk about the choices that were ignored, what the alternatives might have been, and how things might just feel in a few years time if current trends continue. The talk ends with some data suggest all is not well even in what appear the least harmed areas.

For more information on Danny’s work see: http://www.sasi.group.shef.ac.uk/

How to find us: http://www.geog.leeds.ac.uk/about/contact

All seminars will take place on Wednesdays at 4pm in Geography Lecture Theatre (Geography East Building) unless otherwise stated.
To get onto our School of Geography Seminar Series email list email Paul Waley: p.t.waley@leeds.ac.uk

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Chris Bem Talk to Taking Soundings

Talk, Leeds Taking Soundings, 19th January 2011

Outline – themes – the dismantling of a public health service through


Theories for resistance


New political openings – opportunities for action and involvement

Utililizing those existing opportunities for participation in governance and health care design that exist both to campaign against the reforms and to subvert the reforms. Membership of local health care organisaions, involvement in health scrutiny panels
Health care institutions as centres for an economy of care and cooperation (in opposition to the economy of profit and exploitation) with social facilities, art, education, well-being, social enterprises e.g. Bromley by Bow Centre, Tower Hamlets, East London
Community media/newspapers/journals (media divorced from consumer advertising) distributed through health care facilities waiting rooms


The word “economy” is derived from two ancient Greek words, “oikos” meaning “home”, and “nomos” meaning “rule” or “law”. The word, economy, therefore in its original sense concerns “the rules pertaining to household management”. Economics is therefore primarily not about money, but how we seek to live with each other. Whilst proper financial accounting is important to ensure that we live within our means, money is a poor substitute for meaningful work and supportive relationships. Money is a lubricant for human development but it cannot be the motor otherwise it turns people into instruments and human activities into commodities. It subverts economic life into a form of financial slavery and encourages us to seek personal material gain in all human relationships.
The word “health” derives from an old English word “hail” meaning “whole”. In medical care we recognise the importance of a holistic approach. Likewise, a healthy economy needs to respond not only to the physical realities of life but also to the need to foster appropriate personal and communal values and a healthy ecology of living. A healthy economy cannot be measured in dollars, pounds or euros, but can be felt in how it how promotes supportive human relationships which in turn help people to live out their talents and develop as human beings. Many studies have shown that affluent societies, especially those that are egocentric, self-willing and consumerist have lower parameters for health, contentment and social cohesion than middle income, socially cooperative societies.

It is a paradox that the easiest way to increase financial turnover and increase the sum of necessary work is to cause problems that must then be solved – problems such as waste production, crime, environmental degradation, illness-provoking life-styles and violence. Add to these the subtle generation of psychic insecurity and a sustained promotion of material needs, then an economy can be created in which financial turnover is enormous but in which healthy economic relations are distorted. The armaments industry, tobacco, alcohol, the automobile industry each contributes some 4% to the gross national product. Each has their consequences for health and well-being. Economic theory has also to deal with problems generated by a motivation for surplus profit in which it pays financially to deny health and social rights to workers and to ignore the environmental and social consequences of economic activity.

There is a need to move to the third paradigm of health philosophy. Progress in health care began some 300 years ago with the scientific revolution. Some 30-40 years ago, health carers began to become aware of the need for personhood of the patient before them. It is now necessary to fully understand the social aspects of health, aspects that are determined by the economic rules of an societyOrganisations working against the NHS reforms
Keep our NHS public (KONP)
BMA (half hearted)
NHS Consultants Association – (made up of consultants who support the NHS)
Socialist Medical Association – excellent and informative web site
Medact (challenging the barriers to health from poverty, violence and climate change)
The campaign for greener health care

Some reading/background

NHS, economy, governance and health
Allyson M Pollock; “NHS plc”, Verso 2004
Pat Devine: The Political Economy of Twentieth First Century Socialism, Soundings, issue 37, 1997
Anna Coote, Jane Franklin: “Green Well Fair: three economies for social justice” New Economic Foundation, 2009 (pamphlet)
Fair Societies, Healthy Lives, the Marmot Review, 2010
The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone: Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett, Allen Lane, London, 2009
Three Dimensions of Modern Social Governance: Markets, Hierarchies and Kinships, Vladimír Benácek: http://www1.ceses.cuni.cz/benacek/3D-Nov05-short_version.pdf (accessed 3rd October, 2010)
Felix Guattari: “The Three Ecologies”
(Guattari, a Marxist psychoanalyst, “The three ecologies”, an essay published in 1989 and available on the web)
Lewis Hyde: “The Gift”, Vintage Books 1983
Richard Titmus “The Gift Relationship: from human blood to social policy”, 1970, re-issued 1997
Global Health Report 2: an Alternative World Health Report, Zed Books 2008

Philosophy and Biology
Joost van Loon: “Risk and Technological Culture: towards a sociology of virulence”, Routledge 2002
(especially Chapter 4: Assemblages and deviations: biophilosophical reflections on risk)
Noel Castree: “Nature”, Routledge, 2005
(although a book of the philosophy of geography, opens up perspectives on the philosophy of the biology of health)
Iain McGilchrist: “The Mastery and the Emissary: the divided brain and the making of the modern world”, Yale 2009
(author is a psychiatrist, neurophysiologist and one-time lecturer in English at Oxford University who offers a critique of the narrow bounds of technical reason)
William Engdahl: “Seeds of Destruction: the hidden agenda of genetic manipulation”, Global Research, 2007
Steven Rose, Hilary Rose: “Darwin and After”, New Left Review 63, May-June 2010, pp 91-113 (downloadable from New Left Review Website)
(a critique of Darwinian and genetic determinacy with an introduction to epigenetics – emerging theories showing that the dna of the nucleus is not the master molecule but influenced, and changed, by its cellular environment and ecological habitat)

Philosophers worth (in my view) looking at
Jean Baudrillard
Alain Badiou e.g
Jurgen Habermas
Maurice Merleau-Ponty


Leeds Salon presents What is the Fture of Leeds?

Unfortunately this clashes with the next Leeds Taking Soundings meeting with Michael Kenny.

Wednesday 23 February
The Congreve Room
West Yorkshire Playhouse
Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS2 7UP
6:45pm (for a 7pm start) to 8:45pm.

After two decades of growth and change, Leeds is now at something of a crossroads, in search of direction and identity. While other northern cities have had massive investment and public attention as ‘cities of culture’, hosting international athletic events, and the building or renovation of iconic buildings as national cultural venues, Leeds seems to have been left behind. Development and regeneration seemed to have stuttered even before the recession hit.

So where does Leeds go now, and how does it move forward? Does Leeds have anything unique to offer? Is the answer more of what it does already: attracting financial services and promoting itself as Yorkshire’s premier shopping destination? Or could Leeds be the economic hub driving the future success of a huge city-region and attracting new and innovative industries? And what about the arts and culture? Does Leeds have the facilities and resources to attract cultural entrepreneurs, creators and innovators? And how does Leeds keep and promote its own creative talent?

What will, or how will, Leeds define itself as a city in the 21st century? How could it be the great regional capital it aspires to be? And, ultimately, what makes and defines a city?

The Speakers
Irena Bauman founded Bauman Lyons Architects in 1992, and has been involved in developing a wide range of projects. She is a frequent speaker and commentator on the shortcomings of economically driven policies and on the fresh thinking required for urban developments to be based on facilitation of community enterprise and long term viability. She contributes on a regular basis to her column, ‘Dear Irena’, in Building Design that deals with ethical dilemmas in architectural practice.

Neil Owen is founder of Test Space; a multidisciplinary arts organisation based in Leeds. Test Space aims to showcase new and emerging creative talent and encourage talent in Leeds by brokering professional opportunities with business, venues, studios and other arts organisations. Events Test Space run, which include rapid exhibitions, pop-up kitchens, cross-city showdowns and showcase gigs.

Martin Dean heads the Leeds Initiative; the public and private community partnership and Local Strategy Partnership for Leeds. Through the development of appropriate strategies the Leeds Initiative takes forward the priorities identified in ‘Vision for Leeds 2004 to 2020’. This work covers a wide ranging policy agenda including regeneration, economy, skills, local government, environment and transport.

Dr Rachael Unsworth is a lecturer in the School of Geography, University of Leeds, specialising in urban geography with a particular interest in the future of cities. She spends much of her time trying to inject sustainability thinking into policy and practice in Leeds. She was co-editor of 21st century Leeds: geographies of a regional city (2004), a sixteen-chapter book about the contemporary city.

Alan Hudson is Director of Oxford University’s Leadership Programme for China. In the last five years he has been responsible for writing the curriculum for training programmes in UK public policy and public administration which have been delivered to senior Chinese officials at municipal, provincial and national level. He is the author of the chapter ‘The Trouble with Planners’ in the book Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age (2001). He is now researching the impact of Expo 2010 on Shanghai’s urban strategy.

Cultural Report on Leeds: C minus, could do better … discuss, by Neil Owen, Culture Vulture, 20 July 2010.
Leeds Strategic Plan 2008-11 Executive Summary
What is Leeds …? Talk Today. Shape Tomorrow.
Setting the Vision for Leeds in post-book context, by Dr Rachael Unsworth, March 2009
For the ‘Vision for Leeds 2004 to 2020’, and other related documents visit the Leeds Initiative website.

An entrance fee of £5 (waged) and £3 (unwaged) will be charged on the door to the Congreve Room to cover costs. To let us know you’re coming please reply to this e-mail. If you’re not on it already, join our mailing list at: http://leedssalon.org.uk/index.php?page=contact, and join our group on Facebook.

Special Announcement
Audio Recording of Ray Tallis’ ‘Two Cultures’ introduction available - For those who couldn’t make December’s Salon on The ‘Two Culture’ Debate – Then and Now, Professor Ray Tallis’ introduction is now available to listen to on our website. Click on the above link (‘Flash’ required).

Monday, 24 January 2011

Mike Kenny on the Big Society

from Open Democracy

Big Society Dilemmas: a challenge for Tories as well as Labour
Michael Kenny, 11 November 2010

Why is it that the idea of the Big Society worked so well for the Conservatives in opposition (at least until the heat of the General Election campaign), but has proved so difficult to operationalise in government?

Perhaps this is due to the change in economic weather between its conception before the crash and today as Anthony Barnett suggested or because of the varying ways in which the term has been approached across Whitehall and interpreted by different Ministers as observed by Matthew Taylor of the RSA.

But there may also be an explanation which relates to the tradition from which David Cameron emanates. The advantage of the Big Society idea was that it enabled the Conservatives to speak across the partisan political divide to the many progressives who were put off by the dirigisme and tactical obsessions of the Brown regime. And, simultaneously, it nodded towards a long-established conservative commitment to the virtues of civil society. However, the Big Society may well be much more effective in the first of these roles - as a vehicle for conveying progressively minded intentions - than it is for the second.

The terminology of the Big Society does not easily capture the sense of affiliation and belonging that links many people to the places and communities they inhabit, nor the kinds of small-scale civic activism, the disposition to help out families, friends and neighbours, and the fabric of social relationships (what David Halpern calls the ‘hidden wealth of nations’) that undergird communal life. These different facets were evocatively and authentically captured for earlier generations of conservatives by Edmund Burke’s idea of the ‘little platoons’.

Nor is this just a matter of linguistic presentation. Something more fundamental may be at stake. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott, who came closer than any other single thinker to distilling the DNA of British liberal-conservative thought in the twentieth century, proposed a distinction between ‘civil’ and ‘enterprise’ associations. Civil associations were forms of collective endeavour that revolved around their intrinsic purpose – the co-operative society or allotment association, for instance.

Enterprise ones were established in order to pursue externally directed instrumental goals – the NGO, business association, or political campaign would all be examples. While both kinds of association were bound to co-exist in a free society, Oakeshott argued for the particular importance in Britain of the many spontaneous and localised forms of civil association, regarding these as an important bulwark against the inclination of the social-engineering state to meddle in people’s lives in its pursuit of ‘rational’ goals like social justice or progress. His important critique of the expanding post-war state stemmed from his belief that it was increasingly acting in the spirit of an enterprise association, rather than behaving as an umpire upholding the rules and supplying the social goods that enabled people to sustain their own forms of civic life.
Imperfect as it may be, the distinction he drew between different forms of association still resonates in British culture. It helps explain why people across the voluntary sector have often been ambivalent about Labour’s well-intentioned efforts to involve faith groups or charities in delivering services. Winning a contract to deliver a community service for many groups means giving up the ethos of civil association for the burdens and reduced autonomy that go with being an enterprise-based one. Indeed the very idea of the state harnessing the good works and civic impulses of individuals and communities is in some respects alien territory for conservatives (of both small-c and big-C varieties).

This does not mean that the Big Society is doomed to irrelevance on the political right. But it does suggest that its key propositions need to be fleshed out with greater sensitivity to established patterns of thinking. In policy terms, this implies a clearer connection with the localism that the Coalition also champions. And it requires more signs that government is aware of the challenges associated with the greater involvement of voluntary sector and community organisations in service delivery. These include the issues of how to protect the rights of individuals supplied with services by such organisations, and how to ensure that it is not only the largest, most professional organisations in this sector, that scoop up the bulk of available contracts.

Overall, the real danger for Cameron is not that the Big Society comes to be seen as a front for hacking away at public provision. His worry should be that it turns into one more government-sponsored mantra that meets a wall of indifference because it does not chime with the everyday forms of reasoning through which people make sense of their own, and others’, civic impulses and actions.

And what of the left and the Big Society? Labour may well be tempted to respond to all this by reminding voters of its own record at promoting capacity in the third sector and ensuring the greater involvement of voluntary organisations in service provision. This is the approach many take in OurKingdom's thread on 'The Big Society Challenge'. But, important as this history is, falling back upon it will not be enough.

Labour needs to grasp that it has acquired some highly damaging connotations in the public mind, and these have to be actively and publicly challenged. They include the widespread belief that in government it reached too readily and unthinkingly for the levers of the central state, and was overly bureaucratic and rule-bound in its method of governance. Responses such as ‘we did this better than the Tories’, or calling the Big Society a gimmick, do not begin to address this deeper question of identity and reputation.

Just as the Conservatives found themselves after 1997 saddled in the popular mind with deeply held associations formed after a long period of government that ended in acrimony, so Labour will need to work very hard to show that it truly understands the limits and downsides of the excessive centralism it showed in office.

It should start by gathering together the different strands of its thinking that operate on the territory of the Big Society and work out how these might be turned into a narrative for government, society and communities that works for tomorrow. Mutuals and co-operatives should play an important part in this thinking. But they form only one part of the repertoire that Labour will need in this area.

A serious review of its policies means posing new questions. In what areas does Labour believe it appropriate to devolve more responsibility to individuals, neighbourhoods and communities – in areas such as education, health and law and order? And, what changes are needed to the structures and cultures of central and local government, if the kinds of decentralised and citizen-centred forms of governance which the Big Society promises, are to be achieved?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Michael Kenny on the State of the State

Next Leeds Taking Soundings meeting is Professor Michael Kenny speaking about the role of the state in current political issues, especially in Britain in the light of the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government policies.

6PM, February 23rd, Old Broadcasting House, Leeds Metropolitan University, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2.

Leeds Hospital Alert Conference

Leeds Hospital alert is a holding an open conference in Leeds on March 19th 2011 at St Chad's Parish Centre on the Otley Road in Headingley. Speakers include John Lister, Amanda Robinson (Leeds Medical Committee) and Chris Bem (Bradford Royal Infirmary).

You need to book: email info@leedshopsitalalert.org.uk

After yesterday's excellent Leeds Taking Soundings meeting with Chris Bem on what is hapening to the NHS we would urge everyone to attend this important conference.