Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mass shootings, USA and Canada

I am travelling in Canada and sitting in Toronto Pearson airport at gate B19 waiting with a crowd for my connecting flight on 24 July. On a big screen, silent with subtitles, the TV news is showing poignant tributes with flowers and chalk messages near the scene following a mass shooting in the city’s Greektown district where two people died and thirteen others have been injured.

A couple, both maybe in their thirties, are sitting near to me. He says to her, “You know, in the States for two dead we wouldn’t call that a mass shooting. Wouldn’t even make the evening news, most likely.”

I don’t think they meant it badly. But it troubles me in two ways. To say such a thing in public and so matter-of-fact when people around are maybe hurting. And that for the States it is true.

I am ‘one of those’

So, there I was, running a workshop this week as you do, getting folk to sign in and showing them how the strange coffee-making arrangements work…

  • Punter: so, how are you funded?
  • Me: well, half is from the UK regional funds and half from the EU. 
  • Punter: oh, what will you do after Brexit then?
  • Me: personally, I don’t think it will happen the way they say. Said so two years ago. 
  • Punter: ah, you are one of those.
  • Me: yep, ‘fraid so.

My consolation, as is often the case, is in Leonard Cohen –

“I told you, I told you, I to-old you, I was one of those.”

On the colour wheel the opposite of green is magenta

When we talk about green economics, we are already at a disadvantage. Because the opposition has the upper ground and can just talk about economics. It is as if the opposition already own the main idea and anything green is a minority or sub-set of their main, wider topic.

Politicians and PR people call this device framing. They try to control the language to their advantage. An example is always saying the words illegal and immigration together so that legal and welcomed and beneficial immigration becomes lost in the debate. Slogans help here.

So, my suggestion is we green folk need to do some positive framing of our own.

On the colour wheel, the opposite of green is magenta.

In which case, it is green economics versus
– the polluting magenta economics of growth at any cost,
– of unsustainable magenta exploitation of a finite planet,
– of magenta growing inequalities, and
– of magenta levels of air instead of surface travel.

And, hopefully, one day soon green economics just becomes economics.

Come the Revolution

This was written by Lorraine Gradwell, probably in the late 1990s, concerning her early development in disability politics through sports. The title comes from the name of the computer document.


As a young disabled person, at a mainstream school, my contact with other disabled teenagers was minimal. Indeed, I did my level best to avoid being seen with other disabled people in case I was identified as “one of them”. Until the day when this guy in a wheelchair took a fancy to my (non-disabled) friend. He’d seen us together – his mate drove the day-centre bus and he did the rounds in the passenger seat, much less boring than the day centre!

He knew where I lived because he had seen the taxi dropping my friend and I off at my home after school. So, he started putting notes through my letterbox, saying why didn’t my friend and I go to the “sports club” on a Friday night? He and his (non-disabled) mate would pick us up, in the Social Services bus, and take us to the Community Centre where the sports club met. In this way began my short but exciting “career” as a disabled athlete – and my introduction to the concept of the eternal triangle and unrequited love; but that’s another story.

The significant issue here is that, not only did I no longer wish to dissociate myself from all other disabled people, suddenly I was falling in love with one of them and voluntarily spending every Friday night in the company of people I would previously have run a mile from.

On those Friday nights I learnt to accept and befriend people with a wide range of impairments, abilities and social skills. I chose to meet up with those who became my friends for social occasions, and I learnt a lot about the interactions between disabled and non-disabled people. I joined in with collective action as our committee raised funds for a minibus, for sporting equipment and to pay for weekends away at sports events. Our methods may well have been a little questionable – rattling tins on the street with the best of them, as well as sponsored wheelchair marathons, but we developed team spirit and bought our bus!

By now I was in serious training – swimming 50 or 60 lengths, five times a week and lined up for selection to the England Swimming Team for the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. Although at mainstream college, with no other disabled students around that I can remember, I was spending a lot of my time in the company of disabled people both locally and nationally. I still went to the local club on a Friday, but also to archery practice twice a week. At weekend events, up and down the country, the sports were almost secondary to the social life and I was introduced to yet another concept – the one night stand, which most people entered into wholeheartedly!

At the time – early 70s – I was not at all politically aware, and disability politics were not a matter I would have understood or recognised – even if the issues were being discussed in my circles, which they were not.

And yet …

… in my late teens I was involved with others in an organisation which was set up and controlled by disabled people, which brought disabled people of many ages together at many levels, which involved non-disabled people in a supporting role, and which gave many of us a sense of pride or purpose, regardless of whether or not people agree with the competitive angle of these activities.

Personally, I made use of mainstream and “dedicated” sports facilities, became a local celebrity and role model, travelled to New Zealand to compete in the Commonwealth Games and achieved a level of integration, in an often hostile society, which would have been unlikely without my competitive sport. That these activities contributed to my confidence, my sense of personal value, and changed my view of myself as a disabled person is unquestionable.

Of course, there were and are many shortcomings to disability sports. The ruling bodies of “disability sport” do not work to principles of equal opportunities, either in their employment practices or the services they deliver. As recently as 12th February, 19 regional and national officers from the English Sports Council and other disability sports organisations met to discuss the way forward for disabled people in sport – none of these 19 were disabled people.

Many sports clubs had far too much control by non-disabled people, and many were aligned to spinal units and therefore had heavy involvement by medical professionals. Indeed the whole concept of sport as therapy, developed by Sir Ludwig Guttman of Stoke Mandeville, was questioned by many of us who saw our activities as something we had chosen to do, rather than an extension of rehabilitation. Also, the clubs that were aligned to the spinal units were, on the whole, better resourced than those such as ours, running out of a community centre on a Friday night.

There were the “hierarchies” of impairment which ruled that “paraplegic was better than polio, was better than spastic”; we knew it wasn’t true but we knew that it operated on the sports scene and elsewhere. And there was the danger of becoming a hero, the “tragic but brave” sporting type who overcame all obstacles; undoubtedly, some people revelled in this attention – but the majority of us recognised this false adulation.

There were, and are, many problems inherent in disability sports, not least the fact that any “political outcomes” are almost by chance, rather than planned. But my point is that they are a means of bringing disabled people, and especially young disabled people, together in a way that can expose them to the politics of disability and can often  lead to a questioning of society’s structures and organisation, even if this is almost an unconscious questioning.

Rather than trivialising the impact that sport can have on the lives of disabled people, might it not be better if we, as movement, recognise that this is “where a lot of disabled people are at” and seek to make links and influence how these activities are provided and by whom? We make much of the disability arts scene as a way in which we can come together, seek affirmation from each other, develop a culture of disabled people. But – dare I say it – what if you’re not the arty type? And what if you are, but you still like to train, or compete, or just play sports with your mates? It’s time the movement gave some attention to activities which attract a lot of disabled people but which we denigrate because it is often seen as therapeutic, controlled by non-disabled people and competitive.

I well remember planning a very early Coalition meeting, with a colleague, on the “politics of disability”. Halfway through the planning session he looked up at me quizzically.

“What is it?” I said.

“Well,” he said, ”you’re saying all the right things, but I don’t know why!”

Perhaps my early experiences were more valuable than I ever realised.


The will of the people is to be half out, half in – but how many of us will honestly say so?

There are lots of articles on Brexit today, one year before the leaving date. But most of them blame half the UK population for voting “the wrong way.”

They will say how the other half were stupid, manipulated, ignorant, angry, complacent, and so on. Followed by, “if only they had realised …” the lie about £350million a week to the NHS, the manipulation of Facebook and Twitter, the conspiracy of big business, the false promises, and so on.

I disagree. Two years on, we need to start an honest conversation with people we don’t happen to agree with. It doesn’t have to be long, technical or detailed.

My summary is:

1. The people voted half in, half out. And after all we have learnt since polling day, this sentiment has not changed much at all. Another referendum would also be half in, half out.

2. We need to respect every vote, not just the votes of people who agreed with us. Until we do so, the divisions across the UK will continue to fester: urban and rural, richer and poorer, younger and older, north and south.

3. So, we need to become a half member of the EU, like the people of Norway agreed years ago. We can call it associate membership, which as in any club gives us lower subscriptions and less involvement.

4. And we need to take this honest, inclusive and healing communities approach into the negotiations. So, if the negotiations fail the fall-back isn’t a catastrophic No Deal, the fall-back is a Norway cut snd paste.

5. So, from now on our politicians should negotiate amendments to a Norway cut and paste – maybe less about reindeer programmes say, and more about tweaking financial services, world trade and free movement. Which is actually still quite a hard set of asks.

Half in and half out.

In French, moitié, moitié.

In English, pragmatism.

Lies, damned lies, and economics

“A groundbreaking report published today by economists reveals that the crisps industry in Britain is worth £2.7 billion to the economy, supporting 350,000 jobs directly and a further 1.2 million jobs indirectly, exporting 4 million tonnes a year throughout the world, and featuring in many Michelin star restaurants. Fred Scroggins, Minister for Savoury Foods, said today, ‘I am delighted that Britain leads the world in crisps, securing jobs and growth for our nation and providing a bright career for many generations to come.’ The Director of the Crisps Growth Sector Hub said, ….”

Is this made up? At one level, obviously yes.

But at another level we can recognise it as a somewhat tired template for so many lobbying reports. And this can create a weariness with economics generally in the public. Some fancy person with a laptop and spreadsheet can easily justify these numbers with their patent methodology.

An interesting take on this approach is written by a group of student economists, some now graduated, who queried this received wisdom especially when their university courses still made no reference to the economic crash from 2007-08 onwards. Business as usual is no longer sustainable, they said, and these old-style econometrics were past their sell-by date. To be fair, a minority of tutors agreed with these students, but the weight of the past is still proving hard to shift.

The book is called Econocracy – worth a read –

What happens when we get to peak digital?

“There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

The current emphasis in analysing the creative industries is to focus on digital tech. For the near-future timescale this is fine, as there are still innovations yet to be fully utlised – exploited – such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence and robotics, and driverless vehicles.

However, digital tech will not be the key driver of change for ever. In the 1600s the new printing presses were revolutionary to culture and to national power across Europe. As was steam power in the late 1700s. Oil was the economic sin qua non of the 1900s. And for the early 2000s we have digital tech.

So, looking ahead beyond the near-future we need to begin to discuss what peak digital might seem like, and what creativity might do to create it and what it might do in response to it.

In exploring this point, we need to understand that creativity in not limited to being the content, such as new music sequences or film, within a digital tech channel. Creativity will apply to the channel itself as well. And channels are designed as much by ambient culture as by R&D effort in engineering labs. Consider the channel of television. The linear broadcast model of television is accessed less and less frequently especially by younger people; which is not about how up-to-date the technology is (answer is, very), but about the wider cultural attractions around on demand viewing.

Thinking further back, we can also consider the channel of pamphlets. In their day, printed pamphlets were a key driver in social and political change. They sat alongside newspapers, speeches at public meetings and rallies, and demonstrations. The technology to produce pamphlets has probably never been easier to use, yet as a type of channel its use today is almost zero.

One analysis of these changes in channels over time is to focus on convenience – it is more convenient to choose when to watch a TV programme; it is more convenient to email a pdf file than to print and then distribute a pamphlet. Which is true as far as it goes. Another analysis is to focus on the cost to a business, such as it being cheaper to send a digital movie file to a machine than to courrier reels of film to a person.

Sometimes these forces reinforce each other, sometimes they are in tension such as reducing business costs by passing some business tasks back to the customer.
So as with print, steam and oil, there will be a lasting role for digital, but creativity beyond the near-future will come from today’s early-career researchers and their peers in the wider community. In this scenario, it is the creative culture (or not) of that wider community that will influence such development and growth, thus being a place specific factor.

Manchester was a creative city long before digital tech arrived, from the new politics of universal suffrage, international trade and anti-slavery in the 1800s, through the suffragettes and Rochdale co-ops, first trades union congress, the largest LGBT+ public demonstration in the UK in the 1980s, to a city which re-invented modern urban living entwined with popular youth culture. If any city was wanted as an exemplar of the Prof Richard Florida thesis that diversity, tolerance and progressive politics enables creativity which in turn enables growth, Manchester would be such a case study.

So, if any place is likely to make sense first of what peak digital entails then there are strong historic reasons to suggest that Manchester is a strong contender for that role, not least because the Manchester culture is comfortable with change and with looking forward.

Many would agree with the proposition that sustainable living is our unsolved challenge, and as climate change advances globally along with resource shortages and increasing pollution, the time remaining to create solutions is rapidly diminishing. Crucially, fundamental changes must take place within the lifespans of younger people now living to avoid catastrophic rather than incremental damage. Digital tech has a role to play here, for example when overcoming distances without the need to travel, but it requires a huge supply of mined and quarried rocks to be processed for their rare metals and then has a manufacturing footprint so it isn’t without its own detriment.

One possibility is that peak digital is just a point at which we start to use less all round, to walk with a lighter tread. Who knows? But as a possibility it feels better to me than waiting for the next new shiny thing to save us from our perenial desire for ever-more new shiny things.