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    Birmingham, Theory

    Moseley and Kings Heath councillor hustings – April 2015


    Tonight, Kings Health Residents Forum and Moseley Forum organised hustings for the local councillor election which takes place in May.

    Tonight’s event, which took place in the hall at Kings Heath Primary School, was well attended, with a surprisingly few empty chairs.  With six of the seven candidates in attendance (no sign of UKIP’s Rashpal Mondair), it was clear that there was an appetite for community involvement and after a brief three minute introduction by each of the candidates, the rest of the time was given over to questions.

    Candidates in attendance

    • Mike FRIEL – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
    • Luke HOLLAND – Independent (on Twitter as @lukeeholland)
    • Martin MULLANEY – Liberal Democrats (on Twitter as @mullaney3)
    • Elly STANTON – Green Party
    • Martin STRAKER-WELDS – Labour
    • Owen WILLIAMS – Conservative (on Twitter as @vwozone)

    Questions ranged from issues with cuts to the Library of Birmingham, problems with traffic on Kings Heath High St, green waste bins and council tax rises – oh and I even got in one about the much promised local train station.

    Rather than write up an account of the hustings, I live-tweeted the whole thing instead.  Here’s a link to a Storify, where I’ve pulled together and sorted the tweets to give you a better flavour of the evening:

    Photo by Community Spaces Fund, used under creative commons.

    Birmingham, Theory

    Kerslake debate

    Last Wednesday I went to the city council chambers for a public hearing on the Kerslake Review, organised by Pauline from News in Brum. The event was organised because of the lack of debate around the report’s release; “We are bringing the city together to debate the topic the council won’t.”

    For those asking what is the Kerslake Review; “In July 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council commissioned Sir Bob Kerslake to conduct an independent review of corporate governance in Birmingham City Council.” – Taken from, where you can find the report in full.

    The debate itself was led by a panel. Chaired by Diane Kemp from Birmingham City University, the panel also included: Pauline Geoghegan of News in Brum; Alex Yip Vice-Chair of BCProject, Business Director; Sohail Hussain, a West Midlands Youth Commissioner; Catherine Staite from Institute of Local Government at University of Birmingham; and David Bailey, Professor of Industry  at Aston University . Deliberately not the usual faces but an impressive line up never the less, one panelist admitted to having not read the 68 page report he was asked to give an opinion on, which felt a little disrespectful. However the majority of the three hours, a strict timeline as the room was being paid for privately by News in Brum (helped out with an impromptu donations on the night), was given over to the floor.

    Whilst there were a few conspiracy theories and agenda pushing, these were thankfully minimal and the majority of speakers were considered and thoughtful. There was a real feeling of love for the city, mixed with a sadness that things have gotten this bad, but a desire to move forward and improve; “Birmingham used to lead the way, now what are we leading the way in?”  Speakers from the floor also questioned the links between regional/local government and central government, issues around devolved powers, and a feeling that Birmingham was missing out on funding compared to other areas of the country.  It was clear that there were a lot of informed and passionate people in the audience, with a real desire to see things improve.

    Ultimately, whilst the opportunity to talk seemed cathartic, I do wonder what good it will have.  A report on governance felt like it was asking the council to get its house in order, and as there’s been no official forum to debate within the council, it seems that ideas on improvement from residents are even less likely to be heard.  A video at the beginning of the debate illustrated that most people didn’t know about the review and with low turn-outs for local elections, it’s hard to really get a grip on whether residents really understand what their role is with engaging local government, and if they feel there is any at all.  Still at least through the evening’s efforts there is some record of the residents of Birmingham speaking up, officially or not.

    I left feeling like there were a lot of people wishing the city well, but no clear, agreed idea of how we the residents, the council itself and both groups together move forward.  I wonder; what happens next?

    ‘Kerslake Debate 2: Child Poverty in Birmingham’ takes place at Parkside Lecture Theatre, Birmingham City University, near Millenium Point on Friday 13th March, 6.30-9pm. To book a space, visit

    Related articles

    My tweets from the evening

    Birmingham Post – Birmingham development centres too much on ‘glamour projects’

    Chamberlain Files – Andy Howell slams council’s ‘shocking’ partnership record and ‘disgraceful’ refusal to debate Kerslake Review


    Birmingham, Theory

    Death Cafe Birmingham


    Ever given up a sunny Sunday afternoon to sit around and talk death with a bunch of strangers?  I did last week for Birmingham’s first Death Cafe, which took place as part of The Electric’s Shock and Gore festival.

    The Death Cafe is a voluntary group, developed in London by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid.  There objective is simple: ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.  Birmingham’s first meeting was held in The Victoria Pub and organised by Carrie Weekes, a soon-to-be undertaker, and Sharon Hudson, a palliative care nurse specialist – with sweet treats from Conjurer’s Kitchen, and a room rather surreally decorated for a themed Dr Sketchy’s later.

    With a three-course list of questions, we sat in groups of eight and discussed attitudes to death, end of life care and what we’d like to see at our own funerals.  It was interesting to see the diversity of ages and experiences – from those working with people at the end stages of their lives, to people caring for elderly relatives and those who were just curious.  It also fascinating to see people’s experiences of talking about death in the everyday; from parents whose children didn’t want to discuss ‘what happens if…’ to those who’d written wills and had paperwork sorted for every eventuality.  Topics of assisted suicide, organ donation and the debate about knowing how long you have left were all covered too.

    Cake pop & menu

    Cake pop & menu

    It sounds strange, but I left the Death Cafe feeling oddly energised.  It gave me the opportunity to think about my own experiences with death, how better to live and questions to ask of loved ones.  For a few hours talking about death, I felt oddly more appreciative of my family and my life.

    Would I go back?  You know, I think I would.

    Check out for information on the next Birmingham Death Cafe.

    Online stuff, Theory

    Congratulations on the smug political status update

    I’ve wanted to write this for days, but it felt a little improper to do so before polling stations closed and results were read out.

    Pre-election and even on the day, my social media feeds have been full of mockery of political parties, jokes about delayed election days for certain voters and a number of other equally silly things.  I’m sorry, call me a killjoy but I don’t get the joke.

    I like democracy; sure, I think my opinion makes the most sense (otherwise why would I hold it) but I like that democracy is ultimately about the masses deciding.  The right of a political party to exist, no matter how much I agree or disagree with their policies, is part of what makes this a great system.  But a philosopher once told me that you argue against something’s strongest points not its weakest.  It’s why I’ve always been against no platform policies and more recently why I’ve been annoyed at these Facebook statuses and tweets – and I love sarcasm.  Sure, mocking something is kind of arguing against it; but is it really an effective way to changing people’s minds – are you even reaching those people who are genuinely planning on voting for those parties you vehemently dislike so much?  Maybe the question should really be were you even trying to reach them via social media?  Because to me, at least, it just looked like a group of smug self-congratulating updates which spectacularly failed to do anything useful – and the results seem to agree with me.

    So here’s my plea – and you may call me idealistic for it.  Next year it’s a general election and if you care so much about whom people vote for, get off your bums and do something useful.  If you’re passionate about a political party then join them and hand out flyers and speak to people to convince them to your party is best.  If you’re passionate about not voting for a certain political party then effectively debate with people who might be tempted to vote that way about why that party’s policies are incorrect and what the alternatives are.  Point out flaws in an argument in a way that will actually engage with people.  Talk to people who feel disengaged, tell them to register their dislike of all the parties by spoiling their ballot so their voice is counted.  Stand for election.  Hell, start your own party if you like.

    But above all, do something that might actually count.

    Birmingham, Theory

    Birmingham Salon: Pursuit of modernity in China

    Thursday’s Birmingham Salon was a bit like going back to university, having forgotten to do the assigned reading. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fascinating talk from Alan Hudson, Director of Oxford University’s Leadership Programmes for China, but it more importantly, it highlighted how little we know about China’s rise to economic stardom.

    Admittedly, this possibly not a subject ever featured on Mastermind and unlikely to be featured in a pub quiz, but Alan Hudson’s speech was thought provoking never the less. He spoke on the issues facing the cities of China; mass urbanization as over 300 million Chinese moved from the rural areas into cities, how Chinese officials intended to shape every aspect of city life from planned to lived spaces (i.e. the need for street vendors, but them making things cluttered) and how Chinese society suffered from a kind of managerialism which is becoming more evident in British society.

    Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, there was no other side to form the debate, but it almost felt like it would’ve been redundant as Hudson’s talk seemed more observational and theoretical than debatable. Yet, the audience did an excellent job of challenging his points, pointing out logical flaws and challenging Hudson’s criticisms of the views from William Hutton on liberal culture and liberal economies. All in all a fascinating discussion on a lesser known topic, with a lot learned by all.

    The next Birmingham Salon will take place on Tuesday 8 June. Check the website for more information.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    Birmingham, Theory

    What happens if a successful candidate in local elections resigns?

    A candidate in the constituency I live is running both for MP of the constituency as well as local councillor in a ward nearby.  Whilst I know this is possible, although I question how one person can do both effectively, I was more shocked to hear one of the candidate’s supporters suggest (how true this is I don’t know) in the event the candidate won both elections they would resign the councillor position.  This sounded like a great waste to me and I needed to understand the implications – could this waste taxpayers money in the event of a by-election or votes if the candidate with the second highest votes was subsequently elected?

    My first stop was Twitter, that being said it wasn’t greatly helpful.  So I called Birmingham City Council’s election line.  The person on the phone asked me who I was and I couldn’t help but answer “a concerned resident of Birmingham” – it had to be done.  According to him at least, I couldn’t be given the information unless I was a candidate.  So I emailed.  A day and a half later I had no response, so I called again.  I was once again told this wasn’t the sort of thing they dealt with as they weren’t in the Back Office (?! I’ve no idea what that means).  I kicked up a bit of a fuss and got put through to the mysterious Back Office where a nice person consulted a colleague and said they thought it would result in a by-election, but to call the Electoral Commission.

    So I did.

    And spoke to a lovely person who was the most helpful person I spoke to during all this.  They mentioned a few things and then said they’d look into it and email me back. Sadly I have a difficult email address so I didn’t get it until I emailed in and checked the spelling of my Irish-variant surname.  At the same time I got a response from Birmingham City Council.

    The email from Birmingham City Council confirmed that if a successful candidate resigned “This would therefore trigger a by election [sic]. There is no provision for the candidate with the second highest number of votes to be elected.”

    This was backed up by the email from the person at the Electoral Commission who said the failure to sign the declaration of acceptance would, according to the Local Government Act 1972, be dealt with in the usual way according to rule 89.  This, after reading it, backs up the comment from Birmingham City Council, thankfully.  You can read it here, if you’d like.

    Oh and the cost of a by-election.  According to the person at Birmingham City Council; “As for the cost of a by election this would be approximately £20,000.”

    NB: I’ve contact the candidate in question a couple of times to check whether they are intending to resign from the councillor position if elected to both, but as of yet I have had no response.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    Birmingham, Theory

    Things to do in Birmingham: Debate at the Birmingham Salon

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    Where: The Studio, Cannon St, Birmingham
    When: monthly (I visited Tuesday 9 March)
    Cost: £5

    What: A group of people felt Birmingham suffered from a lack of debate and so the Birmingham Salon was set up to allow people to watch a debate and follow it up with discussion.

    February’s topic was appropriately titled ‘Whose election is it anyway?’ with guest speakers Dolan Cummings from the Institute of Ideas and Peter Kerr, senior lecture in politics at the University of Birmingham.  Both speakers talked about a broken political system.

    Dolan Cummings discussed the general malaise of the general public, who felt divorced from the political system and the conflict over whether MPs should be viewed as “one of us” or whether this downgraded them and they should be viewed as leaders.  His solution was to reignite politics in a way that inspires the public and becomes what they want.  He suggested a 21 topics which needed discussing, but were currently being ignored.

    Peter Kerr believed that to most people there was no difference between the political parties, with the major parties more interested in the cult of celebrity and battling over who could do less and shirk responsibility.  He pointed to membership numbers of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds having more members than the Conservative party.

    The audience, it seemed, myself included, believed that the general public were still involved in politics, but couldn’t find a place in the current system.  People spoke about the wider world, with reference to the recent Iraqi elections and the popularity of pressure groups on social networking sites and community groups.

    Go back? Absolutely.  It was nice to finally see a place that allowed for people to discuss current affairs and challenge the ideas of themselves and others.  The organisers were friendly and accommodating of new people.

    The next discussion is ‘Mr Science and Mr Democracy:
the pursuit of modernity in China’ on Wednesday 21 April at The Studio.  For more information, visit theBirmingham Salon website.