To understand Brexit in 2017 we need to learn from the UK housing bubble in 2007

On Valentine’s Day 2007, a short news item inside the Financial Times was the first report that the housing bubble in the US was about to collapse. Financial analysts in Germany had found that the US sub-prime housing mortgage market was seizing up.

Now ten years on, the worldwide economic waves from the collapse of the US housing bubble are still rocking the shores of the UK. The reports so far have focused on the impact on the major banks, with pictures of their big shiny office buildings in London and New York.

A better analysis would look beyond the banks and into local economies. UK housing values outside of London have not had a good decade. Some communities have seen property values collapse to 50% or less from their peak. The conventional explanation given is that the local economy has collapsed, too few jobs, too little pay. Blame the locals for their low skills.

Another explanation would swap the cart and the horse around: the collapse of housing values has drained wealth from the local economy. This is especially so since the 1980s when people were first encouraged or coerced to use the value of their home for their retirement income and for social care costs. But since then housing has switched from being a source of family capital to becoming a source of business revenue through high rents.

Politics and economics are two sides of the same coin. The collapse of the UK housing bubble, triggered by the US in 2007, has been very uneven. The so-called Northern Heartlands have seen the worst, especially outside of the main Northern cities. Wealth has been drawn back to London, and the London housing bubble continues to just about hold up, but under intense pressure.

Now map the Brexit vote onto the selling price movements in the UK housing market since 2007. The correlation is very clear.

Yes, the Brexit vote to leave was a protest. And it did involve a protest with London. But it wasn’t about metropolitan values, experts, or liberal elites – it was the sense in the wider country that London had used its tight hold on economics and politics to save its own housing market at many other people’s expense.

Populist movements have since tried to link the Brexit vote to immigration, sadly with some success. But London is a world city – so diverse, so many cultures, so many languages, and so many immigrants. Yet London voted to remain in the EU, while many other areas with negligible numbers of immigrants voted to leave.

To fix Brexit we need to fix the economy, and to fix the economy we need to resolve the aftermath of the UK housing bubble, a solution which has to include London.

Pundits are wrong when they claim that the Brexit leave voters wanted to go back to the 1950s. They didn’t. They just wanted to go back to 2006, before their homes and the local economy tanked.

Flying to Tenerife, the hard way

Today we flew to Tenerife, but only after a medical emergency divert from over the Atlantic to land at Brest in France.

A 40s male disabled passenger collapsed about an hour into the flight, the first we saw was the crew running back with an oxygen cylinder then a call out for any doctor, nurse or paramedic to identify themselves. Fortunately a nurse was found, and we diverted. Sitting as we usually do in the front row for access we saw how the crew handled the situation very well. We offered some medical devices but the crew had all they needed.

As we landed another aircraft was being held on the runway start, letting us land ahead of their take off, then we brake like fury on what is left of the runway and an ambulance and support vehicles are waiting nearby. The man had rallied a bit by then and was talking as he was taken off with his two family members.

Then their bags and wheelchair are removed, a cabin security check, refuel, and off we go again. As the French paramedics enter the aircraft the crew have to check their ID badges at the door. The crew manager told us this was her first divert ever, seven years and around 2,000 flights in.

Good team work, and all safe.

But they say that no good deed goes unpunished, so when we arrive at Tenerife our own electric wheelchair is nowhere to be found after searching all the holds in the plane. Nada, we were told.

We struggle with an airport manual wheelchair, highly unsupportive and consequently painful, and make our way via all departments to the Easyjet desk and gathering a team of helpers as we go, the discussions going in English and Spanish via a bit of German. We complete all the paperwork, but no-one knows if our electric wheelchair is still in Manchester or has been incorrectly offloaded in France or where now. We will reimburse you if you have to buy clean underwear, the forms say in their lost-luggage thinking, but the notion of a lost wheelchair seems not to tick any of their boxes.

We have our contacts here so we arrange a replacement electric wheelchair from a hire business next to our hotel, and they are smashing and really do their best. But wheelchairs are like shoes, they do not all fit the same, and it cause problems if you try, so our make-do is unsatisfactory despite their help.

Then having checked in to the hotel we are both working the phones trying to speak to anyone who might have a clue, but the Easyjet call centre woman is in Cape Town and seems only to have Google as an office resource, and Manchester Airport can only find a phone number for the baggage handlers in Edinburgh, and another suggested enquiries number shuts at 5.30pm.

So, if any Easyjet or Menzies staff read blogs, you have our number and a call would be appreciated, and our wheelchair promptly reunited with us would be even better.

What are the odds?

  • Update

Over a day later, the wheelchair eventually arrived at the hotel with travel stickers showing its convoluted route of: Manchester – Brest – Paris – Gatwick – Tenerife South.

A policy for sustainable agriculture and local food in Greater Manchester


The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) has been issued as a draft for consultation with a closing date of 16 January 2017 for responses. The hottest topic within the draft framework is the suggestion to allocate some Green Belt land for new housing, and there are already many campaigns and petitions against this proposal. The details are available at the website of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

However, there is little mention of agriculture within the framework, and this article suggests some ways to address this gap.


It has been estimated by DEFRA that around 25% of the land in Greater Manchester is rural in character, including semi-rural communities and villages. And to be fair to the draft framework, there are policy proposals for high moorland, for low wetlands, for biodiversity, for water and flood management, for parks, and for green infrastructure. But there is very little discussion about agriculture, and the following extract from page 66 probably summarises the thinking:

The greatest potential for conflict with other functions is from food production, and it may be appropriate to reduce the amount of agricultural activity, or mitigate its impacts, in some locations in order to deliver improvements in priorities such as nature conservation, carbon storage and flood risk management.” (Green Infrastructure, Policy GM7, page 66)

From fearing the worst to encouraging the best

So, basically agriculture is the enemy of nature, where farming should be limited to areas where the damage will be minimised.

There is a germ of truth in this thinking: at its worst modern large-scale farming can be very monocultural, with minimal employment, using high inputs of fertiliser which too often runs off and pollutes watercourses, using heavy equipment which crush earthworms and erode the topsoil, as well as being an industry that is creating vast areas which are sterilised or toxic with pesticides and thus devoid of insects, mammals and birds, and increasingly devoid of pollinators such as bees. The token hedgerow is tolerated because it is paid for with a subsidy. At its worst.

But agriculture is also how we eat. Our source of food. It is too important to ignore or push to the margins.

Culture, strategy, and soft power

There is a saying taught in business schools that culture eats strategy for breakfast. And the culture of Greater Manchester is important here – it is a culture of partnership working as the default method for everything, of sustainability as the essential goal, of people and inclusive communities at the centre of decisions, and of having mature conversations when difficult decisions need to be faced.

The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is valuably underpinned with this regional culture, and the framework would fail if the culture was less effective. Thus, the framework is not just a shopping list of statutory planning powers because people and organisations also understand how to make the best use of their soft power. This region uses its soft power to ensure an alignment of strategies, whether about skills, employment, research, regeneration, volunteering, education, health, and economic growth; aligned with land use planning.

So, let us imagine that within Greater Manchester we want to encourage agriculture at its best. This would connect people and communities back with nature as a source of food as well as a source of recreation. The alternative is to fall back on just a few city farms for school children to walk around in organised tours, some berry bushes lost in the bramble beside a footpath, and allotments where tolerated.

To be clear, the key rural areas – including high moorlands, low wetlands, flood plains, subsided mining flashes, green corridors, remote wilderness – all these need nurturing and protection, including from agricultural degradations such as peat extraction or heather cover reduction.

But for much of rural Greater Manchester, there could and should be sustainable agriculture – food – and at its best.

Small holdings

As much as anything this article is intended to encourage a conversation rather than laying down a blueprint. But one practical example that is often overlooked is the small holding.

By small holdings here we would expect to see: residential family housing set in an area of land no more than a few hectares, possibly with a selection of one or two outbuildings for small animals such as chickens, greenhouses, polytunnels, orchards or bedded crops. It could be in a rural or a semi-rural area, or within an infill urban site if the land is uncontaminated.

Increasingly we can see many urban gardens and allotments being a resource as part of a green infrastructure which supports biodiversity to a greater extent than some of large agriculture. This is because of the progressive choices being made by many gardeners. With an organised approach by a range public bodies, from skills to economic development, this positive development could also be applied to small holdings.

The likelihood is that such small holdings will not alone provide sufficient income for a family, nor necessarily will all the produce be marketed for sale. However, small holdings can work as part of a mixed economy of off-farm paid work or on-farm crafts and creative trades.

The objective here is to signal an alignment of strategies, soft and hard, which enable and support a rich mosaic of smaller farming units which embed within the local economy a sustainable source of local food. This will provide a large number of people with a richer interaction with nature from an early age, and would encourage and value ‘clean’ and traceable local food within a supply chain to homes, shops, cafes, pubs, quick service and full service restaurants.

So finally, some suggested additional text for the framework could cover the following:

  1. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework recognises the environmental, economic, social and wellbeing benefits for rural and semi-rural areas – and appropriate urban sites – of sustainable agriculture which is aligned with and an enhancement to natural resources.
  2. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework encourages all public bodies to review and further improve if necessary their enabling functions in order to promote sustainable agriculture on our land and in particular to encourage its human-scale manifestations, including but not limited to supporting high-quality small holdings and larger allotments.

Disclosure: for the avoidance of doubt, this is a personal view and does not necessarily reflect the views of any previous or current clients or employers.


Climate change and USA election – Europe must offer a safe harbour for EPA and NASA scientists – and Manchester could make it happen

The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the USA is already causing concern for climate change scientists and policy makers. The early transition arrangements are already indicating that a climate change denier will head the new arrangements, and there are credible sources indicating that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) will be abolished. Scientists there and at NASA must fear for the future, globally and personally.

Now is the time for leadership to make its mark.

For the next four years Europe needs to offer a safe harbour to these scientists, a programme base where they can continue their essential work as far as possible. Funded and organised, including work visas, schools, health care, and family services. Funds should be voted by the European Parliament for the costs involved, paid to the local authorites and universities.

Candidate cities for the honour of being this safe harbour must include Berlin, Madrid and Paris and Rome. London, with its universities and English language would have been a strong candidate city before Brexit, as would Cambridge.

But, I want to make a bold suggestion here for Manchester in the UK.

Points in our favour include:

1. We have the political will and skills needed to pull together a strong partnership.
2. We have a strong track record in environmental improvements at an international level.
3. We have world-class universities, including the University of Manchester.
4. We are not afraid to show effective leadership which delivers far more than PR tweets.
5. We are internationally connected, both physically and in terms of scientific networks, including direct links to China.

There will be challenges which we can readily overcome:

Manchester City Council faces further revenue cuts in 2017-2018, so other partners will need to contribute and use their national and international influence to put a funded package together. Manchester City Council should lead on lobbying the UK government and the EU commission and parliament.

The University of Manchester received £42million from public funds for the merger with UMIST to create a greater new body. Now is the time for that strategic grant to bear its strongest fruit – by designating the old UMIST site as the new HQ for EPA and NASA scientists, and front-load the funding from reserves until the EU and UK institutions come on stream.

Years ago, Abraham Lincoln wrote eloquently to thank the cotton workers of Lancashire, including Manchester, for their boycott of the cotton trade in support of the abolition of slavery. His statue stands near the Town Hall to this day. The people of Manchester and our institutions can once again show leadership – Operation Safe Harbour – international leadership by Manchester for the fight against climate change deniers.

Update, 18 December 2016:
Today’s news “… the [US government] energy department [has] refused to hand over to the Trump transition team a list of names of staffers who had worked on climate change.”


A public history of Manchester UPIAS – the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation

Draft  (2 Dec 2016)


UPIAS was a private and radical group of British disabled people for eighteen years from 1972 to 1990, active mainly in London and Manchester. The Manchester group left a strong legacy in other, more public organisations, including the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People.


The full name of UPIAS was the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation. It was created following a letter by Paul Hunt (1937-1979) printed in The Guardian newspaper on 20 September 1972, and in the Magic Carpet newsletter of the Disabled Drivers Association, calling for a radical union of disabled people to fight for mainstream rights and to fight against segregation.

Many members of UPIAS lived in residential institutions run by big charities and they feared for reprisals or discrimination if their membership and views became known to the organisations that controlled their lives, hence the private and confidential nature of the organisation. Membership of UPIAS was by invitation only and would now be comparable to a private group on Facebook.

Over time it developed a working routine of local meetings (private), and two newsletters: the Confidential Circular (private) and Disability Challenge (public). In 1976 UPIAS published its Fundamental Principles of Disability which became its manifesto and a seminal document for the British disabled people’s movement. It took as it basis the social model of disability.

Nationally, UPIAS members invested a lot of energy in the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP) and the Disabled People’s International (DPI). However, although both organisations adopted the social model of disability and the importance of being controlled by disabled people, they did not manage to thrive as had been hoped for.

Some of the key national UPIAS members identified in the public domain were:

Ann Rae
Dick Leaman
Judy Hunt
Ken Davies
Liz Finkelstein
Maggie Davis (nee Hines)
Paul Hunt
Phillip Mason
Stephen Bradshaw
Vic Finkelstein

Some of the key members of Manchester UPIAS were:

Bernard Leach
Cathy Avison (1963-1992)
Judith Holman
Ken Lumb (1941-2009)
Kevin Hyett (1958-2004)
Linda Carroll
Lorraine Gradwell
Mark Todd
Martin Pagel
Neville Strowger (1939-2015)

and key allies and facilitators included:

Anita Clokie
Anne Plumb
Chris Drinkwater (1951-2015).

A few UPIAS meetings took place at the offices of Rochdale Voluntary Action, especially as Chris Drinkwater was working there at the time and he was a close friend of Ken Lumb. When members started to achieve their independence the Manchester UPIAS group meetings started to be held in people’s flats and houses.

Potential new members were given an introductory pack to read first. There was a discussion about adding associate membership on 3 September 1985, but there was no resolution and a decision was deferred.

Manchester UPIAS was also central to determining disabled people’s strategies for engaging politically with Manchester City Council and determining the key campaigning priorities such as access and employment.


The collection of the UPIAS Confidential Circular documents remains restricted for reasons of ethics and data protection, not least to avoid any future discrimination against living individuals who had an expectation of privacy when writing in the journal.

Further reading

About eleven years after UPIAS closed, Judy Hunt, wife of Paul Hunt, gave a talk called – A revolutionary group with a revolutionary message. A copy of this talk appeared as an article in Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People’s magazine Coalition in 2001.

The Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds holds a full set of UPIAS Confidential Circulars in a restricted access archive, as well as making available a range of public domain articles online.

Denial, and where it gets us

At a time of a major crisis in the historic child abuse being uncovered in football’s youth teams and the woeful current handling of the issue by various clubs board members, I found this week a business book on the issue of denial with a refreshingly honest approach. The extract below is an excellent summary.

Denial is a book by Richard S. Tedlow in 2010 that confronts why we sometimes choose to ignore or deny something we know. 

Choosing not to know is a human trait and it helps us in the short term, for example in times of grief. But long term it is a problem.

The book is in two parts: firms that failed in a crisis; and firms that successfully tackled a major crisis and survived.

A good case study is Johnson & Johnson which faced customer deaths in the USA from medicine tampering in the 1980s and here the company board responded in a model manner with excellent ethics and leadership.


How best to deal with corporate denial:

  1. Don’t wait for the crisis to peak
  2. Acknowledge and confront the facts
  3. Encourage team straight talking and comms
  4. Lead from the top
  5. Think long-term
  6. Don’t trash talk the issue or the opposition
  7. Tell the truth
  8. Be unconventionally right. 

“Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face — and What to Do About It.” Richard S. Tedlow, 2010.