Manchester et la France ensemble contre le changement climatique #climatechange

It is good to see the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, in his first week releasing a video (below) callout to climate change scientists in the USA to come to work in France because of the hostility, denial and cuts faced in the EPA and NASA. 

My blog posting last December (below) was a similar suggestion. 

Perhaps the next stage could be some joint discussions with French activists and officials to see what can best be done in Manchester to support this European safe harbour for climate change scientists.



Why negotiate – just do it

There is a radical proposal in political circulation now, that the 3m EU citizens living in the UK should be given UK citizenship now. Not negotiated as bargaining chips. And not left to live in wretched uncertainty while protracted negotiations with the EU27 dwell on reciprocal health care or sickness benefits or whatever.

Supporters of this approach range from the right-wing Leave sponsor Peter Hargreaves to the left-wing Remain economist, academic and politician Yanis Varoufakis.

They argue that negotiation isn’t the only way to make change happen, and that following the Brexit vote an offer of UK citizenship would be morally right. It would also be politically astute, putting the pressure on the EU27 to reciprocate against the UK’s declared position. First mover advantage, for those that like the jargon.

Or, we sit on our hands while key workers such as NHS nurses from EU27 countries continue to quit the UK in disgust and despair.

Own the disruption

Yanis Varoufakis goes further, proposing that the UK simply tells the EU27 that, after the Article 50 exit is concluded the UK will adopt the Norway option for five years. It deals with the threat of a cliff edge. It provides market certainty, and the arrangement is already legally agreed and in place. Cut and paste. Prêt à partir!

Myself, I think it will take nearer ten years to transition into fully negotiated new trade agreements, bearing in mind that the single largest agreement will have to be with the EU27. But with a working arrangement in place, the pressure is off.

Equally, there are some pretty blood curdling headlines such as £100bn on the payments due from the UK to the EU27. These are not helpful, and transitional arrangements provide some useful long grass to kick this ball into. Negotiating funds with the EU has been the Whitehall day job since the 1970s, and especially so since the structural funds started in the 1980s. Every negotiation fed into the next one, the concession in one fund matched the next day by a gain in another.

The key to sorting this out will be found when politicians find such blood curdling headlines are no longer helpful. Might the general election have something to do with this? Who knows.

Zombie economics and the third recession

It is dispiriting to realise that we are probably entering our third recession in nine years – 2008, 2012 and now 2017. When will we learn to break the cycle? The newspaper article below from the 2012 recession could have been written yesterday.

Why has so little changed?

The ‘zombie economics’ identified soon after the 2008 crash still dominates the political debate. Nine years on and we are still trying more austerity, near-zero interest rates, quantitative easing to give to companies, increasing inequality, property asset bubbles, and cutbacks for non-elderly poorer people, education and health care.

Of course, Brexit is the new ingredient this time round and in some quarters it is a big enough issue to drown out all other economic debates and memories. Like many people I wish the Brexit vote had been different, and that the current debate on ‘what comes next’ would be more honest. To read of senior civil servants talk about Empire 2.0 is frankly horrible and embarrassing.

But Brexit is just one aspect of the economic pressures we face. The indications are now of GDP-measured growth falling further as we head into a trading future which many reasonable people acknowledge will be worse than we have now. Students on economics degree courses at universities in England set up Post-Crash Economics Societies, critiquing their rote learning of just one orthodox economic model when at least nine models are known to exist.

Economically, 2008 onwards to 2017 have been our lost years. Only by learning new economic realities, such as aiming for sustainable growth, can we break the cycle. Given the attacks on the welfare state, left wing groups are understandably nervous of any economic changes being used as a smokescreen to attack our common services like the NHS.

But change is required. I suggest we need a combined model reflecting rainbow economics for a fairer system, promoting the interests of:

  • environment
  • equality and fairness
  • feminism
  • internationalism
  • people and communities
  • small enterprises,

and not

  • zombie one-trick economists.

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.