Sunday, 25 November 2012

Bristol’s Festival of Economics – what next?

The first Bristol Festival of Economics concluded yesterday with three panel discussions consisting of academic economists, practitioners of economics, and challengers to the subject. Including Friday’s opening session, the 450-capacity hall at At-Bristol was packed to the rafters each time, showing that there is huge disquiet for the current situation. Which was backed up by most of the questions coming from the floor.

While several people noted that the idea of a ‘festival’ of economics sounded like something of an oxymoron, it was refreshing to see language used so effectively to challenge our conceptions about economics. The festival was such a success that Bristol Festival of Ideas, who organised the event, has announced it will become an annual event.


Panel One: People, Places and Poverty

Chairperson Julia Unwin is the chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust.

“On Monday, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation will publish its annual state of the nation report. But the top line information is that the number of people working and poor now outstrips the number of people not working and poor.”

Geoff Andrews is a lecturer in politics and an author.

“It’s striking how much poverty is still talked about as a matter of individual choice. The history of housing policy in Britain is a history of betrayal. A lot of people have been left behind.

“Food banks will feed 200,000 people over the next year – which is up from 26,000 people four years ago.  Slow food offers us a way out in this time of austerity. It’s an opportunity to examine the way we live in a much broader sense. Poverty is not here with us to stay, but we should think about what it means for us to be part of a community.”

Paul Gregg is a professor of economic and social policy.

“Pensioner poverty is in decline. Older people are further up the income distribution than they were. They’ve been replaced by families with children. For the last decade we have not been seeing rising real wages. Women’s earnings are now central to keeping families afloat – their wages are rising slowly, and more than men’s wages are.”

Lynsey Hanley is an author.

“Food is one of the strongest indicators of how living in poverty affects people at a psychological and medical level. In 2007, the housing crisis was that we weren’t building fast enough, and were only building one and two bedroom flats. There are 50-75,000 houses a year being built, but that’s a drop in the ocean of what’s needed. We’re now facing the consequences of two decades of political indecision.”

Paul Johnson is the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

“In 2010 we saw the biggest fall in average incomes in this country. It was a fall in real living standards. O% is the probability of this government meeting child poverty targets as incomes are not rising. We have become much more of a welfare state over the last 30 years. We are living in unbelievably extraordinary times. £120bn is the deficit from the cuts. 2010 was the year inequality fell by more than any other year in recent history. Working age people are now more in poverty than pensioners.
“The richest 1% of income tax payers are paying 30% of all income tax.”


Panel Two: What Next for Britain’s Economy?

Chairperson Heather Stewart is economics editor at The Observer.

“How do we rebuild an economy reliant on consumer spending? How do we build something sustainable for the long term?”

Andrew Sentance is a senior economic adviser at Pricewaterhouse Cooper.

“There has been slow growth around 1% but it hasn’t always been clear to people that there is growth. Employment has held up throughout the recession following the financial crisis. Unemployment rate has stuck at 8%, which is obviously higher than we’d like. Inflation was meant to stay at 2% but since 2006 it has been considerably higher.

“The problem with the economy is not just a lack of demand, but with adjusting to a significantly changed economic order. We’re in a new normal of disappointing growth and volatility in economic prices.

“In the long-term I’m optimistic that western economies will get back to a growth phase. But trying to predict what will drive the next wave of growth is very difficult.”

Peter Marsh is manufacturing editor at the Financial Times and an author.

“Bristol has a great manufacturing heritage and a lot of interesting things going on. In Britain there is much more manufacturing happening than people think. We’re now number nine in the world for manufacturing, which is a 2.5% world share.”

Vicky Pryce is a senior managing director at FTI Consulting Inc and an author.

“It is impossible for a small island to keep growing at the rate it has been. Next year is forecast at 0.1% growth, which means more recession. My message is to rethink how you spend the money you raise, and perhaps raise more because the government can borrow cheaply. Spend on infrastructure and housing.”


Panel Three: Economics in Crisis

Chairperson Richard Marshall is editor of 3am.

“It’s intimidating sitting here with four people with brains the size of planets, three of whom are women.”

Diane Coyle, author and programmer of this festival.

“There are two types of economists, macro and micro. Micro economists are individuals making decisions, making rational decisions about what to do. Macro economists are when you add everything together as a whole. The crisis is worse for macro economists who didn’t see it coming at all.”

Bridget Rosewell is from Volterra Partners.

“Is economics more like history or physics? Does politics affect the kind of history you do? Physics is about explaining, and when you can predict and can have a good explanation. I don’t think we should be too depressed about the state of the economy, even if we’re depressed about economists.”

Carol Propper is a professor in economics.

“I question when is the optimal time to invest in children, because studies into early child investment have shown that this pays off. Healthcare takes about 10% of the GDP. There’s a government economic service, but not a government sociological or psychological service – even though these would be useful.”

Aditya Chakrobortty is economics leader writer at The Guardian.

“If you ask economists why nobody saw it coming, some say they got too carried away with their own models – which were better than reality. I don’t buy that. Their models didn’t recognise the possibility this might happen.

“No academic discipline has shaped British society as much as economics. Economists have cheerleaded the kind of economy you’ve now got. And it will take well into 2020 before the average family in Britain is earning in real terms what they were in 2002. You’re in a crisis and nobody that I can see has the confidence, depth of study or willingness to enter into the fray.”

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Future of Capitalism

The inaugural Bristol Festival of Economics (organised by the Festival of Ideas and programmed by Diane Coyle) kicked off this evening with a panel about the Future of Capitalism at At-Bristol. 

Despite the inevitably bleak subject matter (in short: financially, we’re screwed), our four expert panellists and chairman David Smith (economics editor at The Sunday Times) presented an entertaining and engaging debate.

Here are the top lines…

Rachel Lomax is the former deputy governor of the Bank of England. This is my opportunity to mention that when I lived in London my next door neighbour was Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England until 2003: never let it be said that I miss an opportunity to name drop! 

“The 1970s were a crisis of confidence in the existing economical framework, even more so than now. There was high inflation, high unemployment, and high industrial unrest. The world was not working well. But it was a period of intense political debate that lasted until the 1980s, when a new capitalism was built. But what’s going on now?

“Economists didn’t see the 2007 crisis coming. In 2007/2008, I thought that some serious rethinking would be a great outcome of this crisis. But I don’t see that happening. Although there is a lot of pressure on banks to rethink their business models. But won’t we still be an unequal society prone to financial crisis?

“We’ve gone so far with means testing that we’ve poisoned the people just above the poverty line. Means testing has turned the nearly poor against the very poor.”

In terms of the situation for women, Rachel added: “The position of women is so much stronger than 30 or 40 years ago. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but life chances for women are hugely improved.”

Daniel Stedman Jones is a barrister and author.

“It was clear there were neo liberal policies there in the 1970s, ready to be picked up if you wanted them. Now it is less clear. We need to be much clearer about what the state can do in terms of regulation. But is it possible now to run one-country economic policies? In Britain we’re dominated by a Euro-sceptic agenda.”

John Kay is founding director of the Said Business School at Oxford University and an author.

“Nobody knows how a market will develop [he uses the development of computer as an example]. It’s a process of experiment, where most experiments fail and get shut down. That’s how market economics work, and why they’ve been more successful in generating progress than any other economic programme.”

Larry Elliott is economics editor of The Guardian and an author.

“Capitalism has produced the goods over a very long period. I don’t have any nostalgia for the world as it once was, but this crisis is a big one. It’s too early to say if it’s bigger than the 1970s’ one.

“There are certain key elements that make capitalism work: profitability, stability, legitimacy, sustainability and creativity. If we want capitalism to regenerate itself, then the current policy mix is probably working against that and keeping zombie businesses and banks alive. We’re not getting new blood coming through.”

The Bristol Festival of Economics continues tomorrow (Saturday, November 24) with three more sessions. For more information and to see if tickets are still available, please click here.

On March 8, 2013, Confronting Women’s Poverty: Turning Things Around will be a one-day event at Bristol City Hall. For more information, please click here.

The Islanders – Bristol Old Vic

This afternoon I was one of a handful of people invited to a scratch performance of The Islanders, a new theatrical piece by Amy Mason. Amy is someone I first ‘met’ on Twitter about two years ago, and have since met in person a few times. But most of all I know her to be a Bristolian writer in residence, a position she held at Spike Island until recently.

The Islanders is her first footstep into the world of playwriting. The show is a two-hander between Amy and her real-life ex Eddie Argos, and they’re supported by musician Jim Moray. The show is also a reinterpretation of their doomed teenage relationship, which saw them set up home in a grotty bedsit, only eat orange coloured food, and take a misty-eyed holiday to the Isle of Wight.

What The Islanders shows is that thanks to the benefit of hindsight, two people’s memories of the same experience can vary wildly – and this is beautifully illustrated in the sketch where Amy and Eddie read out postcards they sent home to their families: “Wish you were here… instead of us.”

Billed as a lo-fi musical, The Islanders is an affectionate and honest insight into the sort of relationship most of us probably experienced in our younger years… meaning it’s something most of us can identify with (I’m quite sure I could), which makes the performance all the more successful.

The Islanders will return to Bristol Old Vic’s Studio in April for a three-night run. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Dreadnought South West

In June 1913, eight groups of suffragists set off from starting points across the country, including Cornwall, to walk to Hyde Park in London. There they held a large rally on 26 July 1913 in support of votes for women.

Now four South West women are planning a centenary celebration of what became known as the Great 1913 Suffrage Pilgrimage.

Dreadnought South West (named after Sylvia Pankhurst’s suffragette newspaper) will comprise an original theatre piece performed at key stopping places along the South West route with associated waymarker projects promoted by schools and community groups.

Playwright Natalie McGrath and director Josie Sutcliffe, supported by cultural managers Sue Kay and Mary Schwarz, have received an Arts Council England grant to research the route, find suffrage stories and develop partnerships with venues and organisations in the towns and cities through which the Pilgrimage passed.

“Seven women started at Land’s End and made it all the way to Hyde Park,” explains Natalie. “They were joined for periods of time by many supporters as well as encountering much resistance along the way. They held open-air meetings where they were allowed. We’re really interested in exploring people’s experiences of the suffrage campaign in relation to the contemporary social, economic and political position of women today – as well as current modes of, and attitudes to, public protest.”

(Story above adapted from the Dreadnought press release.)

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Anti-Suffrage Postcards

Probably due to the recent American election, but recently there have been quite a few online articles rounding up various anti-suffrage postcards from the early 20th Century. I've blogged about this previously here, but am also rounding up links to some of the other recent articles to try and collect them in one place. If you know of any more, please let me know in the Comments section and I'll add them to this post.

The Society Pages – Vintage Anti-Suffrage Postcards

Collectors Weekly – War on Women, Waged in Postcards

Man Boobz – Anti-Suffrage Postcard Saturday

Ms Magazine – UK Suffrage Postcards

Ms Magazine – Suffragist Postcards

Ms Magazine – Live Blogging Women's History

Edwardian Promenade – Women's Suffrage Through Postcards

Suffragette Postcards

Alice Suffragette – Postcards

The Pankhurst Centre – Postcards

Sunday, 4 November 2012

I’m giving it up for One25

Do you know the charity One25? They’re a small but vital Bristol organisation that helps women exit street sex work and return to a safe and healthy life. They are also the only charity in Bristol that performs this service.

One25 has three strands to its work: night outreach work on the streets, a drop-in centre during the daytime, and one-to-one casework support.

On its website, One25 says: “The women we work with are some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in society and are unable to access services that most people take for granted. They have specific needs and specific histories that don't fit easily into generic services. Currently we are the only service in Bristol that provides an essential outreach service for this client group.”

But One25 is woefully under-supported in terms of funding and relies heavily on donations of time and money, and fundraising. I’ve previously supporting One25 with a few raffles at What TheFrock! comedy nights, but now I’m taking part in Give It Up For One25, which involves giving up something for either 125 days or 125 hours.

I’m giving up alcohol for 125 days – starting today and running until March 8 (International Women’s Day). It’ll be a shame for me not drinking over Christmas or on my birthday. But really, put it into perspective – it’s not much of a sacrifice when you think what these women have been through. Many have been raped or beaten, many are drug and/or alcohol addicts, many have nobody other than One25 to show them unconditional love and support. 

You can help in a number of ways:

You could sign-up to Give It Up For One25 yourself (it’s not too late) and raise money through sponsorship.

You could sponsor me on my Virgin page.

You could buy a One25 t-shirt for £12 (plus p&p):

You could buy the One25 Community CakeBook (review here), which includes tasty recipes from everyone including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Pieminister and the Glassboat. Available through Better Food Company (St Werburghs), Waterstones (Cribbs Causeway or The Galleries) and Foyles (Quakers Friars). Or email to order by post (plus p&p).

Or you could just donate direct to One25 and expect nothing in return!

Saturday, 3 November 2012


When the news came through that Chris Goode was bringing a new show to the Bristol Old Vic, I was one of the first to ink the date in my diary. I first saw Chris in March, performing the one-man show The Adventures of Wound Man And Shirley, which was a near-perfect and charming production about the alienation of teenage years.

God/Head is a very different experience to Wound Man And Shirley, though. It is mostly a series of monologues (some presented as dream sequences, some as sermons), and they are linked together by a musical theme.

The question posed by God/Head is not so much whether God exists, but how we come to ask ourselves questions of spirituality, and how these intertwine with the issue of mental health and science. It’s certainly a thought-provoking exercise.

While mostly a one-man show, Chris has decided to enhance God/Head by having a different guest on stage with him for each performance, meaning each evening is slightly different to the others. The effect is a sort-of chat show format, with the guest asking questions to try and help Chris come to some conclusions. But since the guest is mostly led by cues presented in envelopes, it feels rather contrived and therefore misses the idea of spontaneity that having a different guest should generate. I didn’t feel the guest brought anything to the show, and in fact I felt she rather detracted from Chris’ performance as she spent much of the time on the stage (through no fault of her own) not really having anything to do.

God/Head is not an easy watch. At 90 minutes straight, it appears as a lot of disjointed thoughts, and a lot of setting of the scene – eg, a great deal of preamble spent telling us who Zoe (his guest) was, which was not relevant to her part in the show. But just because something isn’t easy to watch, doesn’t of course mean it cannot be good to watch.

But I will be heading over to the Tobacco Factory on 26 November to see his show Hippo World Guest Book, which is on for one-night only, because I'd like to see more of what he does. Info here.

The final performance of God/Head is at Bristol Old Vic this evening, please click here for info. To visit Chris Goode’s website, please click here

NB: Review edited on November 4, 8pm