Birmingham Salon


Talking liberty - Escaping the Straitjacket of Mental Health

Saturday 14th October, 1.00 pm - 3.00 pm

Map Room, Cherry Reds, 88-92 John Bright Street, B1 1BN

Free entry but donations welcome. Donations help us to meet speaker travel and room hire costs for our two debate Salon events.

Please book via EventBrite

We are resuming this year's series of discussions based on The Academy of Ideas Letters on Liberty

In his Letter on Liberty, Escaping the Straitjacket of Mental Health, senior lecturer in social work and mental health Ken McLaughlin discusses mental health and liberty from several angles. There is a longstanding critique of the concept of mental health which is that mental health problems are often caused by material and social circumstances, not by individual failings. Secondly, he agrees with the idea that some mental health episodes mean that people are no longer able to respond to reason, and that on a temporary basis they can be deprived of their liberty in order to keep them safe whilst they receive appropriate treatment. However, he points out that once able to return to the community under a Community Treatment Order, they remain in an unsatisfactory hybrid position, "neither patient or citizen, but a diminished hybrid of the two, the 'community patient'." Ken McLaughlin also suggests that a new group of professionals within workplaces and educational establishments benefit from talking up mental health as an issue. 

How far do you agree with these points? Please join us to discuss. We request you read the Letter on Liberty before coming along. However, the arguments made in it will be introduced by Jo Hurlow, who will then also give his response. Josephine Leibrandt will also give her response. 

Jo Hurlow is a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist and President of Birmingham Medicolegal Society.
Josephine Leibrandt is a counsellor and trainee psychotherapist studying an MSc & Advanced Diploma at Newman University. Josephine has also worked on research into anxiety and on services provided to autistic children. 

Rosie Cuckston

Further reading:

Suppressing negative thoughts may be good for mental health after all, University of Cambridge Research News, Sep 2023

Inward and upward

Saturday 16th September, 1.00 pm - 5.00 pm

John Peek Room, Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, Birmingham, B3 3BU

Small Expectations? Social Mobility in the 21st Century

1.15 - 2.45 pm

Over the past 50 years, people in Britain who are born in to professional-managerial families are approximately 9 times as likely to enter managerial or professional careers as they are manual routine jobs. If you are from a family of unskilled workers, you have less than half the chance of accessing ‘salariat’ employment and around 4 times the chance of ending up in the most disadvantaged rountine positions.

The OECD reports that children from ethnic minority families engaged in unskilled work were much more likely to achieve long-range upward mobility than their white counterparts. The exception are men from Pakistani, Bangladeshi backgrounds who have fallen behind over the past 50 years, with a decline in their presence in the managerial or professional sector.

As economist Steffan Ball has stated "On social mobility, political debate is often focused on who climbs up the social ladder and that is critical. But it should also consider whether better off families retain their social and economic position. And on this metric too, the poorest and the richest in the U.K. are the most socially immobile. So this exacerbates social inequalities.”

The pace of social mobility has slowed but there is little consensus as to why. Factors like education, housing, and taxation have all have effects on our life chances.  As does geography: a high percentage of the high paying service sector jobs are based in the South East, which creates a disadvantage for the regions. 

Home ownership and a university degree have been seen as short cuts to social mobility and hence a focus of government policy in spite of both relying on increasing levels of debt. Both of these approaches look to have failed, with discouragingly higher mortgage interest rates and a much less marked salary disparity between graduates and non-graduates, with everyone’s wages squeezed.

Implied in the concept of social mobility is that, on the whole, movement is upwards. However, sociologist John Goldthorpe has pointed out "Politicians don’t want to hear the truth, which is that for people to climb the social ladder, others must move.” Where would they move to? Does this reveal there is no ceiling to mobility, or is it a hint that some must lower their expectations? 

The concept of social mobility requires us to think about meritocracy, equality, family and community.  What would our country look like if offered true social mobility? Does one person’s inheritance, financial or cultural, block another’s opportunity?


Lisa Mckenzie, working-class academic focused on issues of social and class inequality. Author, Working Class Lockdown Diaries (2021) and Getting By:Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain (2015)
Hilary Salt, founder, First Actuarial LLP. Hilary provides pension consultancy advice and undertakes policy work in private sector and public service organisations.

Chair - Simon Curtis
Session produced by Rosie Pocklington


The Myth of Class Mobility, Riposte magazine interviewing Lisa McKenzie, 2018
Social Mobility, the Next Generation, Sutton Trust report, 2023
The Myth of Social Mobility, Joanna Williams, Spiked 2019

Break - 2.45 - 3.15 pm. Tea/coffee included in ticket price.

Immigration: numbers, skills, visas or values?

3.15 - 4.45 pm

Immigration is one of the most divisive and emotive subjects of modern times. There are those who believe that the UK’s borders should be more open to allow those in need to enter the country. They often resort to caricaturing those who disagree with them as racist.  On the other side are people who want stricter border controls who see the opposition’s  only interest in immigration laws as how to help the people who break them, letting in rapists, thieves, and murderers through their misguided kindness, or carelessly allowing British working class lives to be significantly impacted.

The increase in levels of immigration to the UK comes from a mixture of official controlled routes, including new ones for people from Ukraine, Hong Kong, and Afghanistan, and illegal ones. What is it that is causing concern about immigration? Is it true that the UK is mainly hostile to refugees and that if we had more legal routes to apply then so many people would not risk crossing the Channel in a small boat and immigrant numbers would be lower? Or is Britain actually on balance a success story for immigration but now unable to provide for everyone already here? 

Often expressed is the idea that we just want control over our borders and that we just want to debate immigration. But what would this control look like? What effects would it have, and what is it exactly that we aren’t debating? 

Perhaps it comes down to whether there is maximum number of immigrants we can accommodate in the broadest sense of the word, or add to our workforce. If so,  is that merely a question of resources and need for certain skills, or of other things, like maintaining shared values? 


Sam Bidwell, Director, Centre for Commonwealth Affairs, Parliamentary researcher and writer for The Critic

Chair - Chris Akers, host 286 Project podcast
Session produced by Chris Akers



Coming up at Birmingham Salon this autumn:

Small Expectations? Social Mobility in the 21st Century

Immigration: Numbers, skills, values or visas?

Saturday 16th September, 1 pm - 5 pm, Birmingham and Midland Institute

Further details coming soon. Tickets £15 via EventBrite

Talking Liberty - Escaping the Straitjacket of Mental Health

Saturday 14th October 1 pm - 3 pm, Cherry Reds

Donations only. Tickets via EventBrite

Talking Liberty - Social and Political Freedom by Knockout

Saturday 18th November 1pm - 3 pm, Cherry Reds

Donations only. Tickets via EventBrite


Talking liberty - Taking conscience seriously

Saturday 24th June, 1.00 pm - 3.00 pm

Map Room, Cherry Reds, 88-92 John Bright Street, B1 1BN

Free entry but donations welcome. Donations help us to meet speaker travel and room hire costs for our two debate Salon events.

Please book via EventBrite

In a world where talk of conscience seems rather shallow (you can both invest and party with a conscience according to two recent news items) it's heartening to read the Letter on Liberty, Taking Conscience Seriously, where Dolan Cummings argues gives a fuller account of conscience: that inner conviction about what is right or wrong. Conscience, he says, is not necessarily unchanging, is subject to external influence, and is an instinct that can be educated.  

Whether we're considering assertions about speech being free or harmful, having an argument over whether lockdowns were great for saving lives or an authoritarian measure that prioritised health over other things that make lives worth living, or weighing up the merits of car ownership against concerns about air pollution, our conscience will be involved in our deliberations and decisions. Beyond the narrow idea of freedom of conscience - live and let live - argues Cummings, conscience acts as "a bulwark against groupthink and moral conformism". 

Does conscience need a religious context, or at least some kind of religious heritage, in order to work properly? An instinct, especially a moral one, sounds a bit like something that would discard reasoning and science. Why would we value something that might challenge groupthink if it does so by disregarding evidence and deciding on something that sounds unsafe or unsound? And is conscience something that gives us pangs or is it always switched on? 

In the third of this year's series of discussions based on the Academy of Ideas Letters on Liberty, Simon Curtis will introduce the ideas and arguments put forward by Cummings.  Simon Curtis is a regular attendee of the Salon.

We strongly recommend reading Taking Conscience Seriously before coming along to this Salon.

Further reading


United? Kingdom?

Saturday 22nd April, 1.00 pm - 5.00 pm

The Arthur Sullivan Room, Birmingham Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BU

Tickets £15 via EventBrite 

Join us for the Birmingham book launch of Taking Control: Sovereignty and Democracy after Brexit (Polity 2023) by Philip Cunliffe, George Hoare, Lee Jones and Peter Ramsay plus a debate on the future of Ireland and another debate on the future of the monarchy.

1.10 pm - 1.40 pm
Book launch 

Peter Ramsay, Professor of Law, London School of Economics, will introduce Taking Control: Sovereignty and Democracy after Brexit in conversation with Salon organiser Dave Aveston.

The introduction to the book is available to read on Amazon.

1.45 pm - 3.00 pm
Debate - What is the future for Ireland?

For the best part of a thousand years the history of Ireland has been bound up with that of England.  The relationship has never been a stable one.  England made many attempts to subjugate and colonise its neighbour. The plantation system which it introduced there acted as a model for later British colonial adventures. The harsh treatment of the Catholic majority was one factor in ensuring that the attempt to incorporate Ireland into the United Kingdom was never likely to succeed for long.  Similarly the granting of partial independence and the partition of the island provoked violent upheaval that has never been fully resolved.  

The peace agreement put in place by Tony Blair’s government at the end of the 1990s remains one of his proudest achievements. Yet this power-sharing compromise was never likely to resolve the problems in Northern Ireland permanently as it left the status of the province ambiguously poised between Britain and the Republic of Ireland, with neither state claiming ultimate sovereignty over the territory.  

When both the UK and Ireland were part of the European community it might have looked as though long-term stability was possible, but this was only achieved by both nations and their people subsuming part of their sovereignty to a larger organisation. The arrangement was always likely to unravel at some point. As it happened the decision by the British people to leave the EU was the event which precipitated this unravelling.  While some predicted that Brexit would lead to a renewal of the ‘troubles’, violent unrest has not erupted, but the political system in Stormont has ground to a halt.  

Rishi Sunak’s Windsor Framework has been widely lauded as an imaginative and practical solution to the deadlock, but even if it does succeed, it will do so by leaving Northern Ireland subject to certain rules and regulations that do not apply in the rest of the UK. Can the Union survive a trade border within the UK? Can any diplomatic agreement succeed as long as the question of Northern Ireland’s position within the UK remains an anomaly, with a completely different type of government to the rest of the state? Tony Blair’s Good Friday agreement included a provision that, if the majority ever wanted it, Northern Ireland could join the Republic. Is this a realistic possibility? What then are the prospects facing the people of Ireland over the next decade or two? And what contribution if any will people in Britain make to this future?

Pauline Hadaway: writer and researcher. Pauline completed her doctoral research at University of Manchester examining the cultural economy and politics of peace building in Northen Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement.
Peter Ramsay, Professor of Law, LSE. Peter also writes about politics at
Chrissie Daz
The Graveyard of Euroscepticism, Peter Ramsay, Northern Star
Will the Windsor Framework get Brexit Done? Tom McTague, UnHerd
Is there no growth in support for a united Ireland? Is support shrinking instead? FactCheck NI

3.00 pm - 3.30 pm - Break (tea and coffee included in ticket price)

3.30 pm - 4.45 pm 
Debate - What is the future of the monarchy

Another aspect of the relation between the monarchy and politics is rarely ever discussed as our speaker, Don Milligan, points out.  This is “the role of the monarchy within Parliamentary democracy where the powers of the Crown [giving legitimacy]are exercised by the prime minister and the government of the day without any public or democratic scrutiny”. It means the Prime Minister instructs the monarch to appoint people to the House of Lords, Supreme Court and also to the Privy Council. Three members of the Privy council can convene completely secret meetings of first ministers, ministers and other leading figures in the state. These are not frequent, but should there be any such meetings at all?

Whilst there is a campaign to make Britain a republic, quite often the focus is on the cost of the monarchy and others have argued this is not of the utmost importance compared to the democratic impact. But is the focus on the royal family’s wealth a problem when so many other services are crying out for investment and the King is already very rich? If we had a republic, would we replace the role of monarch in some other form such as a president? Nigel Farage said a republican head of state would be “some sort of duffer, somebody who had failed”. But why would that be? If we had a presidency, how would it interact with Parliament? When we are already supposedly embarrassed by our history and tradition, how could we invest a republic with some foundational principles which might carry it on into the future, a new tradition? Should we keep the monarchy as it is, or just with all its non-Parliamentary trappings for some other reasons? If so, what would they be?

Don Milligan: author, The Embrace of Capital: Capitalism from the Inside (Zero books 2022. Don has been a gay activist, trade unionist, and member of the communist movement for many years.
Tessa Clarke: Tessa is a journalist, author, documentary reporter and blogs at Diary.of.a.Journalist on Instagram. She is the author of two books on free speech, privacy and the royals.
Rosie Cuckston
What's wrong with the monarchy? Don Milligan, Off the Cuff
The republican anti-aesthetic, Samuel Martin, The Critic
The rational case for a British republic, Mick Hume, Spiked Online


Talking liberty - The seductive power of literature

Saturday 25th March, 1.00 pm - 3.00 pm

Map Room, Cherry Reds, 88-92 John Bright Street, B1 1BN

Free entry but donations welcome. Donations help us to meet speaker travel costs for our two debate Salon events.

Please book via EventBrite

In his Letter on Liberty, The Seductive Power of Literature, author and film-maker Phil Harrison makes the case for the importance to freedom of reading. "A book must be an axe that smashes the frozen sea inside us" Kafka wrote. Harrison sets out what happens to our awareness of language, of our desires and motivations, and to our understanding of the "other" when we read, elaborating on Kafka's metaphor with reference to a range of writers from George Eliot to JM Coetzee. 

Good writing (and reading of it) helps us break out of the constraints, pressures, and attempts to reduce what we are that is imposed upon us by the politics of right and left, Harrison argues. As sensitivity readers get to work on Roald Dahl, James Bond, and Ladybird fairytales, to what degree can this essay help us consider what is happening? 

Please join us in the Map Room from 1.00 pm.  At 1.15 pm, Rosie Pocklington, Salon regular, avid reader and member of Moseley Writers Group and Florence Cuckston Fenn, an A Level English Literature student will introduce the arguments made in this Letter on Liberty and give their response to it.  Attendees are strongly encouraged to read The Seductive Power of Literature, although the arguments in it will be summarised by Rosie. The Letters on Liberty are available at £5 for a group of three or as free PDFs.

Further reading


Talking Liberty - In defence of teaching history

Saturday 25th February
1.00 pm - 3.00 pm
Map Room, Cherry Reds, 88-92 John Bright Street, B1 1BN

Free entry but donations welcome. Donations help us to meet speaker travel costs for our two debate Salon events.

Please book via EventBrite

This is the second in our occasional series of events where we discuss topics covered in the Academy of Idea Letters on Liberty series.

In his Letter on Liberty, In defence of teaching history, historian, author and teacher Nicholas Kinloch writes: "History has long been the most controversial of all subjects on the school curriculum. No-one seems to worry very much about what children are taught in geography, drama or even science (although this may be changing). History has always been different.

What children should learn about the past, and how they should learn it, has invariably been the subject of considerable disagreement."

The essay then goes on to consider the issue of decolonisation, the influence of critical race theory, and the ideal of achieving objectivity in looking at history.

From l.10 - 1.40, Vince Gould will introduce his music and history project Abolition Times. Vincent Gould is a performance poet, musician and actor. He has been making songs, poems, satire and video for the last decade or so. To find out more about his current project go to Abolition Times

And then from 1.45, Chris Akers will introduce the arguments in the Letter on Liberty itself, and his own response to them, followed by discussion. Chris has been working in the care sector for over 15 years and graduated from Open University in 2015 with a degree in Psychology. He also has written about boxing, notably King of the Journeymen with Peter Buckley, and is interested in history, politics, and sport.

Attendees are encouraged to read the Letter on Liberty being discussed, although the arguments in it will be summarised by Chris.

Further reading


Aspects of the Omnicrisis

 Saturday 28th January, 1.00 pm - 5.00 pm

The Arthur Sullivan Room, Birmingham Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BU

Tickets £15 available at the event (cash only) or via EventBrite

National interest and global order - which comes first?

1.15 pm - 2.45 pm

The invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was a shock to the system of international relations. There was surprise that Russia believes its action serves its national interest and that we are seeing Europe once again threatened with war. The decades-long attempt to manage conflict and operate a rules-based order through supranational organisations like the UN, NATO and the EU was supposed prevent another world war. 

The supranational system and its ideals is also a way for the United States to pursue its own national interests. It does this despite its relative economic decline, by political and military means in the guise of freedom and human rights promoting respectability. This year it has also been pushing these interests more openly, from imposing sanctions on Chinese technology companies and capitalising on the energy crisis in Europe to taking advantage of the strength of the dollar in international trade.  

The war in Ukraine has not undermined supranational institutions which still have the support of the most powerful world leaders. Going it alone doesn’t look like an attractive option. NATO seems to be stronger than ever in most of Europe where many feel threatened by Russia. When British Prime Minister Truss tried to follow a new economic policy, she was soon forced to resign after the IMF commented negatively. When her successor Sunak suggested that he had better things to do than attend the COP27 climate conference such was the criticism, he quickly changed his mind. 

What is the significance of recent events in the tug of war between supranational institutions and nation states? What ideas might guide international relations in the future? As the war drags on in Ukraine, impacts Europe and conflicts break out in other countries bordering Russia, is it possible to agree a system that will operate to prevent future conflicts. Or would this inevitably be a cover for the most powerful nations to impose their will on others? As politicians and policy continue to be influenced by supranational organisations, is national sovereignty an illusion or more important than ever?


Dr Philip Cunliffe, Associate Professor in International Relations, University College London; author, The New Twenty Years’ Crisis 1999-2019: A critique of international relations; co-host, @Bungacast podcast

Dr Jake Scott, political theorist specialising in theories of peoplehood and populism. Jake has appeared on France24, GB News, and is a regular on TalkTV;


Dave Aveston

How to prevent World War III, Philip Cunliffe, UnHerd
Whatever happened to the national interest, Pete Ramsay & Philip Cunliffe, The Northern Star

Break: tea/coffee (included in ticket price) 2.45 - 3.15 pm

Reparations, industrial revolution: how should poor nations develop in the 21st century?

3.15 pm - 4.45 pm

During the Enlightenment period of the 18th century, the emerging system of industrial capitalism was largely greeted with enthusiasm.  It was thought that, over time, industry would bring wealth to all and that the gap between rich and poor nations would gradually decline.  

Clearly this dream has not been realised; if anything the trend has been in the opposite direction.  The Covid pandemic and responses to it is part of the reason for this. Previous explanations for uneven development have ranged from crudely racist ones, cultural and geographical factors, naked exploitation and the exigencies of cold war politics.  Behind even the most despicable of these explanations, however, there always lay an understanding that, at least in principle, the poor world ought to be allowed to catch up and that worldwide industrial development of the kind seen in the West would be in the interests of humanity as a whole. But this thinking has changed. At COP27 it was clear that the industrial revolution is now viewed as the first step on the path to the climate emergency. 

Do climate change and other environmental impacts of industrial development mean we have come up against a natural barrier beyond which it is no longer possible to go?  Is it now necessary to restrain growth in order to avoid destroying the planet, and what will that mean for billions of people in conditions of extreme poverty? Should they not enjoy the high standards of living modern society has shown are possible? Are Western environmentalist ideals just another form of colonialism or do they offer a different pathway, learning from previous mistakes and sparing people from catastrophe? Could loss and damage payments from the rich countries be part of a better route to development or are they tokenistic in the bigger scheme of changes that poor countries need?


Austin Williams, Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Kingston School of Art; author China's Urban Revolution:Understanding Chinese Eco-cities

John Vogler, Professorial Research Fellow in International Relations, University of Keele; author Climate Change in World Politics


Chrissie Daz  


The global south has the power to force radical climate action, Jason Hickel, Al Jazeera


Coming up in 2023

Coming up in 2023...

Aspects of the Omnicrisis
Saturday 28th January, Birmingham & Midland Institute

This is our event rescheduled from October 2022 looking at changes to the international order, supranational institutions and globalism, and how poorer countries should develop in the 21st century.

Speakers include Philip Cunliffe, Associate Professor in International Relations, University College London, Austin Williams, Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Kingston School of Art and John Vogler, Professorial Research Fellow in International Relations, University of Keele.

Talking liberty - In defence of teaching history
Saturday 25th February, Map Room at Cherry Reds

Talking liberty - The seductive power of literature
Saturday 25th March, Map Room at Cherry Reds

The Talking Liberty events will consider the arguments put forward in the Academy of Ideas Letters on Liberty on these subjects.

United? Kingdom?
Saturday 22nd April, Birmingham & Midland Institute

With the coronation of King Charles III approaching, we will discuss the institution of the British monarchy and also consider the future of Ireland.

Speakers include Don Milligan, author The Embrace of Capital 

Talking Liberty - The Future of Free Speech

Talking Liberty - the future of free speech

Saturday 12th November
1.00 pm - 3.30 pm
Map Room, Cherry Reds, 88-92 John Bright Street, B1 1BN

Free entry but donations welcome

Please book via EventBrite

This is the first in an occasional series of discussions based on the Letters on Liberty essays published by the Academy of Ideas.

Please join us from 1.00 pm for social time and informal discussion. From 1.45 pm we will introduce and discuss the essay The Future of Free Speech by Jacob Mchangama. You can purchase the essay in booklet format or download a PDF version. You are strongly encouraged to read it to contribute more fully to the discussion, but if you don't we will give a short summary to introduce the key arguments.

Mchangama is the author of Free Speech:a history from Socrates to Social Media, and he argues in this essay that we are in a free speech recession. 

"Free speech is one of the most powerful and transformative ideas ever conceived. It is held as the 'first freedom, the bedrock of democracy, the enemy of tyranny, the midwife of enlightenment and the source of truth...But free speech is far from assured; it has not been the default position in the long arc of history. Thus, after decades of global gains, it has now suffered more than a decade of setbacks."

How far do you agree with these assertions? Does Mchangama set out a convincing case for the importance of free speech? Is it helpful to those who want to defend free speech, or are there significant omissions? 

Following our discussion, we will agree which of the Letters on Liberty to discuss in 2023.

Free speech in the news:

National Secular Society defends free speech at 'Stand with Salman' event

Arrest of protestors prompts free speech concerns

Joanne Harris faces member vote on Society of Authors role amid call for free speech review

John Cleese set to join GB News in a push for 'free speech'

Most students think UK universities protect free speech, survey finds