Birmingham Salon

Birmingham Salon Discusses Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Takes place on Thursday 22nd November 2018, 7.30pm at The Woodman, New Canal Street, Birmingham B5 5LG (near Millennium Point)

Our final event of 2018 will be a discussion of Jean-Paul Sartre’s, Nausea. The novel is seen as a fictional exploration of free will and responsibility, and the burden of both on the individual human being.

What do you think?

Join us for an hour of informal discussion and share your own thoughts.

At 8.30pm we will go down to the bar for drinks. Hope you can join us. There is no charge for this event.
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Saturday 29th September

11.15 am - 5.00 pm

The Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham, B2 5NY

Admission fee is £10.  Buy your ticket on Eventbrite.

Diversity and Social Class in 21st Century Britain

11.30 am - 1.00 pm

Despite the current tendency to discuss people with reference to a group identity, those identities are more usually in relation to gender, ethnic origin, sexuality, or religion, rather than social class.  In fact we might be said to be a bit disorientated about class.  The 2011 Great British Class Survey carried out via the BBC generated a huge response, but the respondents were the more affluent in society, whilst since then, in further surveys, large numbers of Brits have declared themselves working class.  

There are more women and ethnic minorities in work and treated equally at work than ever before. This contrasts strongly with the picture of 1970’s UK where social class and class conflict was much more evident through trade union membership and industrial action but women and ethnic minorities experienced significant discrimination.  

Yet today the diversity agenda arguably creates new in and out groups, gives employers and certain institutions a new mission, purpose, and power, and enables some to set themselves up as unelected spokespeople on the basis of sex or race.

This discussion will explore this change in detail, considering what the impact has been on the concept of social class and relations between the classes. Does it matter that social class doesn’t feature so much today? Should class be another strand of diversity or is it something that doesn’t really fit with the diversity agenda, or perhaps with the views of its proponents?


James Heartfield, writer and lecturer on British history and politics, author “The Equal Opportunities Revolution”, Repeater Books, 2017.

Ben Cobley, journalist, author “The Tribe: The Liberal Left and the System of Diversity”, Societas, 2018. Ben blogs at A Free Left Blog.

Chair: Rosie Cuckston, Salon organiser and HR professional

The March of the Robots

1.30 pm - 3.00 pm

The world’s first industrial robot went into production in 1961. Since then opinion has been split as to whether they would throw many of us onto the dole or free us up to enjoy more rewarding work and shorter hours; but no one doubted that their impact would be immense, and yet the robotics revolution never seemed to happen.  Today it is estimated that there is one robot for every 135 employees globally. Some speculate that this figure is set to rise significantly in the near future and the debate has been re-invigorated. 

Some of the biggest naysayers are not the sort of the people you might expect to be down on new technology and their fears are deeper and more existential in scope.  Billionaire high tech CEO Elon Musk has said that ‘… what's going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us. ... I mean all of us’. Bill Gates, and others, have proposed that robots should be taxed and the revenue used to finance universal basic income: at once slowing down their development and easing the pain as they gradually put us all out to pasture.  Stephen Hawking went even further predicting that AI could help robots to replace humanity completely.

Will the march of the robots be like a genie in a bottle: an unstoppable force that once unleashed will be beyond our capacity to moderate?  Or, if we can remain in control, should we work to encourage or suppress their development?'


Phil Mullan, writer and business manager, author “Creative Destruction”, Policy Press, 2017.
Dr Hector Gonzalez Jimenez - Lecturer in Marketing, University of York, with a research interest in human-robot interactions

Chair: Chrissie Daz, Salon organiser and writer

The NHS@70 - does it meet the needs of everyone?

3.15 pm - 4.45 pm

At a recent NHS birthday celebration in a hospital professionals and patients sang, danced, and beat drums together. Nurses and behind the scenes technical employees were cheered. Attendees found the atmosphere uplifting and motivating. It evoked memories of the London Olympics opening ceremony and its focus on the National Health Service as a source of British pride.

However the NHS ambition to meet everyone’s health needs has long been problematic, with its founder, Nye Bevan, resigning from the cabinet as soon as 1951 over the introduction of charges for spectacles, dental care and prescriptions, although he also protested about the amount of spend on medicine. Although it does very well on some health outcome scores, overall the NHS lags behind some other comparable European health systems such as those of Germany and Ireland, and the British government’s own analysis points to inequality impacting health outcomes, for example child mortality rates and life expectancy.

NHS England’s five year plans aspire for safety from danger, effective interventions for the journey from cradle to grave, and experiences to enhance your individual wellbeing. With these Utopian aspirations who isn’t the NHS serving?


Dr Simon Murphy, former MEP, mental health trust non-executive board member and expert on public-private partnerships.

David Somekh, Forensic Psychiatrist, member of European Health Futures Forum, founder of independent sector hospitals.

Rosie Cuckston, Salon organiser and HR Professional

Chair: Dr Jonathan Hurlow, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist

This Salon is a satellite event of the Battle of Ideas 2018 which will be held at The Barbican, London, on the 13th and 14th October.



What Place for the Novel in the Century of the Boxset?

Takes place on Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.30pm to 9.00pm at The Woodman, New Canal Street, Birmingham B5 5LG (near Millennium Point)

Having dodged any number of mortal threats from the cinema to the Internet, the novel finally seems to be losing its central position in cultural life. The novel has a ‘watercooler’ problem: it is gradually disappearing from everyday conversation and we seem much keener to discuss the latest season of Game of Thrones or Walking Dead.

Is the boxset poised to displace the novel?

Ofcom reports that Britain is now a binge-watching nation, with 40 million viewers watching episodes ‘back-to-back’. Meanwhile spending on novels dropped by 23% between 2012 and 2017, the Publishers Association reports.

In what is termed the ‘new golden age of television’, the epic-length boxset drama can deliver long-range development of characters such as Breaking Bad’s Walter White – whose Shakespearean-scale moral descent has entered mainstream understanding – through complex plotlines that keep us hooked, season after season. How does the novel’s unique claim to open up the interior of the human mind stand up to Breaking Bad?

Does the novel continue to offer something special or is it at least strong enough to coexist with newer narrative formats, as it has up to now? Do novelists lack the confidence that David Simon, creator of The Wire, displayed when he famously declared “Fuck the casual viewer”. Are today’s novelists too busy chasing the cultural agenda to take the lead?

And if the novel loses its foothold in mainstream culture, what do we stand to lose as humans?

The speaker and producer of this event is Sarah Bartlett.

Although there is no charge for the event, we strongly recommend you to book a place in advance on Eventbrite.

Recommended Readings
Have boxsets killed the novel? - BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, 2017

[If you read nothing else, try to read this one]


Identity and Equality – A Day of Debate

Takes place on Saturday 21st April from 11.30am to 4.45pm, upstairs at the Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY

What do disputes between identity-based groups such as women and transsexuals really mean today? Do they have a genuinely progressive dimension in society, or are they simply about conformity and hollow etiquette?

Admission fee is £10. Buy your ticket on Eventbrite.

The day’s itinerary:

11.30am to 1.00pm. Session 1 – What do women want?

Months after American actress Alyssa Milano’s tweet gave birth to the #MeToo social-media movement, the fascination with alleged sexual harassment scandal shows no signs of abating.

#MeToo has opened up a conversation about sexual harassment, we’re told. But is this a one-sided conversation, in which women who fail to toe the #metoo line are labelled misogynists, patriarchs and rape apologists?

And when men have lost their jobs for everything from accusations of knee touching to attending men-only events, is the meaning of sexual harassment losing clarity? Or does metoo mark a significant step forward, with outmoded sexual behaviour exposed and made unacceptable?

Is feminism preoccupied with frightening women about sex? Is the #MeToo movement a positive change for women's freedom? Or is today's sex panic an example of how reactionary feminism has become?


Ella Whelan – Ella is a journalist and a campaigner for free speech.
Additional speakers to be confirmed


Feminism has become obsessed with victimhood. Irish Times, 2018
Parents reckon feminism 'is not relevant'. The Scotsman, 2018
Banning F1 grid girls is a distraction from the wider workplace war. Spiked, 2018
Policing pregnancy: The new attack on women's autonomy. Spiked, 2017


13.00-13.45. Lunch

Lunch is not provided but is available from the bar downstairs.

13.45-15.15. Session 2 – Race and racism today: what can we learn from Martin Luther King?

To mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, we reappraise the legacy of his most famous dictum. In his iconic speech, King stated: ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’

But for all our reverence for this magnificent vision, King’s positive aspirations to eradicate racial difference and his commitment to equal treatment are now under severe strain.

Identity politics seems to have seized the reins from the civil rights movement – but how well does it align with King’s call to judge people by the ‘content of their character’? If judging people by their skin colour ever went away, it seems to be back with a vengeance.

Today’s social justice warriors – many of whom invoke King’s name – demand racially-segregated safe spaces on campuses and espouse ideas that are diametrically opposed to the universalist philosophy that informed King’s work. Are they more preoccupied by biological features than by character?

What would Martin Luther King make of today’s intersectional politics of identity? What can we learn from Martin Luther King?


Michell Chresfield – Michell is a lecturer in US History at the University of Birmingham

Vincent Gould – Vincent is an artist, actor and satirist

Cheryl Hudson – Cheryl is a lecturer in American History at the University of Liverpool


On MLK Day, stand against identity politics. National Review, January 2017
The ignoble lie: How the new aristocracy masks its privilege. First Things, 2018
Identity politics - What is to be done? Huffington Post, May 2017
Identity politics is killing college life. Spiked, September 2013

15.15-15.30. Drinks break

15.30-16.45. Session 3 – Exploring equality

We live at a time when the question of equality is polarising our political landscape. This talk will examine equality of opportunity, equality of outcome and equality of treatment. These are three markedly different areas of equality, each with distinctive implications for the way we organise society.

The passion and anger that tends to accompany equality activism today can obscure the conflicts that arise between different forms of equality. Activists demanding one form of equality (such as outcome) fail to see that this very equality might negate another form of equality (such as treatment). There is also a worrying tendency to see equality as a categorical imperative that trumps other social values, including difference, diversity and competition.

Equality is often used to justify demands that express irrational resentments and entitlement, hindering attempts to tackle genuine discrimination where it arises. This talk will explore these problems and attempt to offer some solutions that prioritise the flourishing of individuals, rather than groups.


Dr Greg Scorzo – Greg is a director and editor of the online magazine Culture on the Offensive.


Does Free Will Really Exist?

Takes place on Thursday 8th March 2018, 7.30pm to 9.00pm at The Woodman, New Canal Street, Birmingham B5 5LG (near Millennium Point)

When you make up your mind to do something – whether it be trivial or life-changing – is it really you who decides?  

Free will is at the core of our being.  But aren’t some events in the universe simply caused by earlier events rather than happening of their own accord? 

In what sense then do we have free will to make our own independent choices? Philosophers and scientists have spent more than 2,000 years debating this question and no definitive answer is in sight.  Are their debates just a pointless exercise in philosophical navel gazing, a waste of intellectual energy, or does the free-will debate have deeper implications in our lives? 

From the 18thcentury Enlightenment onwards, Western thinkers saw free will as distinguishing us from other animals, and gave all of humanity a common identity.  However constrained one person’s freedom might be compared with another, we all must make choices. This allows us to recognise all people as beings who share the same sort of internal lives as ourselves. 

Recent surveys show up a widening gulf between professional philosophers, scientists and graduate students on the one hand and the general public on the other. Less than 14% in the first group believe in free will, whereas over 70% do. Are we commoners deluding ourselves by holding on to a belief which implies that we are special, or it is the experts who have got it wrong?

Chrissie Daz is a school teacher, cabaret performer and author on transgender and gender variant identity. 

Dr Greg Scorzo is a director and editor of the online magazine Culture on the Offensive. He has a PhD in meta-Ethics, and has taught a wide range of philosophy seminars between 2008-13, including Plato, political philosophy, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind.

We thank the Woodman for hosting this event, and look forward to seeing you there.

Slavery and Anti-Slavery in British History

Takes place on Thursday 30thNovember 2017, 7.30pm to 9.00pm, at The Island Bar, 14-16 Suffolk Street, B1 1LT

Entrance fee: £5

For centuries Britain’s record as the leading opponent of slavery has been part of the country’s identity, and its claim to stand for justice and liberty. Indeed, groups and individuals in Birmingham played a prominent role in the anti-slavery movement. But more recently historians have been pointing to Britain’s history of slave-trading rather than that of anti-slavery. Once-lauded British heroes like Admiral Nelson and Cecil Rhodes are today pilloried as enslavers. Cities that once made their wealth from slave-trading, today get the tourists in to museums and exhibits decrying the slave trade. 

Though the slave trade has long been abolished, modern-day campaigners keep re-discovering it. 
‘Slavery’ today is used to mean all kinds of coerced work, from that of prostitutes to live-in maids – a powerful rhetorical device in framing contemporary campaigns. In the arts, the appetite for films, plays and novels about slavery is stronger than ever. Something about the slave as a figure seems strikingly relevant today. In this Salon, historian James Heartfield will try to shed light on the appetite for slave histories in the present day. 

James Heartfield is the author of a number of historical books about the British Empire, the most recent being The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society: A History

Recommended Readings:
Olugosa, David. Black and British: A Forgotten History. Macmillan, 2016
Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Nabu Press, 2011

Revolution! Thinking About the Centenary of the Russian Revolution

Sunday 1st October 2017, 1.30pm - 6.00pm, at Centrala, Unit 4, Minerva Works, 158 Fazeley Street, Birmingham B5 5RT 

Entrance fee: £7

At the centenary of the 1917 revolution which brought the Bolsheviks to power in Russia, Birmingham Salon looks at the enduring legacy of this and other past revolutions.

Buy your ticket on Skiddle now.

The afternoon's itinerary:

1.45 pm - 3.45 pm

Film screening of Every Cook Can Govern: The Life, Impact, and Works of CLR James

CLR James, the Trinidad-born revolutionary wrote about Toussaint L'Ouverture leading the 18th century revolution in Haiti in his acclaimed work, Black Jacobins. The film focuses on his life, writing and ideas, and interweaves never before seen footage of James with testimony from those who knew him.

4.15 pm - 5.45 pm

Live debate: The centenary of the Russian revolution – what is its legacy?
During 10 days that shook the world in October 1917, the Red Guard, armed factory workers, soldiers and sailors took over the telegraph office, Winter Palace and other key buildings in the then capital, Petrograd. The revolution ultimately failed. But does that mean that the Bolsheviks, and those who fought for Peace, Bread and Land, were wrong to overthrow the old regime?

What impact did the Russian revolution have on the 20th century world? What is its relevance to today? Does its ultimate failure mean that we must simply give up on the idea of a political struggle for social change? Or should we instead reflect on how better to go about building a new society?

The debate will be chaired by Helene Guldberg.


Dr Mike Fitzpatrick: Doctor and writer, former GP and veteran left-winger

Christopher Read: Professor of 20th Century History at the University of Warwick. Author of Lenin: A Revolutionary Life (Routledge, 2005) and War and Revolution in Russia: 1914-22 - The Collapse of Tsarism and the Establishment of Soviet Power (Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave 2013)

The Rise of the New Traditionalism

Thursday 8th June 7.30 pm
at The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN

Continuing our series of Salons based on topic proposals from Salon regulars, Vincent Gould will introduce a discussion on the rise of the new traditionalism.
According to several conservative commentators, populism is the new punk, and young people are turning to the right in droves. This idea has been ridiculed by the mainstream media, but a national exit poll reveals that the number of young people who voted for Trump is higher than first thought, so perhaps the idea is not as strange as it seems.
How has the right managed to utilise the new media in such as effective and unexpected way?  Conservatism has been packaged online in a way that teenagers respond to.  They have even had their own pop star in the shape of Milo Yiannopolous. 
What should we make of this phenomenon and where is it heading?
This article looks at the number of millenials voting for Trump
Damien Walter in The Independent argues that the alt-right is not the new counterculture
Exploring the punk rock right
Vince Gould. Actor, satirist and musician, Vincent has lectured at Birmingham City University and been involved in many creative projects including film, music and theatre. Vince blogs at Tales from the Rear View Mirror
Rosie Cuckston


After Brexit - An Afternoon of Debate

Saturday 18th March from 1pm to 5pm
Upstairs at the Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY

The EU referendum exposes the UK as a divided nation, with swathes of economically moribund territory and little sense of active parliamentary representation.  As the government leads us towards invoking Article 50 to start negotiations to leave the European Union, join us for our Saturday afternoon event – with two debates that will explore what shape our economy and democracy are in, what needs to change, and whether Brexit will help or hinder.

Tickets available here.

After Brexit – Where is the Economy Heading?

The Leave vote will involve one of the most significant institutional changes for our economy in recent times. And although negotiation terms are becoming clearer, the uncertainty remains acute.
Since the Referendum, sterling has been shaky, and Ernst and Young forecasts economic slowdown in the short term, with longer range economic health depending on overseas trade performance, which is chronically weak.
Now that May has committed the UK to leaving the Single Market, can free trade agreements elsewhere compensate? What exactly do World Trade Organization (WTO) trade terms entail? Does post-referendum stability simply belie the severity of problems ahead? After all, we have yet to leave the EU, so the impact has yet to materialise.
Pro-Leave economists argue that WTO tariffs are “relatively low and falling”. Prognoses for the Eurozone are dire in any case, and the UK has been grappling with problems such as productivity for decades.
Is Brexit simply forcing us to confront longstanding economic realities? Could it galvanise UK businesses into seizing opportunities with more dynamic parts of the world? Or is it the death knell for our way of life?

Phil Mullan
Phil Mullan combines business management with research and writing, primarily on economic matters. His next book is published at the end of March 2017: Creative destruction: How to start an economic renaissance (Policy Press). In business, he is a director of Epping Consulting, having completed eight years in senior management roles with Easynet Global Services. He was previously chief executive of Cybercafé Ltd. running the Cyberia internet cafe franchise.
Dr Huw Macartney
Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham.  Huw is a political economist whose work is broadly concerned with the politics of banking and financial services.  He is the author of European Democratic Legitimacy and the Debt Crisis, and Variegated Neoliberalism: European Financial Market Integration.

Chaired and produced by Sarah Bartlett

Recommended Readings
Huw Macartney on Trump, Brexit, the London riots, and alternative economic futures

Economic forecasts from Ernst and Young as the UK prepares to leave the EU

Social Market Foundation reviews the effects of EU membership on UK growth

Macro-economic predictions from the Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge

Phil Mullan in Spiked lays out a five-point plan for kick-starting the economy

After Brexit - Is Democracy Working?

The Brexit vote reveals a divided demos, conflicting notions of the role of parliament, calls for a further referendum, criticism of campaign content, and distrust in experts and politicians.
Some see the result and the ensuing disorientation among politicians and others who had predicted financial disaster as a sign of the revolutionary potential of people power.  Others worry about an extremist side to a demos that remains angry and disillusioned by the economic turbulence of the 2008 crash. 
The coincidental publication of books Against Elections and Against Democracy suggest a wider sense that something is amiss with democracy as we know it. Turnout in the referendum was 72% but in recent by-elections there is little sign of any general upward trend. Is disillusion with political parties a good or bad thing?
And is it right to question the checks and balances of our democratic system? How should we view the ire directed at the High Court and Supreme Court, and at expert advisers? 
Is the response to the surprising result of the referendum an indication that we need to reform our democracy, and if so, how?

Tom Pratt
Tom is a local campaigner - as well as chair of Unlock Democracy Birmingham. He is currently active in the West Midlands Politics of Networks, and stood last year as a candidate in the Sutton Coldfield Town Council elections. Unlock Democracy Birmingham has been active for 6 years. At present the group is campaigning for greater transparency around the Metro Mayor and the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Peter Kerr
Peter Kerr is a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on British party politics and democracy. He has authored several publications on developments in British politics since 1945, including the book Postwar British Politics: From Conflict to Consensus (Routledge). He is also the co-founder and editor of the journal British Politics.

Tom Slater
Tom is the Deputy Editor of spiked online, a current affairs magazine which campaigned for the immediate invoking of Article 50 following the referendum. He is also a regular contributor to the Spectator, the Telegraph and Time Out.

Chaired and produced by Rosamund Cuckston

A review of Against Democracy by Jason Brennan

Mick Hume argues for more, not less, people power in democracy

George Monbiot has a shopping list of democratic reforms

The US, France, and India are labelled flawed democracies in the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index

Post Socratic Dialogue on Love

Love: A Post-Socratic Dialogue

Wednesday 15th February, 7.30 pm

The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN

The Socratic Dialogues are the earliest forms of classical Greek philosophy, dating back to 300 BC. Nearly all of the original Socratic Dialogues are stories that repeat different variations of the same plot: Socrates wanders around the marketplace and asks different people questions designed to make the reader see that these people are full of shit. In doing this, Socrates thus exposes the right way to think about various philosophical issues, from the conditions of justice to the origins of language, and yes, the nature of love. 

On February 16th the Birmingham Salon will be listening to and discussing one of Philosopher Dr Greg Scorzo’s ‘Post-Socratic Dialogues’ about Love. Here there is no Socrates. It’s not clear who is full of shit. You have to think for yourself.

Post-Socratic Dialogues are thought experiments that unfold in real time. Unlike traditional philosophy, you don’t engage with them by thinking about universal principles and then applying them to concrete situations. Rather, you do something which is more akin to real life; you have to make philosophical judgments about a situation, and then think about how that judgment changes your understanding of the issues raised. 

The Love Dialogue will not straightforwardly endorse a philosophical position. Rather, the goal is to induce the audience to look at contrasting arguments that explore and challenge their own pre-existing viewpoints. Like the original Socratic dialogues and unlike a conventional piece of philosophy, the context of this exploration will be a conversation.

The conversation is between a couple called Janet and Joe, which challenges us to re-examine the way we normally think about love. It will interrogate the assumption that love is selfless, grounded in altruism, honesty, commitment, and an unconditional acceptance of the beloved. We will then commence a group discussion, lead by Dr Scorzo, where the audience will get to try and make sense of the paradoxes the dialogue will induce them to grapple with.

Dr Greg Scorzo is a Director and Editor of the online magazine CULTURE ON THE OFFENSIVE. He obtained a PhD in meta-Ethics, (2011) following an MA in Ethics and Political Philosophy from the University of Nottingham. He has taught a wide range of philosophy seminars including Plato, political philosophy, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind as well as developing and running his own course on The Art of Thinking.

We ask for a donation of £3 per person to cover our costs.