Labour’s post-Brexit woes and a possible solution

Updated, 30 June, 2016
It turns out that the party’s rules make my suggestion unfeasible in its present form: the leader of the party is ex officio the leader of the PLP (Chapter 1 clause vii).  However, there appears to be nothing to stop a leader delegating part of their role, maybe pending a rule change….
But my more fundamental point is that a creative solution is needed to manage the tension between the different parts of the party and their differing requirements and expectations of the leader. Maybe not this solution but a solution that maintains a left-leaning hegemony, which is to say brings together those elements of the party except for anyone still self-identifying as a Blairite neoliberal.  That really ought to be doable.  Beyond that I support the idea of a progressive electoral alliance with cross party primaries to select candidates across England and Wales.

The UK Labour Party has descended into seemingly terminal conflict after the defeat of the remain campaign by a narrow margin (52:48 – just 35% of the electorate opted to jump off the cliff and many of them are now having second thoughts) in the EU referendum.

This has been used as a pretext for a coup against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).  This was expected but the scale of the revolt is surprising.  Corbyn has clearly lost the confidence of the majority of the PLP, including former centre-left allies.

Meanwhile in the Labour Party itself (outside parliament) he still has strong, majority support.  This was demonstrated by an almost spontaneous rally outside parliament attended by maybe 10,000 people.  Corbyn’s supporters are uncompromising, as he is, refusing to countenance his resignation.  I have a great deal of sympathy with this view: the PLP is no longer representative of the Labour Party.  Corbyn and the movement behind him represents a clear break from the neoliberal consensus and has led to some innovative policy development, particularly on the economy, that could speak directly to the left behind citizens who voted for Brexit.  But it is not so easy as that.  Like it or not the Labour leader has to lead the entire Labour Party, its members, its affiliated organisations, and its elected representatives.  For whatever reason, Corbyn has not managed to maintain hegemony over all sections of the party, although the party under his leadership has actually done better electorally than under his two predecessors.

I have a simple solution, that at the very least would buy time for the Party to heal itself and restore its credibility.  It is not necessary for the leader of a political party to be the leader of the party in parliament, nor even to be Prime Minister.  In other places this kind of arrangement is normal.

So I suggest Corbyn concedes to the vote of no confidence by Labour MPs by agreeing to stand down as leader of the PLP, but not of the party as a whole.  MPs would then elect a parliamentary leader who would work with him.  To ensure a consistent approach I suggest either giving the national leader (Corbyn) a veto on nominations, or putting nominations in the hands of the National Executive Committee.

Under this formula, Corbyn could get on with what he’s best at – building a strong national party with innovative socialist policies, and the MPs (excluding the Blairite rump) get a potentially more charismatic and combative leader who they will see as legitimate.  The big challenge of this arrangement will be to ensure a coherent, united approach between the two leaders, but an arrangement such as those suggested in the previous paragraph could help to make this possible.  Without such a compromise the party will tear itself apart just when it needs to take on a divided Tory party and win back the UKIP/Brexit voters.


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Biodiversity day – a diverse salad

Salad from the garden on biodiversity day, 22 May, 2016

We ate this green salad – we have one of these most days in the growing season.  The ingredients vary. Some are cultivated, some are edible weeds (you do need to research both identification and edibility).  Some we encourage and some we don’t.  Some are annual and sown / self-sown while some are perennial.  We do grow lettuce but there is none at the moment and actually it is the most vulnerable of our crops to slug attack.

There are so many edible plants and yet we rely on a handful for our food.  That’s why we grow unusual crops and varieties, partly to preserve them and partly to help spread awareness of alternatives.

Here’s what was in the salad.

  1. Garlic mustard

  2. Ground elder

  3. Wild rocket

  4. Salad rocket

  5. Mizuna (an oriental mustard)

  6. Chinese mustard

  7. Sorrel

  8. Mint

  9. Marjoram

  10. Vine tips

  11. Sweet Cicely (flowers and young seeds)

  12. Perennial buckwheat

  13. Chives

  14. Hairy bitter cress

  15. Claytonia

  16. Columbine (flowers only are edible)

  17. Nipplewort (young leaves)

  18. Fat hen (young leaves)

  19. Dandelion

  20. Musk Mallow

  21. Red veined sweet dock.

Also availble:

  1. Young hawthorn leaves – getting a bit tough by now.

  2. Garlic chives

  3. Parsley

  4. Land cress

  5. Nasturtium (tropaeolum) – just starting

  6. Good King Henry (young leaves)

  7. Chickweed.

  8. Pelagonium (“geranium”) flowers.

  9. Turnip tops.
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Progress as a trap.


Craig Bennett is the Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth UK. Last night (11/2/2016) he gave a lecture at Manchester Business School, “What is Progress: how are we doing and where next?” It was an interesting topic for a largely business-orientated audience and the lecture was eloquently delivered.

A look at definitions of “progress” highlighted, following Sidney Pollard, the idea of irreversible changes in one direction leading to improvement. The idea of progress is an ideology of relatively recent origin. Craig might have noted the intimate connection of “progress” with the Eurocentric world view, itself rooted in the colonial domination of other “less valuable” humans, and of nature, an ideological nexus going back 500 years or so. This would suggest that the problem has rather deeper roots than those of either the enlightenment or industrial revolution.

However, he then went on, this time drawing on Ronald Wright’s Short History of Progress, to identify a potentially very helpful concept, that of Progress Traps: “seductive trail of successes that may end in a trap where we cannot survive without the technology”, or perhaps more accurately, where the technology creates intractable problems while tending to close off alternative solutions or exits. Craig identified three particular important ones for our times:

  • The path dependency and lock-in arising from adopting certain technologies, such as the motor car or the jet aeroplane. Antibiotics might be another one where the health-industrial system is ill-geared to the development of alternative approaches to infectious disease.

  • Fossil fuels, which relying on pre-historic stock rather than current flow (of solar-derived energy), supply such a huge subsidy to the economy while creating the conditions for runaway global warming (1 degree already and according to current, unenforced Paris pledges, set to rise to somewhere between 3 and 4 degrees this century).

  • Economic growth itself, which seems so difficult for our “civilisation” to do without, but which produces ecological, social and indeed economic grief. As Bennett noted, while mainstream economists whether of left or right bemoan the lack of adequate demand, the real problem is too much demand (although this is intimately linked to too much production).

Now by his articulation of this last trap, I would say that Craig placed himself firmly in the degrowth camp, a movement that is indeed growing in its adherents and its persuasiveness. The concept of Progress Traps, which I had not come across before, seems to me to be just the kind of concept that we can use to popularise the understanding that we have to collectively find another way, with an alternative perspective on what is most important and a strategy for how to get there. It is easy to understand, easy to illustrate, and it directly identifies the need for a change in direction rather than a technological adjustment to the current course.

Where I was less convinced was with Craig’s attempt to rescue the idea of progress. He used Maslow’s set of human needs as a set of criteria for what he called “Real Progress”, but he might as well have spoken of conviviality, right livelihoods, common wealth, or of the social and solidarity society and economy (or come to that The Viable Economy. Had he explored some alternative conceptions of a decent society, in keeping with its ecological base, then he might have indeed spoken about degrowth, ecological swaraj, ubuntu or buen vivir. For all these conceptions the notion of a linear conception from a less developed to a more developed state is very suspect, resting on a narrow means-ends rationality (ill suited to the systemic, recursive, open, emergent and unpredictable complexity of ecological, planetary and human systems) and most likely rooted in the politics of exploitation-domination.

But then this was a business audience and there is a limit to what can be said and heard. As it was the reception seemed sympathetic, something I would not have predicted five years ago: this indicates what a parlous state we are in politically, socially, environmentally and economically.

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Corbynomics: let’s be sceptical about the growth rhetoric.

“So all our emphasis and work and campaigning is about an expanding economy and investing in an expanding economy”
Jeremy Corbyn,
quoted by The Independent, 29 February 2016

“El socialismo puede llegar sólo en bicicleta.”
Socialism can only arrive by bicycle
attributed by Ivan Illich to José Antonio Viera-Gallo
Assistant Secretary of Justice in the government of Salvador Allende

Revised version posted 5 March, 2016. Minor revisions 17 March, 2016, 16 April, 2016
pdf version.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn and the appointment of John McDonnell signals a refreshing break from the politics of austerity and the economically illiterate notion of running a permanent government surplus. At last we are seeing Labour openly recognise that a government can borrow at advantageous rates and can, where necessary and appropriate, create money. While the new leadership is widely portrayed as of the “far left”, the new approach is economically broadly neo-Keynesian rather than Marxist. Far from overthrowing capitalism, it recognises that the State needs to intervene in the capitalist economy, both to regulate it and to moderate the cycle of boom and bust (and provide protection to those who would otherwise be vulnerable). Much of the inspiration seems to come from a small group of thinkers who could be called post-Keynesiani, some of them associated with the Green New Deal Group, (Richard Murphy, architect of proposals for the National Investment Bank and Green, or People’s Quantitative Easing, and Ann Pettifor, one of McDonnell’s advisory team). Indeed, with Corbyn’s generally high commitment to the environmentii, we might see Corbynomics as Green Keynesianism.

Limits to Keynes

But herein lie some problemsiii. The first of these is in the idea, spelt out very clearly in the original Green New Deal paperiv, of stimulating the economy for environmental benefit. That means using things like investment in public transport, housing and massive programmes of insulation for buildings, to create jobs, whose occupants then spend their wages in the economy, so contributing to taxes, and to broader economic well-being: this is the so-called “Keynesian multiplier” (for some caution about the generality of multiplier effects see here). The problem, what Green MEP and former professor of ecological economics, Molly Scott Cato calls the “paradox of Green Keynesianismv, is that those multiplier effects are likely to mean greater consumption, meaning greater resource throughput, and hence increased greenhouse gas emissions and other kinds of damage to the ecosystems we all depend on. It is sometimes argued that there is a distinction between stimulating investment (for example for infrastructure) and stimulating consumption. Yet the distinction seems difficult to sustain after the first round of expenditure, since the whole point of Keynesian stimulus is to re-energise economic activity, now usually subsumed under “economic growth”, a concept that is so much part of everyday political and economic parlance that we hardly notice it, let alone question what it means, and what impacts it has.

The decoupling myth

Now, the International Panel on Climate Change, in their most recent report, make it very clear that economic “growth” is the main culprit for the inexorable rise in Greenhouse Gas concentrations in the atmosphere, which seriously threaten runaway global warmingvi. Some commentators, notably the New Climate Economy NGO led by Nicholas Stern of the LSE and former right wing Mexican president Felipe Calderón, suggest that it is possible to de-couple economic growth from emissionsvii. The problem, with that, as Tim Jackson (commissioned to research this by Ed Miliband) and others have shownviii, is that the evidence to date only demonstrates decoupling in relative terms: the rate of increase of emissions may decrease with GDP growth but in absolute terms they are still rising, just more slowly. Claims have recently been made that some economies have achieved absolute decoupling (where GDP growth goes with either no increase or a reduction in emissions), but I have shown them to be unfounded because they turn out to be based only on emissions made within the national territory, ignoring all the emissions their consumption causes elsewhere in the world (most of our consumer goods are made in China and other majority world countries and then shipped here, entailing yet more emissions)ix. So, the paradox of Green Keynesianism is that it turns out not to be green at all.

Growth and social justice

This is not the only “diseconomy of growth”. Firstly, “growth” is typically seen as the way to deal with poverty and the metaphor of “lifing all boats” is invoked, or implied. But the metaphor doesn’t work: the bigger boats actually rise more than the little ones, some of which capsize (investment leads to technological investment – Marx’s “organic composition of capital” – which puts people out of work). And even if all the boats floated upward, the inequalities would still be there – we know full well that wealth does not trickle down: poverty reduction requires specific economic and social interventions to redistribute (and indeed pre-distribute) both income and wealth, while securing meaningful and economically resilient occupation for all that want it. So it makes more sense to focus directly on increasing equality than to try and improve the lot of the disadvantaged “remotely” by general material growth of the economy. Corbyn’s calls to to limit pay multiples and incentivise companies to pay the Living Wagex are just what is needed.

Secondly, there is the so-called Easterlin paradoxxi: increases in GDP (or personal income) do not lead to increases in life-satisfaction or well-being The measurement and statistical issues here are complex, but it seems that once a reasonably comfortable standard of living has been reached, then the gains in well-being are uncertain, and levels of inequality are a better predictor of population well-beingxii. This is not so surprising: accumulating more and more material possessions can lead not to happiness but to an emptiness, in contrast to cultural and social growth which is less dependent on material consumption. Again, there is a class dimension to this: the more disposable income a person has, the higher the carbon emissions (richest 10 per cent emit three times that of the poorest 10 per centxiii): hence the call for a frequent flyer levy, which would hit the rich but not the person with the occasional overseas holidayxiv.

Socialism without growth?

So we need a different approach. While the dominance of the economic growth narrative makes this difficult, there is a growing body of work to identify practical policies for an economy that does not grow but that nevertheless delivers economic, social and ecological well-being, what we have called the “Viable Economy”xv. There are several places to look. The work of ecological economists such as Tim Jackson (University of Surrey) and Peter Victor goes into detail about the macro-economics of the steady state economyxvi, while Dan O’Neill (University of Leeds) has put together a compilation of policies for practical implementation, with an emphasis on social justicexvii. Our group, Steady State Manchester, has been focussing on what such policies look like in a regional contextxviii.

Yet both Corbynxix and McDonnell are posing growth-orientated policy as the counter to Tory austerity. Investment in areas like health, social care, education, low cost housing, renewables and insulation would be desirable, and to a significant degree self-funding via incrased tax receiptsxx but we are left with the problem identified above of the inability to select the subsequent economic and environmental impacts (indeed in an economy like the UK one, with so little domestic manufacture, one consequence of stimulus would be increased imports of consumer goods). Probably the only way that Keynesian demand stimulus could be made to work without contributing to environmental damage is to combine it with a cap on carbon emissions. As Herman Daly shows in his textbook Ecological Economicsxxi, capping resource use is a more effective policy than trying to put a price on it, either by taxation or through some kind of market mechanism (the effects of both are rather unpredictable). The Irish think tank FEASTA has suggested a policy called “cap and share”xxii where an annual reducing global cap on fossil fuel extraction is allocated to citizens, who can then elect to trade it with one another: this is inherently redistributive, since it is the richer people who engage in higher carbon activities – they would have to pay someone else for the privilege. Maybe it is hard to see this being put into place, but it is just the kind of creative and innovative approach that we need, and which could work, possibly funding the increasingly discussed citizens’ basic incomexxiii. Why not trial this in the UK?

Perhaps of most interest in relation to “Corbynomics” has been the set of proposals drafted by Giorgos Kallisxxiv and colleagues from the Barcelona Research and Degrowth group in response to the economic strategy published in November 2014 by Podemos (which does include a variety of very welcome proposals such as forgiveness of a proportion of citizen debt, a reduction in working hours, and shifting investment towards caring, education and the green economy). It is worth listing their suggestions, which are intended to be complementary, rather than “pick and mix”, to give a flavour of what John McDonnell’s team could be considering. Here I list them with some re-contextualisation for the UK context.

1. Citizen debt audit to not just restructure but eliminate the debts via their “pardon” (already implemented in Slovenia). This shouldn’t penalise savers and those with modest pensions but the debt of those that have considerable income and assets should not be pardoned, and those who lent for speculation should certainly take the losses.

2. Work-sharing by reducing the working week at least to 32 hours and develop programmes that support employers that want to facilitate job-sharing.  Loss of salary from working less should only affect the 10% highest income bracket. This has from time to time been a demand of the Labour movement (in the 1980s in Australia and more recently, with some success in France).

3. Basic and maximum income. This involves a minimum income for all. Despite poor publicity for the Green Party’s proposal on a citizens’ income, studies in the UK (including one by Richard Murphy) point to its feasibilityxxv. (However see our discussion of the issues involved).

4. Green tax reform. Implement an accounting system to transform, over time, the tax system to one based on the use of energy and resources and combine this with a wealth and property tax.

5. Stop subsidizing and investing in activities that are highly polluting, moving the liberated public funds towards clean production. Pretty much the opposite of Osbornomics!

6. Support the alternative, solidarity society. This is probably stronger in Southern Europe, although there are elements here that can be supported and promoted, through subsidies and tax exemptions. It also means the de-privatisation of public space, opening up resources to community groups.

7. Optimise the use of buildings. The Barcelona group suggest this means a halt to building new housing, which probably makes sense in Spain with many vacant, speculatively built properties (and a high level of evictions). Here it would suggest a hierarchy starting from expropriation of vacant housing, incentives for people to down-size and share, to prioritise retrofitting and refurbishment, and then responding to any remaining need by building social housing on brownfield sites. To this should be added a jobs-generating deep retrofit programme to ensure that property brought back into use is both cheap to heat and has very low emissions.

8. Reduce advertising.  Establish very restrictive criteria for allowing advertising in public spaces, reducing the incessant promotion of consumption – something that has been done in both Grenoble and São Paulo and which we have called for in Manchesterxxvi.

9. Establish environmental limits, as discussed above, via absolute and diminishing caps on the total of CO2exxvii that can be produced and the total quantity of material resources (material, water, land) that the country uses, including, via a footprinting approach, emissions and materials embedded in imported products.

10. Abolish the use of GDP as indicator of economic progress. If GDP is a misleading indicator, let’s stop using it and look for other indicators of prosperity. Indeed, as Ann Pettifor has arguedxxviii, and shown how, in some of her writing, we shouldn’t be talking about growth at all, but instead (as Keynes did), focus on what is actually going on in the economy, things like jobs, incomes, activity, investment. Richard Murphy has recently made a similar pointxxix. Interestingly, US social democratic candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders, who has been loosely compared with Jeremy Corbyn, makes very little mention of economic “growth” in his campaign speeches and publications, despite promoting a similar reflationary approach. However this demonstrates that the issue here is not merely one of language, but of the need to change the narrative in conjunction with implementing economic and social policies that are neither growth-generating nor growth-dependent.


The above suggestions make it clear that an economic policy can be generated from a degrowth perspective without being labelled as such (which might be too scary for some supportersxxx). Although mutually complementary, the proposals should not be taken as a definitive final list. There is a need for them to be refined, modelled and above all debated within the movement and with the public. There are other proposals that could be added, particularly in the context of the UK with its overblown financial services sector. Whatever the final mix though, Corbyn and McDonnell really do need to stop the blether about “economic growth” and tackle, using less abstracted terms, the puzzle of maximising economic and social well-being while making and keeping safe the global and national ecosystem we share and depend upon.


iThat is, they build on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, also bringing in more recent theory and research.

iiiLeaving aside whether these measures would actually work. See for a sceptical view.

vCato, M. S. (2014). The paradox of Green Keynesiansim. In J. Blewitt & R. Cunningham (Eds.), ‘The Post-Growth Project: How the End of Economic Growth Could Bring a Fairer and Happier Society’. London: London Publishing Partnership.

viIPCC. (2014). Summary for Policymakers. In Climate Change 2014, Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

viiiJackson, T. (2009). Prosperity Without Growth: the transition to a sustainable economy. London: Sustainable Development Commission.

ixBurton, M. (2014). Less levity Professor Stern Economic growth, climate change and the decoupling question. and Burton, M. (2015) The decoupling debate: can economic growth really continue without emission increases?, Burton, M (2016) Again and again: supposed evidence for decoupling emissions from growth is not what it seems , and in response to more robust recent studies, Burton, M (2016) New evidence on decoupling carbon emissions from GDP growth: what does it mean?

xiiCostanza, R., Kubiszewski, I., Giovannini, E., Lovins, H., McGlade, J., Pickett, K. E., … Wilkinson, R. (2014). Development: Time to leave GDP behind. Nature, 505(7483), 283–285.

xivCampaign site:

xvBurton, M., Irvine, B., & Emanuel, J. (2014). The Viable Economy (1st ed.). Manchester: Steady State Manchester.

xixMost recently on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, 11 January, 2016 For an example where “growth” almost takes on the qualities of a mantra through repetition, see the Northern Future paper:

xxi Daly, H. E., & Farley, J. (2011). Ecological economics : principles and applications. Washington, D.C: Island Press.

xxiii ibid.

xxiv This has appeared in several versions. I have used the one that appeared in The Guardian:

xxviiCarbon dioxide equivalent: the usual measure of greenhouse gas emissions since gases such as methane are far more potent than CO2 in preventing re-radiation of heat from the Earth.

xxix See the first comment, from me, and Richard’s response.


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Policy as contestation

Every year the University of Manchester puts on a week of lectures, symposia and other events concerned with the relationship between research and policy: “Policy Week”. Generally there is plenty to interest. I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to a symposium “We need to talk about growth” in 2012, just prior to launching our “Steady State Manchester” initiative. Last year I contributed a couple of times to events concerned with inequality. This year the theme has been “Science, Technology and Public Policy”, but as always the scope is defined broadly. But in some of this year’s discussions I have been struck by an implicit, and I think naïve, understanding of the policy process.

This view seems to situate researchers on the one side, trying to provide “evidence” to “policy makers” on the other side. These policy makers are generally seen to be politicians and State employees (in the civil service, other government agencies, including arms-length ones, and local government). This is consistent with what I often characterise as a Fabian ideology, where experts armed with facts, and science inform political leaders who then produce and implement policies.

But this misses the idea of the policy nexus as one of contestation, of struggle, and in what follows I will draw on my previous work (my 2013 article “In and against social policy”) to describe this and then draw out some implications.

Social Policy and the State

In order to understand the policy process it is first necessary to consider its contradictory nature in relation to the modern State. It is worth noting that the nature of the State itself has been the focus of considerable controversy in theoretical analysis (for the classical Marxian debate, see Harvey, 19851 ; Miliband, 1969, 1970; Poulantzas, 1969; Therborn, 1980). The State can be seen as a set of relations and processes, whereby social and economic interests compete for influence in its nexus, and then exert influence on the rest of the society, using the resources that the State then affords them. It is the dominant social interests that exercise the most influence, but the process is not automatic, given that it is a field for contestation, and that the State, although much “captured” by commercial interests, enjoys a degree of relative autonomy from the economy and from the various interest groups. However it is not possible to generalise about the extent to which State power reflects a particular dominant social interest, without being explicit about the particular conjuncture of forces and relations that apply in a concrete context in time and space. We know that different States follow somewhat different models, and also that States from time to time undergo crises of legitimacy whereby the concordance between State power and the dominant social interests becomes dislocated, what Gramsci discussed as a crisis of hegemony (Gramsci, 1971).

It is through the governmental organs of the State that social policy is formulated, agreed, operationalised and implemented. There are several potential levels, which differ somewhat in different countries and regions. British writers on Critical Social Policy (e.g. Gough, 1979, 2000, 2008; Jessop, 2003; Mishra, 1999) from the end of the 1970s onwards, following O’Connor (1973), see social policies in terms of the interplay between the role of the state in the service of capital and the realisation of emancipatory struggles by a variety of subjects (workers, women, disabled people, ethnic minorities, and so on). In this view the State reproduces the interests of the ruling class, but it does not do this mechanically or deterministically. Rather, it is also responsive to what can be termed subaltern pressures, typically in the form of struggle and pressure from social movements that represent the interests of labour, women, ethnic groups, environmentalists, disabled people and so on. The State then is a site of conflict but also of negotiation and the resolution of conflict, both on a ‘grand scale’, as in the post-war settlement between capital and labour after the 1939-45 war, and at a more particular level, for example in the reforms to the mental health system over the post-war period.

A consequence of this understanding of social policy is that concrete examples are inevitably messy, difficult to ‘decode’ in terms of the interests in play and the likely consequences of implementation. Our (Burton and Kagan, 2006) analysis of policy for intellectually disabled people in the UK demonstrates this. That policy framework (Department of Health, 2001) involved an emphasis on employment, personalisation through market mechanisms such as personal budgets, but also an emphasis on the responsibility of a wider set of actors than the traditional health and social care sector to facilitate the inclusion and participation of intellectually disabled people in community places and everyday life. The policy stems from a blending of the social model of disability (Barnes, 1998; Chappell, Goodley, & Lawthom, 2001; Goodley, 2001), produced through the organised action of disabled people, academics, family members, and some groups of professionals, with the neoliberal imperatives of marketisation and the conversion of social needs into sources of corporate profit (Lister, 2005; Pollock, 2004; Whitfield, 2006; Whitfield, D, 2010). This ‘unholy alliance’ was cemented by a romantic imaginary of intellectually disabled people and a downplaying of the collective dimensions of community life and participation. This policy mix did lead to some positive openings, including the establishment of multi-stakeholder boards to oversee implementation in each municipality, which included intellectually disabled people and family members. While this could and did lead to silencing through co-optation in some areas, in others it opened up policy and provision to improved public scrutiny and introduced new sources of imagination and challenge to the welfare bureaucracy. But the romantic simplification of the task of social inclusion, together with the increased reliance on the for-profit sector meant that some people who were difficult to include (because of the complexity of their needs) were excluded to congregate settings that on occasion had standards poor enough to allow abusive regimes and a national scandal (Oakes, 2012).


What this means is that it is unlikely that presenting sufficient or persuasive “scientific evidence” in isolation is the key factor in arriving at good policy. The policy process doesn’t work like that. Instead, it may be best to see evidence as a rhetorical tool in the hurly-burly of politics that is the stuff of the contested State policy process. Decision-makers are not being “irrational” when they fail to act on evidence, as one speaker at Policy Week suggested, but rather their rationality is not restricted to a cold consideration of research evidence: they are also responding to their own and others’ interests, refracted through the lenses of ideology, amplified by propaganda, yet also subject to particular experiences – which is why it is always important to emphasise the human stories, the emotional, when presenting scientific evidence, or even better to find ways of bringing people in positions of power face to face with those affected, or potentially affected by State policies.

1References can be found in the article from which this section is adapted.

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Jeremy Corbyn and the double struggle

Cor byn Protecting our Planet

Jeremy Corbyn‘s campaign for the Labour leadership is about doing things differently, about re-discovering the basic Labour values of social and economic justice, but in a way that harnesses the knowledge, commitment and energy of the many, in the changed world of the twenty-first century.

As a Labour affiliate (via the Socialist Health Association, and a union member prior to retirement) I have voted, for him, a decent man and a good communicator, who could lead the majority in both seeing the need to reject,and finally dispensing with the disastrous 35 year history of neoliberalism here in the UK and beyond.

His economic framework (Investment, growth and tax justice: Corbyn outlines economic vision & fairer taxes for Britain 2020) includes a lot to agree with, not least its emphasis on tax justice and the real economy. It is about a re-ordering of priorities, putting people and planet first, rather than profits. Yet at heart it is much the same as other left Keynesian variants. It owes a lot to Richard Murphy and others who I certainly respect, but who seem to assume that using mechanisms like Green Quantitative Easing (or Corbyn’s similar “People’s QE”) it is possible to support the good things (warmer homes, more jobs, cleaner energy…) without the multiplier boosting general consumption and hence the material throughput that inexorably means more emissions (maybe 50% outside the UK). Listen to Richard at Corbyn’s Nottingham rally (37 minutes in), for the repetition of the growth mantra.

The challenge is to articulate credible managed degrowth policies (see the work of people like Tim Jackson, Peter Victor, Giorgos Kallis, Molly Scot Cato, Kate Raworth and Dan O’Neil) that reduce the size of the economy to a sustainable level while guaranteeing decent living standards – it really makes for a focus on equality and community well-being.  It’s a double struggle, against austerity/neoliberalism and for a society and economy that is ecologically viable.

The Corbyn environment plan is excellent: it could have been written by the Green Party. But the contradictions with what’s being said elsewhere are a bit concerning. In addition to Corbyn’s suggestion of re-opening coal mines (with unproven Carbon Capture and Storage) there is a totally uncritical growthism, for instance in his plan for the North.

Now, the totally unexpected phenomenon of Corbyn’s campaign and the broad-based support for it means that there is inevitably a bit of a cobbling together of policies and proposals. What distinguishes him and his campaign is its openness: its inclusive and participative style. This means that these ideas and proposals are not a finished programme, but elements to be developed, as the gaps and contradictions are explored and resolved. Yet they do represent different interests too. When push comes to shove which tendencies would win? It would come down to a struggle within the contested ground of policy articulation and implementation. We are in for a double struggle, indeed.

I am grateful to comrades of the New Economy Organisers’ Network for some of the points summarised here.

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Politics as action research? Corbyn, People’s QE, and Syriza.

Politics as action research? Corbyn, People’s QE, and Syriza.

These brief thoughts have been triggered by the Jeremy Corbyn campaign to be Labour Party leader, and by Syriza’s negotiations with the Troika.

  1. First Labour. There is a lot being written about the Corbyn campaign. On the one side there is horror (from the political commentariat and Labour’s establishment) that he is doing so well. They can’t see that an authentic and honest politician might have some appeal, and speak to the interests of many of the 99%. They recall the Michael Foot moment, when Labour did fail to convince. Yet there is little to connect the Foot style of windbaggery, honed in the Commons debating chamber, with Corbyn’s impressive abilities as a communicator. These commentators suggest that the public isn’t eager for a socialist alternative to vote for. But this misses the first important point – that political support is built by a process of dialogue between political activists and the public, wherein the activists learn more about people’s realities and ideologies, while educating the public about the nature of the social and economic system and entrenched power, so that it might be changed. Labour has ignored that process, engaging either in a “weather-vane” practice, based on focus groups and reading the popular press, to adapt its message to the dominant propaganda and ideology. Or they have engaged in a patronising one-way process of telling people what’s what. In the kind of process that I mentioned earlier, an effective, galvanising ideology can emerge that unites diverse sectors. This is broadly what happened in 1945 with Labour’s landslide that ushered in the “post war settlement”; it happened in Greece with Syriza’s election, and also where Left governments have been elected in Latin America. It might yet happen in Spain.

  2. Now, is Corbyn articulating that new, counter-hegemonic ideology? I think to some extent. It has elements of that, and could evolve into that, with the kind of genuine interactive process I envisage. An example is the way he is talking about public ownership: not a Statist, bureaucratic model, but one with popular participation (but I think State strategic direction). Could the party support that? I don’t know, but maybe if 140,00 new activists were to join or (better?) ally themselves with a renovated Labour leadership, then maybe. That would mean countering UKIP’s nationalist populism, while allying with progressive elements in the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, and non-party elements. It probably means working with the SNP in Scotland, but finding ways help them to live up to their left rhetoric rather than retreating to the neoliberal comfort zone, as they have just done following an EU ruling that pushes back their investment policy to something akin to the Private Finance Initiative.

  3. Of the four leadership candidates, Corbyn has by far the most coherent economic story. His common-sense policies could be something on which a broad progressive1 coalition could agree on. But, there is a flaw, our old “friend” economic growth. He uses the concept of Green Quantitative Easing (QE) (explained here by one of its main advocates, Richard Murphy), developed by a number of broadly neo-Keynesian economists, and OK’ed as feasible by the Bank of England. But Corbyn renames it People’s QE. The idea is that, without creating more public or private sector debt, the money is generated for investments in socially and environmentally needed projects (improving railways, insulating homes, installing solar panels on schools, etc etc.). This creates employment and the improved incomes feed into the boosting of demand in the economy, which in turn means increased tax revenue. It is an elegant plan, and one that avoids what existing QE does, which is to give money to private banks which then tend to invest it in speculative things (hence the property bubble here). It also gets out from the austerity trap that Labour has fallen into: no money is not a problem. But the big flaw, is that despite funding environmentally good things like public transport, renewable energy and energy conservation, by boosting the economy it will also boost other activities that will, because they rely on the rest of the economy (extraction, production, distribution and waste disposal), create additional carbon emissions. We know that economic growth is not decoupling from greenhouse gas emissions, (even the optimistic New Climate Economy effectively admit this now), so we have a problem. The only way to resolve this is by combining some kind of Green QE with annually diminishing carbon caps – limiting the introduction of further hydrocarbons into the system. This is exactly what degrowth activists and thinkers have proposed in response to Spain’s Podemos version of Keynesian demand re-inflation. Now this isn’t fatal for Corbyn, but it is an area of policy that can be refined and strengthened over the coming months. Allied to a proposal such as cap and share, it could provide a means for further redistribution too.

  4. But is the struggle worth it Won’t the progressives be defeated, yet again. Hasn’t that happened just now in Greece where the Troika has imposed the austerity that Syriza was elected to end? I’ve begun to think about events like this through the lens of action research. Kurt Lewin suggested that if you want to understand a social reality, then try to change it. In our concept of prefigurative action research, we argue that relatively delimited and parochial projects can help build understanding of three things, in addition to the immediate learning within the confines of the project itself. Firstly they tell us about what is possible within the current system – through their (relative) success. Secondly they tell us what is not presently possible – that is to say, from their (relative) failure, they reveal much about the nature of the forces and structures that oppose principled social change. Thirdly, where they realise a change in social arrangements locally, and in people’s understanding, energy and commitment, then they tell us more about the kind of society that we are working to achieve. Its partial, and fragmentary realisation helps deepen our understanding of what social justice, community, socialism, or right living actually might be. It was Raymond Williams who pointed out that a key contribution of the Labour movement was in its creation of social institutions (unions, co-operatives – but also social institutions like the Workers Education Association, mutual support arrangements, like the forerunners of the NHS in Welsh mining communities, etc, etc) that prefigured a different and more just society. In this he was on the same wavelength as Antonio Gramsci, who in talking about “prefigurative struggle” suggested (like some on the libertarian left) that the process of fighting for social and economic justice creates the embyonic forms of the alternative society that the socialist movement is trying to create.

  5. Where does this leave Syriza? Specifically in relation to the negottiations with the Troika, Syriza politicians have learned that rational argument counts for nothing, that economics is not what the imposition of austerity on the Eurozone’s periphery is about, and also, arguably, they have or should have learned that it will not be possible to make the single currency work for the deficit countries like Greece. But they have also learned about the power of popular mobilisation, about the support for an alternative, and about the difficulties of leading a heterogenous movement. But, most important, the people, and their organisations have also learned these things, and that’s partly a result of Syriza’s openness, their communication of what has been going on behind the closed doors.
    As Paul Tyson put it in an article on Open Democracy, reproduced on Yanis Varoufakis’s blog:
    The complete lack of impact which Varoufakis’ economic arguments achieved leads one to fear that when it comes to economics and politics, we are being conned: the main purpose of economic speak in politics is obfuscation. If that is indeed the case, then having someone point out the obvious elephant in the room – the economic impossibility of the prevailing dogmas governing high finance and domestic politics – is just too much. It looks like our ruling elites do not want a real economist meddling with power.
    Another thing Varoufakis points out is that financial power is now dangerously politically and socially unaccountable. That is, we have political institutions, parties and politicians that are meant to govern by representing the political choices of citizens, thus making power accountable to the people. However, in reality the typical manner in which political power is internally disciplined and externally controlled is a sad mockery of keeping power accountable to the people.

    The outcome is far from certain, but huge gains will have been made in consciousness, building on those that have already come from the experiments, the action research studies, based on dire need, to make an alternative economy and society based on mutual aid and cooperation.

  6. That spirit of prefigurative action research could also inform a renewed progressive movement in the UK. We know that the economy will crash again. We know that there will be another crisis of hegemony (to again use a Gramscian term) and an attitude of learning together, and integrating that learning in new collective understandings of system and power, of action and ideology, will eventually ensure success. Can Corbyn, and his allies, within and outside Labour work in this different way?


I use this word “progressive” knowing that it has unfortunate overtones of a supposed linear process to ever greater civilisation. That’s obviously not what happens, but it is hard to find another word for the liberatory goals of principled social movements.

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Malmö: re-imagining the city

Our cities have grown up as the result of a number of factors. Manchester, with its origins in the Roman period, was a relatively small centre until particular geographical, historical, social and economic factors coincided to make it the world’s first industrial city. It then declined, until, facilitated by its business friendly Labour administration, it found a new role as a post-industrial centre. That renewal, according to the official story, is founded on science and technology, science, finance, tourism and sport, emphasising external direct investment, skills and competitiveness. In reality, a construction boom, together with the resilience of some economic sectors, has been at least as important.

Comparisons have been made with other cities with similar history. I have been lucky enough to visit several of these (including Hamburg, Barcelona, Newcastle, Sheffield and Glasgow) and have just been to Malmö, Sweden’s third city (by train). It is a bit smaller than Manchester, with 310,000 residents (in the city itself), but it also has a long history and was an important industrial centre. However, as a port city, with reliance on ship-building, other UK cities (Newcastle, Belfast, Glasgow) might make more apt comparisons.

Central Malmö with cycle traffic

Central Malmö with cycle traffic

I had heard about Malmö’s reinvention of itself as a green city and was interested in seeing to what extent the rhetoric was supported by reality, and to learn more about those transformations.

My visit was not primarily to make this study, so my observations do not pretend to be in any way comprehensive. Nor do I focus on the issues of class, migration, inequality and exclusion which would be essential to analyse in any comprehensive study of the city and its development, comparative or otherwise.

To cut to the conclusion, it seems that indeed Malmö has embraced green transformation, and it can teach us in Manchester a few things. But as in most places that transformation is compromised by the overall economic model.

Strategies for a more viable city.

Malmö’s fortunes began to change with the construction of the Öresund fixed link (The Bridge) between the city and the Danish capital, Copenhagen, which opened in 2000. This was financed by the European Union. At the same time, the national government made substantial investments in the city. The city council also adopted a vision of the city that prioritised the environment.

The City of Malmö Environmental Programme 1998-2002 contains concrete environmental objectives for the city and an action programme. The main objective of the environmental programme is that Malmö, during the programme period of 1998-2002 and forward to 2005, shall take decisive steps towards becoming a sustainable municipality over the long term. One of the programme objectives is that emissions of carbon dioxide shall be reduced by 25 % by 2005 and by 60-75 % by 2050. Another is that emissions of nitrogen to Öresund via water-ways in the municipality shall be reduced by at least 30 % by 2005.” source

There are several aspects to the city’s environmental strategy:

1) Investment in green spaces and waterways. Malmö is notable for its parks, some of which only date from the early 1990s. It has restored its waterways as an amenity and established a ”green points” and ”green space factor” requiring developers to provide features such as planted roofs and surface watercourses. Successive plans continue this emphasis despite the city’s strategy of inward spatial development to create a dense, resource efficient city.

One of  Malmö:'s parks

One of Malmö:’s parks

Integrated water management in Bo01 - "City of Tomorrow"

Integrated water management in Bo01 – “City of Tomorrow”

2) Demonstration housing. The Bo01 – City of Tomorrowneighbourhood was started in 2001 in part of the city’s Western Harbour, formerly a shipyard. It aimed to combine a variety of architectural solutions to low impact housing, at the same time aiming for minimum energy inputs and some other environmentally innovative features. The area is indeed a collection of various building styles with various styles of accommodation. In some areas, small houses face inwards to shared spaces where, on a sunny but cool evening, children played and adults chatted. The higher buildings are on the shore-side, reversing the usual pattern. This sacrifices sea views, but acts to calm the coastal winds, making for more convivial spaces and for reduction in energy demand. Some energy comes from a local wind turbine and solar panels, while high insulation standards prevail. Heating and cooling is based on a large underground water reservoir, using heat pump technology. There are some green roofs. One feature is the management of rain run-off via open channels which feed into reed beds. The planners apparently missed out cycle storage, and visiting people have been known to park their bikes in the open surface water drains! There are some community amenities, shops, a large eco-supermarket and a solar atrium. As an experimental project Bo01 did not meet all its aims, but was one of the first attempts to apply low impact principles in a city development. It has informed other projects in Malmö and elsewhere. It is next to the “turning torso”, Malmö’s noted skyscraper, which also has some energy and water saving features.

Courtyard area in Bo01

Courtyard area in Bo01

I asked whether rising sea levels had been considered in the planning, and it seems that they were not. This is the case for many low lying and coastal cities, but it is an issue that will need to be addressed.

3) Cycling. Malmö has an extensive network of cycle paths. Some corridors extend into the countryside. The level of cycle usage appears to be much higher than in Manchester. It was noticeable that people cycled slowly, sedately even (slower than Copenhagen, much slower than Manchester, and much much slower than London!), mostly on old and well used bikes. Bikes were left with minimal security, often just frame-locked , or just secured by the front wheel (I use a Danish frame lock myself when leaving the bike within sight, and to lock the back wheel). Apparently fewer people cycle in the cold winter, and winter tyres are used. The station has a very impressive cycle parking facility complete with workshop. However, cycle hire is limited in the city (in this it contrasts with Copenhagen, where many hotels have cycles to borrow, although the once excellent facility at the Central Station appears to be no more).


Massed cycles and parking facility at Lund station, near Malmo

Cycles parked with minimal security.  This is Lund but Malmo was similar

Cycles parked with minimal security. This is Lund but Malmo was similar


A cycling culture

In Sweden, as in Denmark and Germany, it is noticeable that motorists defer to both pedestrians and cyclists, always stopping at crossings and also before turning into side roads.

4) Biogas and public transport. Sweden has been using biogas for longer than most of Europe. Food waste is digested to make methane which, with fossil gas, is used to power the city’s buses. Biogas from developments like Bo01 and the turning torso is also fed into the city’s gas distribution system, for cooking and heating. However, outside Malmö, the extent of oilseed rape cultivation is noticeable. Among other things this goes to the production of biodiesel, not altogether the best use of good quality agricultural land, although I have not seen the carbon and monetary calculations for Sweden’s production (which would have to compare any energy savings with energy expenditure from, for example, food imports). There is, however considerable concern about the impact of the high chemical inputs of agriculture on the region’s inland and coastal waters.

"(Bio)Gas bus for a greener and more beautiful Malmo"

“(Bio)Gas bus for a greener and more beautiful Malmo”

5) Strategies at a city level. It is at the corporate city level that the commitment to ecological thinking is most noticeable. This tends to be aligned with strong social policies. An example is the report of The Commission for a Sustainable Malmö: published in 2013 as “Malmö’s path towards a sustainable future: Health, welfare and justice”. It took a life-span perspective on reducing health inequalities and improve living conditions for all citizens of Malmö, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. As fans of both Wallander and The Bridge will be aware, Sweden is not immune from the problems of deprivation, exclusion and discrimination, nor to the associated social problems. The commission focussed on three areas; “Conditions of growing up for children and young people, Democracy and influence in society, and Social and economic conditions”, and made two key recommendations: “1. Establish a social investment policy that can reduce inequities in living conditions and make societal systems more equitable. and 2. Change processes by creating knowledge alliances and democratised management”. Just as we do in our Viable Economy pamphlet for Manchester, the commission insists that economic, social and ecological priorities have to be tacked together, since meeting any two without the other is a recipe for failure. The three elements run through the report, which includes a critique of isolated economic rationality, via the GDP fetish.

The emphasis on ecology is also found in the 2014 COMPREHENSIVE PLAN FOR MALMÖ. It’s four general objectives are

  • An appealing city that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable

  • Social balance and good living conditions

  • Economic dynamism and sustainability

  • Resource efficient society and environmental robustness

To give a flavour (the summary of the latter objective),

Environmental targets and aspects are high priorities in planning the sustainable city. One basic objective is to protect the basic needs of future generations, which means that natural and climate boundaries must be considered for a sustainable city to develop. Long-term preservation of the ecosystem’s production capacity is a basic requirement, as is protecting nature and human health from negative environmental impact.

The City of Malmö has adopted a number of ambitious goals concerning resource effectivity (sic) and ecological sustainability. In cooperation with Copenhagen, Malmö is planning to make the Öresund Region Europe’s first cross-border carbon-neutral zone. The environmental objectives require Malmö to be supplied by locally sourced renewable energy as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This requires constructing an increasingly resource-efficient city. Biodiversity must be preserved, arable land and natural assets safeguarded, natural resources efficiently utilized and water supplies protected. Commuting habits must be changed in order to create an environmentally sound system, both locally and regionally.”

Now words are easy, but I see nothing like this clarity of focus in the growthist documentation behind our city (Manchester) and regional (Greater Manchester) devolution agreement, city deal, community strategy or growth plan. Whatever the caveats that I’ll outline below, Malmö is clearly a lot further on in embracing ecological thinking into the way it sees its identity now and in the future, and the way it plans to realise that.

Two innovative projects

I also visited two more community-based innovations, relevant to the ideas of strengthening local economies.

1) The Centre for Public Entrepreneurship. This is a resource centre which began in 2009 and that supports both people and organisations with social development. This is loosely defined, but includes “big city problems, the development of rural areas, voluntary activities, new social innovations, exclusion” and, engagement and support for young people, migrant employment among other things. Its emphasis is on collaborative partnerships between civil society organisations and movements, business, local government and the university sector, with a big emphasis on working with people “in their own environment” and providing credible support with organisational, financial and communication issues. As an body independent of government, they do not have an agenda of reducing expenditure, but nor are they part of the profit-orientated private sector. They also operate a low threshold for involvement, although this brings some problems for their own capacity to meet need.

As they pointed out, the three dominant forces in the post-war settlement have been government/public sector, private business and the academy. This misses out active citizens and the organisations of civil society, and their work goes some way to remedy this with its pentahelix orientation (see this discussion).

CPE has supported more than 120 projects, small and large, urban and rural, successful and unsuccessful. As they note in “The Art of Inviting Participation”, “The search for more sustainable development acts as a bond between all these organisations and developments and demands new methods”.

Perhaps what they are doing is not so different from the best of what the non-governmental sector is doing in the UK. One possible difference is in their piloting of new funding models (“compacts”) that instead of reliance on either time-limited project grants or mercantile contracts aim for continuous funding, giving greater stability to this emerging sector of “bottom-up” socially and ecologically sustainable innovation. Thanks to Elin, Nils and Lisa for meeting with me, and to Fredrik Björk for setting up and also participating in the meeting which not only covered the CPE but a host of other relevant questions and issues.

2) STPLN: “STPLN (see also this link) is a makers space available for anyone who wants to create and build things, produce cultural events or experiment with project designs.” Its premises in the Western Harbour area are in a building that was a former shipyard slipway, hence its wedge shape. It is next to a large skateboard park, designed with the participation of the skateboard community, and a similar co-creation model was adopted for the STPLN initiative.

STPLN and Cycle Kitchen in the former slipway building in the Western Harbour.

STPLN and Cycle Kitchen in the former slipway building in the Western Harbour.

In addition to a drop-in and shared office and meeting space, there are several separate projects. The Bike Kitchen is a community cycle workshop where bikes can be repaired, maintained, or built using recycled frames. Fabriken is a “maker space” with machines and tools for digital production, carpentry and electronics enabling people to socialize, build, create, design, prototype and idealize. It gives people (professional designers, students, handymen, school students, women…. ) the opportunity to build, design and develop things that cannot be bought. ÅterSkapa is a creative re-use and “upcycling” arts- and education centre using a materials bank – a collection of cast-offs and other pre-consumer waste materials collected from local manufacturers. There are also textile workshops, a theatre space and a kitchen. The original orientation was cultural (hence the theatre space), and the centre is overseen by the city’s cultural department, but the emphasis on making things emerged early on. Given the origins, perhaps it is not surprising that there is little emphasis on the economic impacts, on access to employment, for example.

Currently a network of repair centres is under development, linked to the city waste disposal service, with tools etc.

I was given a book, Making Commons, published by Malmö Högskola – Malmö University, by Anna Seravali, a designer who conducted her doctoral research there – the book (in English) is that thesis (available as a pdf download). It very interestingly and deftly explores the idea of opening up the production process, bringing together the concepts of “the commons”, co-production, and environmental and social sustainability.

The nearest equivalent to STPLN in Manchester might be the Sharp Project (“A home for creative digital entrepreneurs & digital content production), but, in addition to being bigger and having a digital remit, it is much more jobs and industry orientated, but does not appear to have the community and commons ingredient that makes STPLN so distinctive. It would be interesting to compare the two approaches which might have things to teach one another. While STPLN might be seen as limited by not emphasising its ecponomic outcomes, that also seems to be a strength, insofar as it represents a resistance to a narrow economic rationality or justification for existence.

Like the CPE, STPLN is struggling with limited and essentially short-term funding, searching for financial sustainability.

Thanks to Caroline Lundholm for hosting my visit and explaining everything to me.

Conclusion: possibilities and contradictions.

Malmö (and its city region) has been successful in improving its local environment and in reducing its local impact. I would say, and without the benefit of comparative data, that it has been more imaginative, more ambitious and more successful than Manchester in this.

A constrained greening?

A constrained greening? (an office in the Western Harbour area)

But the limits to its “place-based” sustainability are three-fold, and these problems are by no means unique to Malmö.

1. Malmö, like Manchester, and everywhere else is still pursuing economic growth. Even in its Green Plan, cited above, an objective is that the city is a “regional generator of green growth and employment.” it adds, “It is vital for the city’s development and the welfare of its inhabitants to encourage economic growth, generate employment and secure people’s livelihoods.” This is the standard message of the dominant economic rationalist and ecologically illiterate consensus. As explained time and again, this approach is incompatible with ecological safety since it entails increased material throughputs: resource use and emissions production, which cannot be de-coupled, sufficiently.

2. This developmental strategy, for example increased integration with neighbouring areas of Denmark, brings local penalties in terms of increased road traffic, noise, exhaust emissions, energy consumption, pressure on green space, water resources and so on. So despite the improvements in public transport, promotion of cycling, traffic is increasing in and around Malmö.

3. It is not possible to claim sustainability without understanding the city’s interconnection with, nay dependence on, planetary supply chains and ecosystems. The ecological footprint of the city is huge, probably equal in equivalent hectares to the whole area of Skane, but of course distributed internationally. Again as noted elsewhere, it makes little sense to aim for sustainability solely in terms of local indicators without also taking into account the “outsourced” emissions and resource demands of the local economy.

Sabina Andrén, a doctoral student at Lund University (now at Uppsala University) made a similar point in a 2009 paper entitled “Urban sustainable development from a place-based and a system-based approach: Case study Malmö”:

Malmö is … extremely dependent on areas outside of its own borders, its own area covering only a few percent (around 3%) of the totals required to match its consumption patterns”

Again, this is no different from any other modern city, but it does caution against either premature celebration or complacency in the hard struggle to create a truly green city. However, a more critical perspective on Malmö’s particular embracing of the green city model has been voiced by another Lund doctoral student: Ståle Holgersen argues that:

Malmö has responded to the economic and ecological crises with a particular strategy we call the green fix. This concept builds on Harvey ́s spatial fix – a description of how capital relocates or reproduces space in the aim of resolving sluggish capitalist accumulation. The green fix is also a version of ecological modernism, but where sustainability also serves as a means to growth. ……. For developers the green fix is primarily a business strategy, and we see how the “green urbanism” is currently designed and packed with the aim of selling it as an export commodity. We also propose a twofold critique of the green fix in Malmö. First, it contains elements of “greenwashing” and second, it conceals crucial factors of scale and hence runs the risk of myopia.”

See also:  Ståle Holgersen & Andreas Malm ”Green fix” as crisis management. Or: In which world is Malmö the world’s greenest city? Forthcoming in Geografiska Annaler, series B.

Indeed: to understand what our cities and their elites are doing when they adopt one or another approach to development, green or otherwise, it is necessary to look behind the rhetoric and justifications to the contradictory economic and political contexts to which they are responses. In a true critical spirit this is not to demean good intentions (even when rather half-baked, as in Manchester) but to expose their limits and indicate what has to be taken on board if the social, economic and ecological challenges that our cities face are to be properly addressed.

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Malmö: The Journey

I will write about Malmö and Skåne in a later post, or maybe two.  This one is about going to Malmö from Manchester, and back, by train.

Malmö's Town Hall.

Malmö’s Town Hall.

Carolyn had an invitation to do a keynote at the Community, Work and Family conference, May, 2015, in Malmö. She and her friend and former colleague Sue co-founded the journal, and the biennial conferences are losely associated with it.

As we have a general policy of trying not to fly in Europe (and I’ve refused two intercontinental speaking invitations on aviation emissions grounds in the last year), we went by train. This journey has become longer without flying since the North Sea ferries to Hamburg and to Esbjerg in Denmark were withdrawn last autumn to comply with EU sulphur emission regulations: which is likely to increase carbon emissions.

The route

Outbound: Manchester, London, Brussels, Cologne (2 night stopover), Hamburg, Flensburg (2 night stopover), Copenhagen, Malmö.

Return: Malmö, Copenhagen (1 night accidental stopover, see below), Hamburg (1 night stopover), Cologne, Brussels, London, Manchester.

Places named are where we changed trains.

Train operators were,

Manchester – London: Virgin

London – Brussels: Eurostar (SNCF)

Brussels-Cologne: Thalys (a consortium of State rail companies including Deutsche Bahn and SNCF)

Cologne – Hamburg: Deutsche Bahn

Hamburg – Flensburg: Deutsche Bahn

Flensburg-Copenhagen: DSB (Danish State Railways)

Copenhagen- Malmö: DSB

On the way we went up the Jutland Peninsular, crossing the Little and Great Belts to the two largest Danish islands, by bridge.

Crossing the Great Belt

Crossing the Great Belt

Returning, we came on the Copenhagen-Hamburg express which rather amazingly goes onto the ferry between Denmark and Germany (Rødby-Puttgarden): a rather amazing experience. Why not just use different trains and take the passengers on board the usual way? I suppose it makes for a quick embarquement: indeed so quick that one passenger (not one of us!) had to sprint from boat to the Puttgarden station as the train “steamed” out before he reached the vehicle deck.

The train on the boat.

The train on the boat.

From Copenhagen to Malmö, the route is via the amazing Oresund bridge (The Bridge of the Swedish-Danish tv crime thriller). There isn’t much to see from the train: the Great Belt and the viaduct over the Kiel canal were more interesting from the train. That bridge has had a big impact on Malmö, which was a rather depressed post-industrial city. It has brought the city closer to the country it was for a long time part of: Skåne, the southern Swedish province (Scania), was Danish until 1658.

The Oresund Bridge from Malmö

The Oresund Bridge from Malmö

Deutsche Bahn provide an interesting option that for a small additional fee they will buy an equivalent amount of power to that used by your journey from renewable sources. However, this only applies to internal journeys, and the trains to and from Copenhagen were, surprisingly, diesel (although it would maybe be hard to see how an electric train could be taken on board the ship).

We went from Cologne to Hamburg on an ICE (Inter-City Express) train, and very comfortable it was too. On the way back we went on the Hamburg-Cologne Express, a much older train, but seemingly just as fast, a newly upholstered corridor train, with a lavatory that, in the old-fashioned way, emptied onto the track. It took me some time, and rather a lot of futile flushing, before I noticed the foot pedal to empty the toilet bowel. Nicht so schön!

A corridor train: I remember these. Hamburg-Koeln Express

A corridor train: I remember these. Hamburg-Koeln Express

The stopovers.

Cologne. Not such a very attractive city, and the cathedral is a sombre, gloomy place, enlivened by a service with a male voice choir. We visited the museum of modern art. A lot of conceptual art which as one of my daughters would say is “just taking the piss”, and some really interesting expressionists.

Flensburg. We were unlucky in coinciding with a very wet and unseasonably cold day. We strolled around the town, doing the historical self-guided tour and eating fish. Everyone very friendly and helpful. Only on returning did we find out that just up the road between there and the Danish town up the coast, Sønderborg, was the dress rehearsal for World War 1, with the blasting of the Danish troops by Prussian howitzers.

A wet day in Flensburg

A wet day in Flensburg

Copenhagen. We had intended to spend our last night in Malmö (after touring in Skåne) and indeed I had booked a night at the hotel we stayed in earlier. On arrival they had no knowledge of the booking – I had managed, online, to book for the night I made the booking, three nights previously. And there was not a room available in the city that night. So off we went, over The Bridge and stayed in Copenhagen. We’d been there in, I think, 1993, before the bridge was built. Then we were struck by a number of things, particularly the cleanness and quietness or the city and its the cycling culture. At that time, a totally pedestrianised street through a city centre was a novelty. This time we found it much busier, scruffier and dirtier. Maybe it was the contrast with smaller, quieter Malmö and super-tranquil rural Skåne., but (on the strength of a few hours in the evening) it somehow seemed much more stressed. It was election time with posters from various parties on display, including the right wing Danish People’s Party which is expected to do well. Here as elsewhere in Northern Europe there is a depressing rightward drift, so unlike the developments in Spain and Greece.

Hamburg. We’d been here before too, at the end of a cycle tour in Northern Germany in 1997. We liked it, and it was a pleasant evening that we finished watching sunset over the big rectangular lake in the city centre. It was a nice surprise to find that our hotel I.d. card doubled as a free bus ticket on all the city’s public transport. Once we’d worked out how things worked, we made use of the frequent buses and U-bahn.



The last leg, Hamburg to Manchester was a long day. A bit longer than our previous one-day return trips from Milan and Barcelona. But it’s a pleasant way to travel, and not particularly expensive (unless you get a loss-leader air ticket from Ryan Air, in which case you are enjoying considerable tax-payer subsidy, like untaxed aviation fuel). I recommend it. If nothing else you have a proper sense of distance, of changes in climate and culture as you cross the continent.  I recommend following the advice on the excellent independent train travel website, The Man in Seat 61, and guess what, that’s where I found myself on the Thalys to Cologne! And here is his map of the relevant train routes for this journey: For the full map and accompanying text see

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Responses to the Ecomodernist Manifesto

Responses to the Ecomodernist Manifesto

(3/12/15:  I update this piece as new material comes in).

I recently came upon An Ecomodernist Manifesto, and was staggered by the scale of its unwarranted assumptions and errors. It argues that the malign human impacts on the earth can be turned benign through the application of technology and further economic growth. Yet its authors claim to be environmentalists (or rather post-environmentalists).

I thought of writing a rebuttal, as I did of the New Climate Economy’s problematic (if less so) report. But there was so much wrong with it, from denial of the linkage between GDP growth and emissions (or rather faith in yet to be demonstrated decoupling), via advocacy of nuclear power and unproven Carbon Capture and Storage, to a denigration of indigenous, pre-modern ways of life, that it was hard to know where to start.

Luckily four (now 8, see update at the end) diverse, but complementary critiques haven appeared. Two from the degrowth / ecological economics perspective, one is more centrally concerned with emissions and climate change, and the fourth covers climate and politics. I couldn’t improve on their collective voice, so here they are.

1) Giorgos Kallis: An ecomodernist mishmash

…..In an amazing mishmash of critical theory, political liberalism and technological cornocupianism [the ‘post-environmentalist’ think-tank the Breakthrough Institute] came up with a government-funded ‘Apollo plan’ instead. Not one that would fly us to the moon again, but to an earth powered by nuclear plants and fed with GMOs. Post-environmentalists’ preferred allies were Monsanto and the nuclear industry, it turned out. This mishmash full of contradictions continues in the new manifesto…..” read more

2) Jeremy Caradonna et al, A Degrowth Response to an Ecomodernist Manifesto

…..From a degrowth perspective, technology is not viewed as a magical savior since many technologies actually accelerate environmental decline.

With these disagreements in mind, a group of over fifteen researchers from the degrowth scholarship community has written a detailed refutation of the Ecomodernist Manifesto, which can be read here. The following is a summary of the seven main points made by the authors of this critique:….” read more

3) Joe Romm How To Tell If The Article About Climate You Are Reading Is B.S., In Four Easy Steps

….Lots of writers want the freedom to criticize those who defend the 2°C target and the very aggressive deployment of carbon-free power that such a target entails. But they know that if they actually put their own target on the table, they would be conceding humanity’s self-destruction, disputing the scientific literature or requiring the very aggressive deployment of carbon-free power they criticize.

A classic example of such an essay is the “Ecomodernist Manifesto” featured in the NY Times this week. Errors aside, this 31-page tome is a waste of time because it doesn’t tell you what the authors think should be our goal with climate action. They offer no temperature target, no CO2 concentration target, not even a broad one. The first and last mention of any target is on page 20 when the authors explain that while “Nations have also been slowly decarbonizing — that is, reducing the carbon intensity of their economies … they have not been doing so at a rate consistent with keeping cumulative carbon emissions low enough to reliably stay below the international target of less than 2 degrees ……..” read more

4) Clive Hamilton The Technofix Is In

….Describing themselves as “ecomodernists,” those gathered around The Breakthrough Institute are not anti-science; they are after all ecomodernists. But in order to maintain their belief in a bright new future, they must find ways to temper or reinterpret the increasingly dire warnings from the world’s scientists. The preferred strategy is to scan the world for good news stories and from them create an alternative perceptual reality. (The recently launched “Bright Spots” is a similar approach.)

And this has led them to their most audacious declaration to date: the publication, last week, of what they are calling An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a self-consciously provocative attempt to make sense of what some scientists are calling “the Anthropocene,” or the Age of Humans. In the end, however, the manifesto’s faith in technological breakthroughs means it substitutes a kind of Californian positivity for the hard reality of climate politics. As a roadmap out of our ecological and social predicaments it leads us nowhere…..” read more

Here are further responses:

Updated: 21/5/15 ,  7/6/15 and 8/10/15, 2/12/15,  13/12/15.

5) Bill Evans  Ecomodernism and the Anti-Politics of Prometheus

6) Ian Angus Hijacking ‘Anthropocene’: Anti-green ‘Breakthrough Institute’ misrepresents science via Links.

7) And an interesting perspective from the Global South: Chandran Nair  “Ecomodernism is Anti-Progress – A View from Asia” on the excellent German Degrowth site (in English) .I would personally “problematise” the notion of “progress”, which is integral to the modernist world view, but it is nevertheless a good piece.

8) Meet the ecomodernists: ignorant of history and paradoxically old-fashioned.
by  George Monbiot.

9) Josh Halpern likens the ecomodernist prospectus to Huxley’s “Brave New World” where people were decoupled from nature, with dystopian results:  “The Brave New World of Ecomodernism“.

And for some light relief – did you know that the ecomodernists share the “Can do “American” (sic) spirit with Bill Gates and Barrack Obama?  Liberals all, that’s part of the problem (and if you live in the US you probably won’t know what liberalism means).

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