Saturday, 21 January 2012

Should the North have devolved government?

With devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, and semi-devolved government in London under whichever ego manic gets elected, should the North have devolved government. A new think tank the Hannah Mitchell Foundation aims to stimulate debate across the North of England on the most appropriate forms of devolution. It held its first annual general meeting in Huddersfield on Friday 13 – on the 119th anniversary of the foundation of the Independent Labour Party in nearby Bradford.

My friend Barry Winter, an activist in Independent Labour Publications and a retired Politics lecturer from Leeds, was elected Chair of the Foundation. “A key priority is to influence thinking within the Labour Party,” said Barry. “At a time when any vestige of regional government has been abolished by the Coalition, we need to make the case for regional devolution on economic as well as democratic grounds.”
Vice-chairs from the North-West, Yorkshire and the North-East were elected. Professor Paul Salveson, a railway writer and consultant, was appointed General Secretary to oversee the development of the Foundation.

·         “I’m a strong believer in giving the North of England the sort of powers that regions in Germany and other parts of Europe enjoy,” says Paul.

·         “That would benefit England and the UK as a whole. The alternative is to see a growing economic divide between North and South.”
Linda Riordan, MP for Halifax, the Foundation’s President says:

·         “At a time when we the future of the United Kingdom is coming under increasing scrutiny, the North needs its own devolved government within the UK, otherwise we risk being part of an increasingly centralised, Tory-dominated, England.”
The Foundation is named in honour of Hannah Mitchell, born in North Derbyshire.

·         She was a grassroots activist in the early socialist movement in Bolton and then Ashton-under-Lyne and for many years a Labour councillor in the Newton Heath ward of Manchester.

·         “She was a great working class socialist and passionate advocate of women’s suffrage,” says Riordan.

·         “She epitomises all that was best in the North of England’s radical traditions – who better to name the Foundation after?”
“We hope the Foundation will make a real impact on English politics”, said Barry. “We’ve already got strong backing from several MPs and John Prescott has agreed to be a patron. Our next step is to organise a launch event in Bradford in early March”.

The Foundation has a website at and membership is open to individuals and organisations, both large and small.
How can the North cope with Condem Strategy to increase the North-South divide? 

While the Coalition has set out to rebalance the economy, its economic policies will do little to reverse existing long-standing imbalances between London and the South-East and other parts of the country argues another friend Michael Ward in his report Rebalancing the economy: prospects for the North. Report for the 'fair deal for the North' inquiry undertaken by the Smith Institute, and published last year.

·         'Indeed, withdrawing resources may have the effect of widening the gap between prosperous and lagging parts of the country, making a bad situation worse.'

·         Rebalancing the economy in favour of the relatively disadvantaged regions like the North 'is neither easy nor straightforward'. 

·         'It demands a fairer allocation of resources, strong delivery structures, and a lasting commitment from government and its partners in the councils and businesses of the North. Without these basic building blocks, the prospects for the North look worryingly bleak.'
Wealth and prosperity are concentrated in London and the South East.

·         Attempts to bring new jobs and economic activity to England’s declining regions has always had limited success.

·         For 100 years the British economy has been subject to powerful centralising forces pulling things to London and the south, whether the new consumer goods industries in the 1930s or more recently financial services. 

·         The half-a-million jobs created or safeguarded by the Regional Development Agencies between 2002/03 and 2006/07  'represent real achievements and value for money.

·         But they were never going to be sufficient to reverse the trend.

·         Regional policies, old and new, made a difference, and it was difference worth making. Not to invest would have been worse.'
At the time Michael’s report was published the RDAs were waiting to be abolished and Local Economic Partnerships were being established.

·         The role of LEPs is very limited.

·         Michael argues that the result is that the ConDem Government which proclaims 'localism' is in effect centralising the delivery of some services from regions back to London.

·         He does not argue for a re-instatement of the RDAs, but for learning from the RDA experience and create something better and stronger, through 'the delivery of local development policies' in a more pluralistic, 'more civic, more empowering for third sector and community organisations, with a strong central state ensuring fairness and equity.'
Key recommendations

Within a framework of basic principles, Michael's recommendations consider the steps that business and local government partners in the North need to take. Here are some of them.
Among Michael’s key recommendations are:

(i) Local authorities across the three Northern English regions should take the initiative, together with business, universities and the community and voluntary sector, in establishing a new, strategic advocacy body for the North – a “Council of the North” – to argue the North’s case in Westminster and Brussels. Such an organisation should have a lean, minimal, even virtual secretariat, and access to an independent evidence base.
(ii) Building on the legacy of the regional observatories, and drawing where possible on their work, the partners, with the North’s 25 universities, and alongside think tanks, should establish an independent research, evidence and statistical organisation, working in conjunction with the Council of the North, but empowered to publish its material independently.

(iii) The current local government finance review creates an opportunity for Northern local authorities to draw up and submit proposals designed to benefit the region as whole. There is also scope for organisations across the region to co-operate in expanding Northern venture capital funds, including in association with the local government pension funds.
(iv) Elected local planning authorities in the three Northern English regions should work together, initially on a non statutory basis, to develop a strategic plan for the North, covering key housing and employment developments, infrastructure and skills.

(v) Northern local authorities and their partners, working through the Council of the North or a similar body, and informed by independent research and analysis, should aim to collate and prioritise infrastructure projects, building a consensus across the North. This work stream needs to include longer-term work, designed to identify priorities for future spending review periods.
(vi) Councils should actively promote a debate, based on research and data, on the best use of available resources: is HS2 the top priority? Or would a mix of schemes promoting connections across the North deliver better results?

(vii) Business and local government need to ensure that priority is maintained for the Northern Hub project in the next spending review period, and that engineering and project development capacity is allocated to develop future investment programmes.
(viii) Business and local government should actively encourage the emergence of a range of different financial sources for infrastructure development: not just government, but private and public-private sources, including pension funds, perhaps leading to a Northern Infrastructure Fund.

(ix) In addition to local co-operation between LEPs, Northern local authorities and their existing marketing organisations should collaborate to market the North as a whole as a place for business to locate, developing the Northern brand for international use.
Michael’s full report Rebalancing the economy: prospects for the North. Report for the 'fair deal for the North' inquiry undertaken by the Smith Institute can be seen on   

The Structure of Devolution
The report clearly provides an important foundation for the economic discussion by the Hannah Mitchell Foundation.

An important issue is what will be the most effective and democratic model for devolution? Back in September 2002 when I worked for the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres (now merged with Development Trusts Association as Locality) the Labour Government published the Regional White Paper, with John Prescott as main advocate in Government. I was a contributer at a National Association of Councils of Voluntary Action Conference Workshop discussing the White Paper.

I argued that the White Paper:

·         was a top-down sham, boring and verbose - a complete turn-off.  Much of it dealt with the issue of elected Regional Assemblies, which will not happen for years, and were unlikely to be achieved in more than 1-2 Regions.

·         proposed settings up a new form of top-down dictat.

·         offered a sham democracy equivalent to the Emperor’s new clothes

·         would provide challenges to local community and voluntary sectors. 
Bottom-up analysis

The Settlement movement was built on the understanding that a healthy society must be based on the needs and aspirations of the individual and the household, and on the development of collective self-help organisations that are the bedrock of a healthy and democratic  civil society, especially the mutual sector.
As multi-purpose service, project and community development centres, with a particular focus on the neighbourhoods that the private and public sectors have betrayed over the decades, bassac members started from the position of what are the needs and aspirations of individuals, households, community groupings and the neighbourhood.
2002 was the period of the introduction of the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy and the introduction of Local Strategic Partnerships and Community Strategies. bassac argued:
·                   that the regeneration of areas must start at neighbourhood level, with the development of neighbourhood strategies, which become the building blocks for the Local Strategic Partnership approved local authority area Community Strategies.

·                     that the Community Strategies should be the building blocks for the formulation of the Regional Strategies.  

·                     that all existing regional strategies should be reviewed when all local authority strategies were agreed.

·                     that regional strategies should not dictate down to local authority level, but work to help achieve the community strategies and deal with issues that have been agreed across community strategies.

·                     that the revitalisation of democracy must be rooted in the future development of civic society through community and voluntary sector organisation, and the establishment of statutory neighbourhood governance structures – like Neighbourhood Councils.

 Regional Assembly Democratic Sham
I argued that while there was such a high level of public disenchantment with the then current methods of democracy, the issue of elected Regional Assemblies at the time was a confidence trick. Its democracy was a sham. Of course that disenchantment has grown massively aided by what I have since called ‘The New Corruption’

·                     The size of the electorates for each elected position was even then far too large for there to be any meaningful relationship between electors and elected: one of the reasons that has reduced the contact between MPs and local authority Councillors and their electorates, and makes the concept of democratically accountable MPs a mockery.

·                     The ConDem Government proposed reduction in the number of constituencies will make the situation worse, especially for those MPs who have to keep an eye on affairs across local authority boundaries. 

·                     There would be conflicts of democratic legitimacy between elected Regional Assembly members, MPs, MEPs and local Councillors. There would be a need for a raft of machinery to ensure consultation and involvement of these and non-elected stakeholders.

·                     Without responsibility for service delivery, Assembly members would be manufacturing work to fill their full-time role.

Alternative Approach.

I suggested that it might be far better to throw the concept of elected Assemblies to one side, and to think through how the advantages of regional governance can best be provided that built on existing structures. One approach might be to say that they should be about enabling co-ordination and joined up thinking. Then the membership should be made up of:
-          the MEPs – who would be able to build real links between the region and Europe

-          the MPs – who would be able to bridge the gap between region and Parliament

-          the local authorities – who would be able to properly co-ordinate

-          with co-options from other stakeholders

Government Control
The Government claimed that strengthening regional government was decentralisation. As long as it controlled the majority of the finance it would be the piper that called the tune, by limiting budgets, capping local Council Tax raising, and disrupting regions by redefining Government Office and RDA boundaries but not redefining Regional Assembly boundaries until later. The abolition of the Government Offices and the RDAs by the ConDem Government have cleared away these bureaucratic structures.

Expectations on Elected Representatives
I also argued that all elected representatives, whether local Councillors, MPs, MEPs or in any future elected Assembly members, should sign a contract that states that if elected they would:

-          work to represent all sections of the community regardless of race, sexual orientation or religion/no-religion

-          undertake a minimum amount of consultation and report back activities every year including meetings around their geographic area, newsletters, and an annual report

-          hold at least one advice surgery every month, and contact details for people to seek advice in between those advice sessions.

 Implications for CVS
I also addressed the question: So what does this mean for local community and voluntary sector organisations?

·                     They would have to work with whatever structures were engineered by the Government and by regional political lobbies.

·                     The capacity of local groups to take an active part in regional issues would be limited, especially those that do not have staff. There was the weight of consultations – meetings, etc. There were already problems engaging in local agendas – let alone regional ones.

·                     It would need to ensure that local area infrastructures were actively involved in the regional sector forums. This put a great weight of responsibility on CVSs.

·                     CVSs should be translating what the Regional proposals mean for their local authority area in language that the diverse range of local sector organisations could understand and relate to.

·                     CVSs should be arguing the bottom-up approach.

·                     Local community organisations, especially multi-purpose centres, should be pro-active in encouraging debate about reviving democracy, through electoral registration drives, providing ways for local Councillors and MPs to engage with local residents, to organise community action campaigning on local issues, building ways that people can take an active part in the democratic process.

·                     CVSs could play an important role in providing advice on what can be done.

·                     CVS could be using the local Compact process to raise issues relating to activity that promotes democratic engagement through partnership.

My involvement in advising  bassac members in 2001-2  on engaging in Neighbourhood Renewal, Local Strategic Partnerships and Community Strategies, and in 2002-3 helping the five Community Empowerment Networks co-ordinate through the Pentagon Partnership with the North East’s RDA’s Tyne & Wear economic partnership, and then the problems of supporting Wandsworth Community Empowerment Fund in the Local Strategic Partnership, highlighted the serious problems the CVS faces when it attempts to sit around the partnership table, and why any structure which seeks to involve the CVS is likely to engage in pure tokenism, devaluing the whole exercise.  

Back to Thomas Spence

The North East Referendum soundly rejected the Regional Assembly model proposed in Labour’s Regional White Paper. Some of the above issues that I outlined nearly 10 years ago still seem to me to be relevant to a debate on the future of devolved government to the English Regions and ones which the new Foundation will have to address.

The Foundation could usefully re-visit the principles behind the ideas of a key radical from the North East, Thomas Spence of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. From 1775 he argued for all land to be vested in the ownership of parishes, and that the parishes would fund their needs from renting out the land, including looking after those who could not work, and make a payment to a considerably reduced Central Government. This was a real bottom-up and anti-top-down dictat programme. To see more about Spence and his ideas have a look at

A more complex society than existed in Spence’s time might need a three tier system of local, regional and national government. If it does then root authority and revenue at local level, with only what is necessary flowing up to regional and national level. Hopefully this will make for greater accountability, responsiveness to needs, and an end to the New Corruption.  

Note: Salveson’s book Socialism with a Northern Accent: Radical traditions for modern times is published by Lawrence & Wishart

Friday, 13 January 2012

Landscapes and Environments: BSECS Conference January 2012

As usual the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS)  offered a rich menu of papers at its Annual Conference on 4-6 January  at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. This year’s theme was ‘Landscapes and Environments’ in 28 panel sessions, as well as interesting plenary talks.

The 18thC Concept of ‘Environment’
Professor David Fairer, of the School of English, kicked off with a talk on ‘Eco-Georgic: Organic Economies in the Eighteenth Century’. He stressed that the 18thC concept of environment was all embracing including the social, the political, the cultural, human relationships, human interaction with other forms of life, the economy of nature, needs, constraints and processes. He argued that there had been an over concentration with ‘environmental’/’green’ sensibilities of the Romantics from the 1790s, at the expense of those sensibilities throughout the Century.  A particularly useful point he made was that access to waste materials on common land enabled the poor to have access to resources and develop their own networks of exchange. These were diminished by the process of enclosure.
The State of the Discipline
Because of the number of parallel panels in each section of the timetable it is always a difficult choice to decide which one to attend. I went to the one considering the state of the discipline. This was designed to reflect on what had emerged from the excellent assessments of work on 18thC Studies that had appeared in the current issue of BSECS  Journal. The assessments cover a wide range of specialist disciplines from politics to music, to expansion of specialisms including medicine, and reviews of literature from other parts of the world. Developing trends in recent years have included the triumph of cultural history over political and economic history, a growing emphasis on material culture e.g. the history of the book as a physical object, and a growing emphasis on consumption rather than production  such as the way audiences reacted to music. There has been an emphasis on micro rather than macro history and a decline in theory. The big data base projects driven by funding  have opened up considerably more resources for historians, but have not yet shown to what extent they will change understanding. 
There has been a complete reassessment of the role of religion in what was supposed to be the Age of Enlightenment and the relationship between the Anglican Church and its parishioners. But all the work on religion needs to be integrated within the wider picture. This is certainly proving the case in the work I am involved in with the North East Popular Politics Project, in which religious sermons and controversies are proving a valuable source of understanding about the development of ideas of democracy and governance within the different religious groupings, and the degree to which ministers should be involved in political affairs.
There is clearly a tension between political and literary historians and the degree to which students of 18thC literature should be learning about the context in which novels were written or should concentrate on close reading.
Penny Corfield told the panel that 18thC history was in a confident state with growing student interest compared with a decline in the Tudor/Stuart period. She had identified about 20,000 items of output in recent years, which means that individual historians cannot keep up with the literature. The democratisation of history through the web and databases is also overwhelming historians.  
While the Panel Chair Matthew Grenby pressed the panellists very hard on the issue of whether 18thC Studies should continue to be a category, none of them  put up a solid defence of why the Long 18thC was an important time periodisation. The period 1688-1832 sees Britain between two constitutional crises, the first through a coup d’etat and the second a conservative gesture to reform, in between which it moves from being a marginal European to major international player.  The impact on the rest of the world was enormous, even if for other parts of the world the concept of the 18thC has no relevance. Large areas were affected by the globalistion of trade, colonisation, slavery and war, in which Britain was at the heart.
Democratisation and Archival Material and Databases
The second issue in the debate is the degree to which the ‘democratisation’ through the web and databases is real.  Much is only available on subscription or being attached to an academic institution. The army of local, family and non-academic specialist historians are at a great disadvantage.
There is the continuing problem of large amounts of archive material not being catalogued or print catalogues not being on the web. These last two points are of course not limited to 18thC studies.
Another concern is the long time it takes for the fantastic work that is done by non-academics to filter into academic books and new analyses of the period,  and the lack of close interaction between the academic  and non-academic history worlds (except where engagement is a funding requirement, and commitment of some academics as individuals).
The Debate in 2010
Interestingly some of the above issues were discussed were the same as those at the Long 18thC Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in February 2010. Most of those attending were postgraduate students or those who had recently completed their PhDs. Their topics ranged over public order control ion the second half of the 18thC, disorderly neighbourhoods in the East End, charity and poverty, 18thC tickets as illustrative of social relationships, the use of the cottage idea to improve the poor and the poor’s reaction, shoplifting, women travellers to and from the Caribbean and Central America, divorce cases as illustrative of power relationships, crowd formation at public punishment sites, and textiles for babies left at the Foundlings Hospital. Interestingly mature postgraduates were critical of some academics who do not know how the real world works and make assumptions about what things may have been in the past. The questions arising from the discussion included whether the big data based projects enable a re-interpretation of the lives of ordinary people, their place in society, the reactions of the upper and middle classes, of the Anglican Church and other Protestant faith groups and of Government. On slavery the question was posed as to whether the new work had begun to provide the basis for a re-examination of the 18thC British economy, and whether the work of English Heritage and the National Trust on the English country house and slavery and the UCL Slave ownership project make for the further need for re-interpretation. To what extent can the growth of the anti-slavery movement be linked to other changes in social attitudes about the problems facing the poor crime, and other social problems, and to the analysis of concepts such as ‘civility’; and the control of human passions,  the importance of education and self-education, the development of civil society, the development of self-regulated professions, the typing of different peoples as savages? Do some of the disorderly neighbourhoods continue through the 19th and 20thC to be ones characterised by social and economic disadvantage and disorderliness? How many family and business archive collections which have not be fully catalogued are full of tickets, leaflets and programmes giving details of ticketed events? In the nature of the timescales of research and publication it is clearly too soon to have answers, but these might be interesting issues to feature at future BSECS Conferences and an annual assessment of the state of 18thC studies in the Journal or on the BSECS website.
The Art of Gardens
The Art of Gardens Panel comprised three papers. Laurent Chatel discussed environment, conservation and utopia in 18thC English Gardens, Felix Vogel, Hirschfield’s ‘Theory of Garden’ and the politics of a ‘healthy landscape’ and James Stevens Curl ‘Transformations: 18th Century Landscape-Garden to Garden Cemetery’.
Chalel argued that there was too much concentration of the aesthetics of nature on the picturesque and the sublime. He addressed the same issue as in Fairer’s lecture, the extent to which there was a kind of commitment to nature, a kind of environment/green awareness throughout the 18thC.  He said that according to Roy Porter it was Thomas Carlyle who first coined the word ‘environment’ in 1820.  He argued that the Georgian period laid the foundation of a ‘green discourse’. 
Vogel’s talk about Hirschfield, a German writer (1742-92), concentrated on his emphasis on the health aspects of gardens, the importance of fresh air and breezes and being on higher ground away from pockets of dampness. He argued the importance of plants and natural areas in urban settings, and the need for public gardens to meet the needs of assembly, health, exercise and walking,  to recoup from the day’s labour. 
Death and Gardens
It was the reaction to the unhealthy state of many church burial grounds that led to the development of cemeteries separate from churches, argued James Curl. He pointed out the importance for those who travelled to India of seeing the Calcutta Necropolis Cemetery from the 1760s.   He discussed the way in which particularly French freemasons developed the idea of putting tombs in gardens partly as a political statement e.g. the creation of an island for Rosseau’s tomb, and memorials to massacred Huguenots. The development of cemeteries not attached to particular churches helped to loosen the hold of the Church.
Curl did not draw attention to Jonathan Tyers, the owner and manager of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (1728-1762) whose sombre, religious, death-fixated theme of his Denbies country estate garden  with its Temple of Death, an 8-acre grove 'Il Penseroso', a monument to Lord Petrie, a garden called the 'Valley of the Shadow of Death, a gateway in the form of coffins on their ends topped with skulls, contrasted with Vauxhall Gardens.
It was good to see Curl’s emphasis on the importance of the freemasons, and his new book was on sale at the Conference. The closure of the Centre of Research into Freemasonry at Sheffield University was a blow to the opening up beyond masonic circles of a new understanding about the history of freemasonry in Britain. In  response to a question he explained that French freemasonry had particularly developed from the connection with the exiled  Jacobites, while in Britain it was purged of its Jacobite elements and became very pro-Whig and Hanoverian. Of course by the 1790s many freemasons were abolitionists, free blacks could be members, and (black) Prince Hall freemasonry was developing in the United States whose members have ever since been in the forefront for black rights.
Writing and Reading the Landscape
At the Panel on ‘Writing and Reading the Landscape’, Amelia Dale, a postgraduate from Sydney, talked about ‘Mr Shenston’s sluices, souls and ‘The Spiritual Quixote’’, a satire on Methodism,  tensions within Methodism between spiritual and bodily senses, and the experience of God through nature. Laura Giacomini from Torino discussed the way in which the Veronese architect Luigi Tezza portrayed the landscape in his Italian travel journal of 1795, showing illustrations covering natural features, bridges, roads, industries, urban streets and ruins, and uses as well as natural environments.  He had a concept of beauty linked to usefulness.
Rebecca Ford  discussed the references to landscape in the correspondence of Bernardin de Saint-Piere, a French writer, novelist and friend of Rousseau. Rebecca is working on a project to make  the correspondence available in English. Many women were inspired by his ideas. One woman rejected the idea of having her copy of his  book bound because it would make it more difficult to take with her on walks with friends during which passages would be read out loud.  
Politics of Place
At the Politics of Place panel I gave a talk on the politics of landscape and environment in the North East. The other two speakers were Beccie Randhawa on Tobias Smollett’s Humphrey Clinker, and Robert Sayre on William Barton’s proto-environmentalist vision of the American wilderness. Beccie concentrated on the concept of ‘creolisation’ of how emigrants to other parts of the world become different by their experiences and when they and their descendents visit back to their original country they are regarded as different. This is an interesting analysis, because the multiple meanings of ‘creole’ do create problems of interpretation, like the group of West Indian creoles mentioned in an account of the 18thC Horn Fair. If Beccie is right then Edward Moulton Barratt was an example of being ‘a creole’. Because she was born in Britain his daughter Elizabeth Barratt Browning was not; her mother being the English daughter of John Graham Clarke, a leading Newcastle industrialist and owner of Jamaica slave plantations.
Bartram was the son of a Quaker botanist who became a botanist himself and travelled through the Carolinas in 1773-7, though his book about them was not published until 1791. Bartram was adopted by the emerging eco-movement in the 1970s as a pre-romantic. Bartram saw all creatures as interlinked, that the native Americans were not ‘savages’. He was against cruelty to animals and waste of resources. Interestingly Robert did not mention whether he made any comments on the slave economies of the Carolinas. Many English North Easterners had gone to the Carolinas and become slave plantation owners, and have been described by John Charlton, author of Hidden Chains, as a kind of mafia, who retained family and friendship links back in Britain even after the Revolution.
Loyalism and Radicalism
At the Loyalism and Radicalism panel Bill Speck gave a fascinating talk discussing at what point Paine became radical, as before he went to America he had been  a defender of Lord Clive of India. Frank O’Gorman suggested that loyalism of the 1790s was much more embedded in society, more communal and more rooted in the middle and artisan classes than has previously been thought, partly because it had long origin going back to the Tudor and Stuart times. He summarised the history of oaths of allegiance and bonds of association, the associations established to support the Crown and in the Civil War period Parliament, the role of militias in binding the population into defending the Crown, and the Loyal Association to protect the King in 1696.  In the 18thC the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 and the war with the American colonists all contributed to the further development  of loyalism.  Frank suggested that the Protestant Association was a manifestation of loyalism leading to the Gordon Riots and that loyalism peters out by the mid-19thC.  The third paper was by a postgraduate Jonathan Atherton on Birmingham Nonconformity and the impact of the Priestley Riots of 1791.
Some of the issues raised in the discussion on the papers related to what is meant by ‘loyalism’ and ‘patriotism’ and the way in which Tories took ownership of the concepts, while there were other definitions, and that loyalism continued on through such things as the Primrose League and popular Toryism, and the celebration of Empire Day. Riots normally start because a spark ignites an existing tinder-box. The interesting question is why other areas with tinder boxes lacked the spark to trigger riots. Given the severity of the Gordon Riots an issue to be explored is what effect they had on the ruling elite in terms of the potential dangers of mass loyalist mobilisation.
Art and Music
Other plenary sessions were a lecture by Ann Lewis, (French Studies,  Birkbeck), talking about landscape and environment in the illustrations of Rousseau’s La Nouvelle, and Mark Hallett, Professor of History of Art at York, on Sir Joshua Reynolds’ paintings Streatham Worthies for Hesta Thrale and her husband’s library. The concert on the Thursday evening had The Parley of Instruments play a series of pieces of music interspersed by readings under the title ‘The Genius of the Place’.
Tensions at the Conference
The Conference had many enjoyable components and it is always good to renew acquaintances and meet new people. Sometimes these lead to on-going interaction; sometimes not.
There are a number of tensions within the format of the Annual Conference. The attempt to have inter-disciplinary dialogue does not seem to work as each discipline talks in its own language that often means little to the others. Political and social historians seem to have to struggle to be listened to within what seems to be the dominance of cultural historians. Science and engineer historians were noticeably absent illustrating the continued ‘Two Cultures’ divide.
There are too many panel sessions meaning that those attending cannot attend all the ones they would like to. There does not seem to be any logic behind the grouping of some papers in the same session. It is also very embarrassing when some panel sessions have small numbers, 5 or 6 especially when some of the presenters are from abroad.
While the opening plenary talk was a very interesting and useful contribution, it did not give an overview of the range of papers to be delivered and the interconnections. The Conference faded out with people drifting off before lunch or after lunch. 
It is possible that some papers had been prepared in a hurry because of the late acceptance of proposals. 20 minute papers do not allow speakers to do enough justice to their topic.
Overcoming These Tensions
It would be very helpful if the BSECS Committee would consider taking the decisions on which paper proposals to accept earlier in the year to enable speakers more time to prepare. More guidance should be issued to potential speakers as to what the main areas the Conference organisers want to see covered in proposals are, particularly emphasising why the contributions from different disciplines are useful to others, and high-highlighting cross-disciplinary themes.
The opening plenary could be in two parts. Firstly, an introduction to the range of papers that are to be presented and the key inter-disciplinary issues that arise from them, and secondly a talk on an aspect of the theme. There should be fewer panel sessions and fewer papers, perhaps two papers of 30 minutes each. It would be helpful to Panel chairs if they were given the reasons  why the papers were put together in the same panel and the details of the paper proposals.
To ensure higher attendances at some panels Conference attendees could be asked to make a 1-3 choice of which ones in each session they want to go to with a limit of say 20 being allowed to attend any particular panel. The Conference could usefully end with a plenary session either before or after lunch at which e.g. an assessment of the issues and themes that have emerged should be discussed and at which final thanks should be given.
Finally papers or summaries of them could be usefully placed on the BSCECS  website after the Conference where presenters give permission, and later there could be  2/3 articles in the Journal reviewing all the papers that were given.
2013 Conference Theme: Credit, Money and the Market
In relation to the thinking about the themes and the explanation given in the 2012 programme I wonder whether more detailed guidance should be given.
Should a four page contextual  overview be prepared so that people proposing papers have to show how their proposal fits in?
Could the Panels be divided into the following sections. (a) How the economics operated: inc: (merchant trading, slave plantations, industrial enterprise, agriculture, estate development, financing cultural activities, urban development, the development of the market: roads, shops, distribution systems, the rise and fall of specialist trades, the movement of centres of trades around the country. (b) The banking credit/deficit crises, inc: South Sea Bubble, regional banks. (c) Polemics inc. in religious sermons. (d) Issues of capital and credit represented in literature. ( e) The role of Non-Conformists in the development of credit and markets. (f) The class differences in access to credit and having market choice. (g) The financing of books and pamphlets, inc: the role of subscribers and the experiences of publishers and booksellers. (h) The financing of art, drama and music, inc: purchasing art in/from Europe, and valuations of art. (i) ‘Popular’ reactions to problems of credit, money and markets, inc. (j) Regional comparisons. (k) Autobiographies and diaries dealing with issues of capital, money and the market. (l) Bankruptcies: estate and businesses. (m) International aspects of credit,  money and markets, inc: the use of non-monies as mediums of exchange e.g. cowrie shells; the situation in other countries and the impact of conflicts between different countries.
Given the problems more and more people are having financially, and with questions over their jobs, there may well be a drop in registrations for the 1913 Conference especially if people have consider that the tensions discussed above reduce the value given the cost.
Although the above analysis may appear to be critical, my suggestions are aimed at increasing the value of attending future Conferences. Taking into account my own experience in Conference organisation,  a big thanks to all the people involved in organising the 2012 event.