trump and johnson

Are these the faces we want to see smiling on June 24th?

A very close friend recently mused ‘is democracy in terminal decline or just past its prime?’. It is a sad, but all too apt and well-phrased reflection.

It followed the election of Rodrigo “The Punisher” Duterte as President-elect of the Philippines. A candidate about whom the best the Guardian could say was “bigoted, loud-mouthed, misogynist, populist” appears to have received 39% of the popular vote in, effectively, a five-candidate race. His success is said to be based largely on his zero-tolerance of crime and disorder in the city of Davao where he has been Mayor for 22 years, and his alleged complicity in hundreds of extra-judicial killings to enforce his intolerance.

Talking of ‘bigoted, loud-mouthed, misogynist, populists’ brings to mind Donald Trump – the almost certain standard-bearer of the Republican Party at the impending US presidential election. Meanwhile, in Brazil, of the five presidents elected since the end of military dictatorship in 1985, only two have completed their terms in office – one having died before inauguration, and the other two (including the present Dilma Rousseff) having been removed by impeachment. And, notwithstanding the narrowest of defeats, Austria has just had a presidential election dead heat between the Far Right, anti-immigrant, gun-toting Norbert Hofer (with 49.7% of the vote), and the ex-Green Party leader uniting the remnants of the centre with left wing votes.

All of which serves as an hors d’oeuvres for the current fiascos in the UK.

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When Faroe Islands beat Ranieri's Greece, they called it 'the biggest footballing shock of all time...'

When Faroe Islands beat Ranieri’s Greece, they called it ‘the biggest footballing shock of all time…’. Then he got the job at Leicester!

Many congratulations to Leicester City on winning the 2015/16 Premiership with two games to spare. As a lifelong Spurs fan, I am proud that the youngest team in the Premiership kept the contest alive until Match 36 (of 38), and that we may finish with the best goal difference in the league. Leicester’s success – coupled with Shelby’s concurrent World Snooker crown – represents a remarkable double-landmark for a city which is too often underrepresented in major city debates.

What though are the lessons of these triumphs, and of Spurs’ coming up short, for the future?

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Posted by: davidjmarlow | 01/04/2016

Anxious, angry and always an European

Brexit smiles

Do we really want to see these lying triumphalist smiles on June 24th 2016?

As a global citizen, I see my identity as primarily European. Thereafter, the United Kingdom trumps England and Lincolnshire (where I happen to live) in that order of hierarchy. As we approach the June 23rd referendum on EU membership, I find myself increasingly anxious and angry. On the whim of the mood of a portion of the electorate on a particular day, the United Kingdom may be plunged into an extended period of trauma and crisis – with the consequence that I, my children, and future generations, will be deprived of the ‘best’ elements of our identity for decades to come.

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Posted by: davidjmarlow | 24/12/2015

Do you believe in Father Xmas?

One of the best Xmas #2s of all time! 'I believe in Father Xmas' - 10 years ahead of BandAid

One of the best Xmas #2s of all time! ‘I believe in Father Xmas’ – 10 years ahead of BandAid

This is the first Xmas since 2011 that I have not written a piece for what became quite a popular Placemaking Resources blog, posted roughly fortnightly from 2011-2015. The blog became a monthly column in Planning in March 2015, behind the journal’s paywall – a sign of the times?

Looking back on my four Xmas musings, 2011-14, takes us on something of a musical story of the coalition and local growth. In the dark days of 2011, the focus remained on Pickles’ destruction of regions and any vestiges of New Labour. Surveying the wasteland of austerity-driven public policy and ‘big society’ (i.e. cheap) localism, the economic professional could legitimately reflect on BandAid’s ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’, such was the absence of seasonal cheer.

By 2012, in the aftermath of the Heseltine ‘No stone unturned’ review, and the promises of city and growth deals, one could envisage the ’12 days of Xmas…’ unlocking a range of gifts that might drive local growth and development over the ensuing 12 months.

2013 was, in retrospect, both prescient and insightful. Prescient – because the use of ‘My favorite things’ anticipated this season’s Aldi advert!; insightful, because, even then, it was clear that Government’s tendency towards ‘making it up as you go along’ policy (now sometimes referred to as ‘policy by sound-bite’) would be an enduring signature of Osborne’s tenure at Number 11.

2014 rounded off the series – suggesting it had taken the coalition most of its term to, essentially, get back to where local growth had been in 2009. It also counselled local leadership teams’ to plan for the long haul (i.e. beyond the ‘Osborne decade’), to make genuine, substantive and sustainable progress in devolution and local growth.

For 2015, there is actually quite a lot to cheer – ‘Powerhouses’ and ‘Engines’, jostle with devolution agreements that may provide the platform for the long run progress envisaged at Xmas 2014.

However, I have to say, my most powerful and enduring Xmas anthems, remain those with a twist of disappointment or cynicism in the superficial jollity of the season.

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One of the greatest nights to be at the Lane...

One of the greatest nights to be at the Lane…

As a lifelong Spurs fan, two of my signature memories are our UEFA Cup Final victories over Wolves and Anderlecht in the 1970s and 1980s. I retain an affection for that competition’s successor –  the Europa League. It has too long been treated as the ‘runt’ of EU competitions, compared to the self-perpetuating cabal who appear to call the shots in the Champions League (ECL).

This blog has argued periodically for a ‘rebalancing’ between the relative largesse distributed to ECL and Europa League participants. The respective 2015/16 Group results of the two competitions seems to reinforce this case.

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Another oxymoron as Osborne 'gets one in' before the 'authentic karaoke 'of 'northern powerhouse'

Another oxymoron as Osborne ‘gets one in’ before the ‘authentic karaoke ‘of ‘northern powerhouse’

I recently attended a ‘karaoke competition’. As an occasional vocal exhibitionist, the competition struck me as incongruous – to say the least. Karaoke should never be ‘competitive’ and judgemental. At its essence, karaoke is open to anyone – however good or bad at singing – who wants to have a bit of fun, entertain those in the room, and who doesn’t mind embarrassing themselves in the process.

One ‘contestant’ was a professional in London theatre. She clearly took the whole thing rather seriously – doing a credible (if dull) rendition of Barbara Streisand’s ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’. Whilst some of my friends admired her talents, I felt rather cheated that a career singer should hijack the event to show off that she is (sort of) OK at her job!

Another contestant had come in a part-cowboy costume to entertain us with a country and western classic. He had little sense of melody and timing, but really got the crowd going with his amateur theatrics, energy and general good nature.

Needless to say, the judges voted to put the professional through to the next round, whilst sending the guy back to the audience with sugary but judgemental words about his (lack of genuine) quality and finesse.

I complained to my friends about the decision. I considered Paul (names changed to protect the innocent) had delivered ‘authentic karaoke’, whilst Barbara was a ‘ringer’.

‘Authentic karaoke’ is surely oxymoronic – describing, as it does, an activity that can only ever be derivative of the ‘real’ piece of music.

Once one begins thinking ‘oxymorons’, it is not long before one is bound to reflect on George Osborne’s narrative for 2015 -20, as he furiously campaigns to move next door – of ‘growth’, the ‘northern powerhouse’, and of Labour as the ‘deficit deniers’ compared to his fiscal prudence.

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Can local growth buck the predictability of the Premiership?

Can local growth buck the predictability of the Premiership?

I have established a short-ish tradition of welcoming each football season with a look at the Premiership (EPL) in regional terms. Although the resulting predictions have been pretty poor, an economic geography perspective for 2015/16 might look something like this.

In terms of the historic nine Government Office regions, the 2015/16 EPL will comprise five clubs from London, four from the North West, three from the West Midlands, two from East of England and North East, and one each from the South East, South West and Wales. With the loss of Hull City last season, Yorkshire and Humber reverted to being an EPL-free region. This is an extraordinary position (given the soccer traditions and passions of Yorkshire) that has become something of a norm in the last decade.

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Posted by: davidjmarlow | 23/07/2015

A Steely Dan take on local growth…

Cameron and Osborne can't help laughing as their pretzel logic causes a right royal (local growth) scam...

Cameron and Osborne can’t help laughing as their pretzel logic causes a right royal (local growth) scam…

I could make a case for any one of Steely Dan’s first five albums being my favorite, and their greatest. Taken together, ‘Can’t Buy a Thrill’ (1972), Countdown to Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), and Royal Scam (1976), present an exquisite, engaging portfolio of Dan’s intelligent, almost-unique rock ‘genre’. They also tell an interesting story of the two major protagonists’ (Walter Becker and Donald Fagen) journey through the early 1970s.

Their destination, perhaps sadly, was ‘Aja’ (1978). This technically near-perfect but somehow less personal (and personally-touching) album, was followed by the forensic intricacy of ‘Gaucho’ (1980), and then a very quiet decade. Nevertheless, I return to the music of the first five ‘glory years’ frequently. Occasionally, I find it can even stimulate reflection on policies and practices of growth and development in contemporary Britain. Bear with me, whilst I contrive a Becker and Fagen ‘take’ on the real challenges of 2015-20…and take the opportunity to (re)visit some truly great music…

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Still casting a long shadow and blocking the sun...

Still casting a long shadow and blocking the sun…

To this blog’s celebration of Latin American ‘magic realism’, and its search for meaning, must be added ‘Soccer in Sun and Shadow’ – Eduardo Galeano’s reflections on the ‘beautiful game’. Eduardo’s highly personalised ‘world history’ of soccer takes us up to the 2010 World Cup through the eyes of a Uruguayan and Latin American socialist. During his long career, he had to both flee his homeland, and then Argentina when he appeared on the generals’ death list. I like to think that the relative success of Uruguay in recent years, both on and off the soccer pitch, would have given him some comfort prior to his passing in April this year. However, the overwhelming impression of his tome is the increasing ‘shadow’ cast by Blatter, Fifa, the major sponsors; of the creativity-dampening commercialisation, technical discipline and cynicism of leadership of the modern game.

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Can Cameron's dishonest triumph be the darkest hour before a radical, hopeful dawn?

Can Cameron’s dishonest triumph be the darkest hour before a radical, hopeful dawn?

After the most uninspiring and dishonest election campaign that I can remember, we have ended up with the most uninspiring and dishonest of governments. There must be a way back for a progressive, positive UK – but in the carnage wreaked by the Etonian elites and Bullingdon Bullies, it is difficult to discern…and it is a long way to 2020. A first step must be getting beyond the Tory media and “Murdoch’s party’s” triumphalism to an understanding of what has actually happened. Thereafter, we can begin to consider how to build an effective, radical response.

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