Geof Cox's Blog

Xmas 2020

Every year I send an ‘Xmas Image’ to friends and colleagues, chosen to reflect some important aspect of the year just passed, and the year to come.

In some years the image comes from a very personal perspective, but in others I hardly seem to have any choice, because the year has been so dominated by one event or development that just can't be avoided. 2020, and the covid pandemic, is one of those years.

I also find myself often drawing on street art, and this year is no exception - I have chosen a mural painted by the Mathare Roots youth group in their shanty town in Nairobi, Kenya.

Photo by Brian IngangaPhoto by Brian Inganga

There are in fact thousands of examples all over the world of street art inspired by the pandemic, and especially by the heroic engagement of health workers - but for me it carries an extra burden of meaning and emotion when it comes from artists who know what it means to be hard-pressed. It is an act of defiance - an assertion of our collective strength in the face of life's difficulties. In this Mathare Roots work we can also, perhaps, infer allusion to another of 2020's most significant developments - the world-wide propagation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Human experience is almost always mixed - and it never goes amiss to remind ourselves that even in the most difficult circumstances, the human spirit is irrepressible - that we can, I hope, enjoy the season, and even - perhaps - have a happy new year.

Xmas 2019

If you’re in my address book you receive each year an ‘Xmas Image’, chosen to reflect some important aspect of the year just passed, and the year to come.

Last year, a photograph of 'earthrise' over the moon, taken on Christmas Eve 1968, reminded us of the dawn of awareness of the fragility of our planet home, and of how urgently, exactly 50 years on, it now needed our protection.

It's a theme I've returned to this year, with an image from Banksy that - as usual for him - seems to express exactly where we are now...

Banksy's art is inescapably political, but this is no simple polemic, or paeon to Extinction Rebellion, as a glance at the origin of the slogan - The Revolution Of Everyday Life by Belgian situationist Raoul Vaniegem - quickly confirms:

Let 10 men meet who are resolved on the lightning of violence rather than the long agony of survival; from this moment, despair ends and tactics begin.  Despair is the infantile disorder of the revolutionaries of every day life.

UK Companies Act Reform Urgently Needed

It will surprise some that a think-tank with close historic links to the Tory Party - The Social Market Foundation - has proposed a revision of Section 172 of the Companies Act to impose a duty on directors to see that employees, at all levels of a company, share in the proceeds of growth - and to extend reporting requirements to cover the basis for pay decisions.  This is, however, one of many reflections of the current disintegration of neo-liberal ideology in business, and the recognition that the neo-liberal model of capitalism, based on greed and exploitation, simply has to change if any kind of capitalism is to survive.

Actually the last major revision of the UK Companies Act in 2006 started this process, by requiring directors to 'have regard' for the interests of employees and other stakeholders, as well as shareholders (the owners of capital) - there was a huge opportunity in the early 'noughties' for a more radical change, but unfortunately 'New Labour' failed to grasp it, and talk of 'stakeholder participation' remained little more than talk.  A bolder move then could have mitigated some of the effects of the 2008 crash, and moreover began to address the emerging issue of business' environmental responsibility.

Happy Xmas 2018!


If you’re in my address book you receive each year an ‘Xmas Image’, chosen to reflect some important aspect of the year just passed.  Strange, then, that this year’s image is a photograph taken exactly 50 years ago – in fact on Christmas Eve 1968.

I believe it might well be the most influential photograph ever taken.  But why such a powerful impact?

Part of the answer is in its historical moment.  1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam war – and the realisation that despite its military might America was actually losing to local fighters with few resources; it was the year of the Prague Spring, when the people of Czechoslovakia asserted their human rights against the military might of the old Soviet Union; and in western Europe too student and worker protests brought France to the brink of revolution (the president was evacuated by helicopter from Paris to a French army base in Germany).  It was a time of turmoil – but also of tremendous optimism and hope that people acting together could really change the world for the better.

Globalisation, politics and social enterprise

In a world where globalisation has re-aligned political affiliations, and invigorated right-wing parties with the injection of populism and nationalism, what insight can the global social enterprise movement offer?

A recent Guardian editorial traced the origins of the UK’s brexit crisis to ‘the disruptive form of globalisation promoted by Tories and New Labour that eviscerated habits of life, work and family’.  This kind of globalisation transformed politics, the argument goes, from a class-based party system, in which Labour drew support from the poor and poorly educated, to today’s electorate in which it is actually educated and younger voters that support Labour, while the old and rich back the Tories – the disputed votes now being precisely 'the poor and poorply educated', those ‘left behind’ by the disruptive impact of globalisation.

Britain’s Fat Fight: the ‘elephant in the room’ (no pun intended)...

Hugh's Letter

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recent television series made some good points, and his continuing campaign to restrict junk food marketing, etc, should be supported, but I don’t think he quite gets to the heart of the problem.

The ‘elephant in the room’ is not really the fact that we eat a lot of food that ruins our health – it’s that we live in an economic system that is fundamentally based on getting us to consume more and more of anything and everything – regardless of our well-being, or that of our natural environment, or anything except extracting the maximum profit.

Why does the food industry put junk like huge doses of sugar in our food?  For 2 reasons:

1. It’s cheap – so they make more profit;

2. It makes other cheap ingredients taste better – so we buy it – and they make more profit.

Happy Xmas!

Those who have known me for some years will recall that each Xmas I send an image which reflects both the past year and something of the Xmas spirit.

Bringing these together in the year Trump took office in America, the UK started the 'brexit' procedure, and Europe continued to struggle with refugees, there seemed only one theme that would do: the common humanity and shared values of all peoples.

I thought first of the many sculptures commemorating the children saved from fascism before the war, such as Frank Meisler's 'Kindertransport' sculpture at London's Liverpool Street Station; but on reflection I have chosen a slightly more artistically challenging sculpture for this year's Xmas Image, by Moroccan-French-Italian artist Bruno Catalano.

Catalano has described his 'Voyageurs' - naturalistic figures with large parts of their bodies missing - as 'world citizens', and he has linked them with his own experience of emigrating from Morocco to France as a child, then working as a sailor...

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