John Bird: My tiny leopard won’t change his spots. But we can

With laws to prevent the same mistakes being made, we can achieve a better future for all

The cat brought in a rabbit the other day. If a rabbit gets a meal any day of the year it has to work for it. The cat does not have to do a stroke of work to receive its daily fare.

The rabbit may annoy the farmer or the gardener. But since I’m neither, rabbits are simply familiar characters in Beatrix Potter books.

Why do we keep a little aristocrat in our midst, feeding its mouth two times a day? And then have to clean the carpets of offal and other innards? Pick up fur from under furniture?

Why? Because we love the little fellow. We even gave him a name whilst still a kitten ahead of any evidence of how he would turn out: Maestro.

Fortunately I was free to clean up the result of our domestication of the cat family some few thousand years ago. It was a day of recovery for me, for on the day before there were two parliamentary meetings about our Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill. A preparation for our second reading of the Bill on March 13 that involved parliamentarians in one meeting; then charities, social businesses, other businesses and activists in the next.

It’s you and me. The political and social pressure will have to be immense

What a blast. Hours of talking, listening and thinking about what we wish from our Bill. And what we require, from government and business as well as individuals, for future generations.

The Big Issue’s Today for Tomorrow campaign was proudly central. And I was there to explain that we work towards a future where no one has to sell The Big Issue. To prevent another generation of Big Issue vendors being invented by poverty.

Both meetings were oversubscribed. And the atmosphere was hopeful and dare I say joyous. We were talking about how can we avert the collapse of the world, and in the spirit of getting on with it.

The campaign is both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, meaning we move beyond Parliament and into the communities. It’s you and me. The political and social pressure will have to be immense.

On Monday evening I was at the Saïd Business School in Oxford, talking to MBA students about how The Big Issue survived and prospered from its early plan-free days of creation. Yet I cannot go to Oxford and get out of that station without feeling a strange sense of personal history. Think of once getting a bus from there to a place with big fences and demented prison officers paid to terrorise us out of criminal behaviour.

A kind of attempt, you might call it, at influencing future generations to behave well by using bullying methods. If the children – largely of the poor – “piss-ball about criminally, then the state will terrorise them into submission”, ran the Oxford detention centre’s argument.

It is not far-fetched though to realise that if we don’t get the future right voluntarily then bullying will be used. Changing behaviours through laws and Acts is often the only way of changing behaviour.

I was very pleased on this Oxford visit to meet students who wish to change the world. And come from all over the world. Later though, having spoken to a Mexican student, I found myself reflecting on the enormous meteor that hit Mexico some tens of millions of years ago. That led to the extinction of nearly all life on Earth.

So then nature had to virtually start all over again.

Our Bill will not prevent meteors. But it may help prevent some of the excesses of social, physical and planetary damage that we are living through now from getting terminally worse.

And prevent us from creating poverty and islands of plastic in the ocean.


Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.

Our cat Maestro continues prowling. I’m not so sure that changing behaviour patterns is on the cards with him.

On the train back from Oxford I fell in with the reader of a racing paper who drank scrumpy from a can. His affection for The Big Issue was most touching. And his knowledge of our vendors reminded me of how broad a church The Big Issue is. Reminding me that often the first thing peers say to me is a description of their favourite vendor. And ask after the welfare of some who have moved on.

Our Today for Tomorrow campaign gathers pace. Please throw in your three pennies’ worth if you see fit. It’s a movement we’re building here, for cats and all.

Gestures of recognition don’t pay for rent and travel, food and school uniforms.
John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue