My history of British Manufacturing

My history of British Manufacturing
My history of British Manufacturing

Thursday 22 December 2016

The Britain I know and love has suddenly changed

2016 must be the most awful year of my life, so far.

We have had in Syria carnage on the scale of the Great War. We have had a constant stream of ordinary people fleeing the terror and many dying in the process. We have had two votes of massive significance each of which has unleashed a wave of hatred and intolerance.

I am not going on about the result of the EU referendum; the result is the result and everyone is entitled to their opinion. I am not going on about whether it should be soft or hard Brexit. What concerns me is that the Britain I know and love, as a country with a proud tradition of welcoming refugees and being a place where communities of different origins have for decades lived in harmony, suddenly has changed.

It seems that those people on the extremes somehow have been given ‘permission’ to behave in ways that would shock and anger their parents and grandparents. To throw racial abuse at neighbours was surely something that we left behind with Alf Garnett? We had moved on as a society; we had grown up.

Apparently not.

It isn’t just the outbreak of racism and xenophobia. There is all the language of hate.

I have to come clean; I was a lawyer, a Barrister, although it is many years since I did any law. I remember as a law student getting irritated by the decisions of the old buffers who were judges at the time. Irritation would find expression in humour. Now disagreement finds expression in hate. The case over Article 50 is simply a question of what the law is. It is not a matter of being as abusive as possible in order to bully judges round to a particular view point.

It is more than hate levelled at judges; it is hate levelled at politicians with whom people disagree. Disagreement is what debate is all about. Hate and threats have no place in politics in a civilised society. Anyone watching the television or reading the social media of late will have noticed a turn for the worse in terms of language used to express opinions. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I have never seen an argument better expressed with expletives.

There is an even more worrying side to hate. It is the opposite of love and compassion and this is shown in the very visible poverty in our communities. To go to the supermarket and to be faced by a large number of volunteers collecting for food banks might be a mark of compassion, but the need is surely the mark of a society where the gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots is unacceptable. It is a mute point whether any gap is acceptable. The difference in 21st century Britain is colossal. In previous ages where the difference has increased, the 18th and 19th century, those with money saw it as their duty to help the less well off. Not so now, except in a few high profile cases.

It is also shown in the number of people sleeping rough. Spending cuts have lead to the withdrawal of services and this has resulted in vulnerable people being uncared for, in effect discarded.

Is this the society we want? Let us have robust debate, but let us too not let go the tolerant and caring society which our parents and grandparents bequeathed to us through two horrific world wars.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Wearing our Poppies not only with pride

Just one week after Remembrance Day we commemorate the final day of the Battle of the Somme and I find myself pondering that word, pride.

I am immensely proud of our service men and women, but ask whether it was it pride that compelled those politicians and generals to send thousands of boys, defenceless against streams of machine gun bullets? Perhaps some thought that the enemy could be overrun if enough were sent.

I have been researching accounts of the Great War with a view possibly to writing a ‘Prequel’ to my book, War on Wheels. I thought I already knew much of what happened in those years 1914 to 1918. I didn’t know the half; indeed I still don’t. Yet what I have unearthed sheds a very a different light on Remembrance, on the idea of wearing my poppy with pride.

So, I search for other words. Do I wear my poppy with thanks. The answer is ‘yes’, I do thank each and every one of those boys who gave their lives. But what of those who had their lives snatched from them, cruelly dragged from them?

There are stories of young men in 1914 desperate for adventure, desperate for the chance of standing up for King and Country. Pumped up with adrenaline, or do I mean testosterone, ready to give the enemy the hiding they deserved. I am sure there were some; but just how many met a quite different reality? Trench warfare was obscene beyond anything we can comprehend.

Following on from those seeking adventure were the pals, the battalions made up of men from the same village or workplace. Who wouldn’t step up to support a pal? There were those stepping forward out of a sense of duty or patriotism. There were those shamed by a white feather into volunteering. The fate though was the same. I try to imagine, but fail. Arriving in the trenches surrounded by mud and death must have shocked to the core even the strongest man. On the command to go forward, was it possible to think at all, staggering into the hail of bullets?

So, do I wear my poppy with sympathy? The word surely is too weak for the feelings of those who received the dreaded telegram telling them that their husband, son or brother was dead, or possibly worse, missing. Grossly inadequate for those enduring an unimaginably hideous death from gas or gangrene. Insufficiently enduring for those thousands who would carry a wound for the rest of their lives.

If not sympathy or thanks, then what? Shame?

Governments sending young men to war are doing so on behalf of the electorate, at least in theory. So is the poppy a mark of shame that so many were needlessly slaughtered? This is not the same as saying that the war should never have been fought, it is much more about ensuring that those who offer their bodies in the service of their country are protected to the best extent possible. Winston Churchill’s campaign for the tank was just this, to offer a means of protection against machine gun bullets.

Shame though devalues the sacrifice made by so many. Heartbreak then, that the land of Europe endured such suffering. Heartbreak for those who suffered agony and those who suffered loss.

More so though, to wear a poppy to make sure that we never forget. What happened in those years 1914-1918 was meant to end all wars. It didn’t, but it still could if those in power took seriously the lessons of history.

This piece was published in the Lincolnshire Echo on 3 November 2016

Saturday 8 October 2016

Risk and creativity

Over five days in September I saw four utterly contrasting performances here in Lincoln.

I was struck by the huge risk the artists took in arriving at their performance and I wondered whether it is only by taking risk that great art is produced.

Marcus Brigstocke, at the Drill Hall, surprised from the start by hiding on stage as we were all chatting waiting for the show to start. He was strongly opinionated, as expected. He challenged  those (few) in the audience who did not share his view. I’m sure wasn’t the only one to take a sharp intake of breath. He then talked very openly about her personal life, laying himself bare; was this not a risk too far?

Getting Better Slowly, also at the Drill Hall, was something completely different. Our program and participation manager, Adam Pownall, produced and acted in a play about the traumatic illness that he had contract a few years ago. Guillain Barre Syndrome in effect means that the body shuts down and then only slowly and with much care begins to wake up. To suffer such an illness is surely bad enough. Adam, though, decided that it needed to be known about and so he told of his experience. Only he didn’t. He worked with a team of people to create a show that communicated the illness; a huge risk. There was a writer, a choreographer, a set designer, a lighting designer, a composer, a director and two wonderful actors who worked together over many weeks to find how best to communicate to an audience just what shutting down and waking so painfully and slowly was like.

Beethoven’s Pastoral must be one of the best known orchestral works. In my teenage I am sure I wore out my LP by listening to it so often. Listening to it again, performed by The Halle in Lincoln Cathedral, I was struck not by its perfection but by the massive risks the composer took in pushing his art to places never previously visited. It is sublime. Looking at the roof of the Cathedral I was reminded not of its perfection but of those places where the line had to be corrected by the builders and where the spire had proved to be a risk too far.

David Starkey visited the Drill Hall to talk about the Tudors. A near full house settle down to familiar territory, although a number of us were pretty sure that some very un-Tudor words and names would be mentioned: Corbyn, Brexit, May. In this we were not disappointed. If we had wanted Tudor as we had heard it before, forget it. This was Tudor quite unlike anything. Politics and parallels. Sex and intrigue. A massive risk of disappointment.

You will not be surprised if I say that in each case the risk played off. I still ponder, though, whether perhaps great performance only comes with risk.

I am reminded of a book I read some years ago, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, much loved by Bill Ind, former Bishop of Grantham. In effect the book suggests that our world itself is the product of successive risk taking. Expressed a little differently perhaps this is something with which Darwin may not have disagreed.

Taking risk is at the heart of creatively.

And all this in art in Lincoln. Are we not lucky?

Published in the Lincolnshire Echo on 6 October 2016

Tuesday 13 September 2016

We are in danger of forgetting

We are so lucky, the generation born after WW2 or too young to have fought. Our parents and grandparents faced something that to us is unimaginable: two wars of a monumental scale separated by only a little more than twenty years. I cannot begin to imagine being someone who fought in and amazingly survived the First War only to wave off my son or daughter to fight in the Second.

I am sure I am not the only one for whom the presence of the poppies this summer and the poignant commemoration of the Somme and the Lincoln Tank have prompted a great deal of quiet reflection.

I know that I am not alone in digging more deeply to find my own family’s involvement in the two wars. I guess, though, I am perhaps unusual in having a father who served in both.

The castle ceremony to commemorate the first day of the battle of the Somme prompted me to dig out my father’s service record. I found that he had been there in a division held in reserve on that first horrific day. They had then gone into action but amazingly he survived notwithstanding the high risk of shelling of the ammunition dumps and arms stores that he then commanded. He was an Ordnance officer.

I have now read further around the subject of how the fighting troops were supplied and will research some more. What is already clear though is that what my father learnt in the First war most certainly informed the way he approached the Second. I have already written about that, about the way the army was mechanised in my book, War on Wheels.

My question though is why do I feel compelled to research and write. (It isn’t for money!)

When I drive around the country to sites in the UK, to the depots where it all happened, I find only hints from what remains. The majority is lost in the mists of time. The shell filling factory at Chilwell near Nottingham, which we can all learn more about at the Drill Hall on 3 November from the show, Swan Canaries, became the heart of the army’s mechanisation. It is now a housing estate and supermarket, apart from a comparatively small remaining Barracks area. The depot at Old Dalby in the Vale of Belvoir is an industrial estate. The same is true of very many others. As I say, all lost in the mists of time.

Does this matter? In the grand scheme of things, the current use is without doubt a far better use than as a sinew of war. Yet the job those people did, however unglamorous, was vital and without it we simply wouldn’t be here. We are right to remember and honour them.

Remembering though has an even more important element. To make sure it never happens again. And it hasn’t, at least not on the mammoth scale and I would say thanks in no small part to the union of European nations. It has though happened on the smaller albeit horrific scale of the wars in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The shells filled by those brave girls in Chilwell, the tanks and fighting vehicles supplied through Chilwell twenty years later inflicted appalling harm. That harm is being repeated, its victims this time being more and more children and innocent people just trying to live their lives.

I recall some words of Shakespeare from the character of a Bishop played by a very young me in Henry V: ‘Awake remembrance of these valiant dead, and with your puissant arm renew their feats.’

Wholeheartedly awake remembrance, but, world leaders, be brave enough not to rush to renew their feats. The way of war is hideous. Weapons of war are so powerful and indiscriminate that their use must only ever be the last resort.

This piece was published by the Lincolnshire Echo on 8 September 2016

Thursday 1 September 2016


We have just experienced community.

We are in Spain. In a little village north of Valencia. It is a favourite of climbers, but not this time of year. We haven't heard another English voice.

This evening in the village square we sat down to eat at one of the four bars whose seating spread out in the square.

There were people of all ages. The older men sat together at the far side; the older women sat together round the fountain.

In the centre of the square children propelled themselves on scooters and bikes. If one took a knock, the others would gather round to sympathise. The parents were all seated at one of the bars, round large tables, chatting.

As the evening drew on the younger children tired and we saw an older pre-pubescent brother and sister comforting a younger sibling.

What a joy! This village, in a poor country in Europe, is producing rounded citizens. Not a tablet or phone in sight.

And, apparently, we want to leave this community.

Mad, or mad?

Friday 26 August 2016

What truly matters - #CompassionateLincoln

I have written about school children writing their Magna Carta for the 21st century. Behind the scenes a group of us have been working out what a charter may look like for Lincoln.

It’s not about barons, great clashes of power, but ordinary people who live in this city. We’ve made a video of it. Please take a look.

It begins with the premise that everyone can make difference. You don’t have to be powerful or important; every small act of kindness can change someone’s day.

It is all about caring for our fellow human being, being compassionate; that is why we called it #compassionatelincoln.

It’s not trite; it matters. During and after the referendum campaign it became clear to me just how much it matters. It states our belief that everyone should be treated equally, with consideration and respect.

Who is ‘everyone’? I heard of a conversation between two people with eastern european accents where both agreed that, post Brexit, it was probably safer to speak only English. I was shocked and thought of the very long standing Polish communities in Lincolnshire. I also thought of a piece of paper I had found in my researches: the list of those British officers awarded Polish honours after WW2; my Dad was one of them. With the paper there were letters expressing in very moving language the gratitude of the Polish people. This is a relationship of equals that goes back a long way.

The charter goes on to say that we are a city that accepts everyone, whatever their situation, and gives them the support they need to play an active part in local life. That people are accepted matters, but mattering only really comes with involvement.

If I put on my Drill Hall hat, as an arts centre we can only truly do our job if we are there for everyone in our community. This is not just about everyone coming to watch professional performances, but also that we can be a space where everyone can perform.

All of us know that harm can come just as easily from words as from acts. The charter states that, through our words and actions, we take care of those around us and actively strive to avoid causing anybody hurt.

It is sadly true now that those of our fellow citizens who have come from other EU countries feel at risk. The confusing words coming from government don't help. Daily lives though run their course in spite of government, and so what truly matters is what we do and say each day. Is there something wrong with striving to avoid causing hurt?

Possibly one of the bravest claims in the charter is that compassion breaks down all barriers, whether they be political, religious, social or cultural. We need to be city without barriers. I remember leafletting on the High Street with ‘us’ on one side and the ‘opposition’ on the other. Somewhere in the middle was a group campaigning to save the Fire Station for the city. I think perhaps that they had a lot to teach the rest of us.

#CompassionateLincoln is a campaign for everyone. We all have a part to play. Where difficulties affect our city or our community, we all can help. You can find us on Facebook

This piece was published in the Lincolnshire Echo on 25 August 2016, although I must point out that I ceased to be Chief Executive of Lincoln Cathedral on 31 March 2014. I am now a writer and chair of trustees at Lincoln Drill Hall

Sunday 7 August 2016

Democracy without parliament

Jonathan Freedland, in Saturday's Guardian, got me thinking. He was emphasising the centrality of Parliament in the Brexit decision making process. He set against this the emphasis being placed on mass support by Mr Corbyn and others.

I suspect that Mr Trump would also favour the power of mass support rather than the well oiled democratic process in Washington.

Does this mean that our democratic machinery has failed? If so, rather like Brexit, there seems to little yet to put in its place.

I am truly worried if the leadership of a major UK political party could be contemplating bypassing Parliament. Surely they should focus on making this 800 year old institution work for the people whom it serves.  

Friday 15 July 2016

Magna Carta 2.0

One of my ambitions for the Magna Carta anniversary was for school children to engage with the ideas behind the great charter and to write their Magna Carta for today’s world. One such group has been doing just this.

With the help of an organisation called Index on Censorship about twenty school children came together some six months ago to create a project from which would come a Magna Carta for today. They presented the fruits of their labours at the Collection on 6 July. I suppose I had expected a list of new Magna Carta clauses. What I found was rather different. It was all about how they would, and indeed will, arrive at such a list.

These 16 to 19 years olds were all involved in youth groups and had responded to a request for volunteers for the project. They didn’t know each other and so the first task was to do just that. It was about listening. The project could only work if they listened to each other, to the many people they would consult, to ‘experts’ - those who had been working in the area of free expression, and to voices from the past.

When I was a teenager, I don't remember listening as something I did. I had plenty of views and would happily talk about them, but listening, well not really. My wife would say that nothing changes. It did make me stop and think.

The young people explained that for them the means for their voice to be heard was to be found in the social media, Facebook and the others. I have certainly seen this, most particular since the referendum all sort of views have been positively flooding the ether.

At the presentation we were invited to ask questions and I asked, what about their contemporaries who are less articulate? How do they get their voice heard? The young people who presented were outstandingly articulate. They explained to me that with social media, anyone can express a view and long carefully constructed arguments are not needed. They felt sure that they would hear the views of a wide spectrum of young people.

So what about older people? This was my next question. They didn’t have an immediate answer but would work on one. I am certain that they will.

It was not a question I asked lightly.

These past few weeks have been a time for listening. As I have written before, I spent time on Lincoln High Street handing out leaflets about the referendum and people stopped to talk. I listened and, whilst listening, I became aware that much of what I was being told has not been listened to by those in power. People have been talking about fear, about loss, about anger. I have the impression of people living in a different world and, of course, it is. There are two worlds. Those of us just about keeping up with the pace of change, and those many who have been left behind perhaps without jobs, perhaps in neighbourhoods which have changed beyond recognition, who feel excluded.

I told the young people about this and they were outraged. To be listened to is a right to be defended. Something perhaps for our politicians to ponder.

You can find out more about the project on their website Magna Carta 2.0 @magnacarta_2016 Facebook/Magna Carta 2.0

Lincolnshire Echo 14 July 2016

Friday 8 July 2016

Underlying the Lincoln Brexit vote

I am certain that the writer in last week's Lincolnshire Echo is right to point to the underlying reasons why so many Lincoln people voted to Leave the EU.

During the campaign, whilst leafleting on the High Street, the one thing that struck me most clearly was that many people were simply angry. They had concerns, and, yes, one was immigration. These concerns were not new; they simply had not been listened to by government. Now, at last, there was a chance to be heard.

To vote to leave the European Union was a pretty blunt instrument and one which will have ramifications for many years to come.

I just hope that the new Prime Minister, whoever that will be, has heard the underlying concerns and will now act.

Saturday 2 July 2016

March for Europe

Time for an initial reflection on the March for Europe.

Many thousands of passionate angry people, all ages, families, very many young men and women marched today. They are the ones who can see clearly what they stand to lose.

Absent were those who believe they have been forgotten and shouted loudly on 23 June.

Parliament cannot abrogate its duty. It is for parliament to consider the result of the referendum. We are a parliamentary democracy.

MPs must debate in Parliament whether or not to advise the new Prime Minister to trigger Article 50. In doing this they must take serious note of the referendum result and of the claims and counterclaims made that have influenced the result.

They must listen to the voices that had not been heard. People are fearful of immigration; they have lost the world of traditional jobs and they see people from other European countries taking some of the jobs that are left.

MPs must also listen to the passionate people with whom I marched today and who truly care about addressing together the massive issues that lie ahead: the refugee crisis, global warming, global business and the gap between rich and poor.

MPs must consider what is best for Britain but not neglecting the effect on the rest of Europe and of the world.

Monday 20 June 2016

Anger, hate and fear

We do not yet know the motive for the murder of Jo Cox. The due process of law will uncover that. It dose seem though that it came about most probably because of the growing atmosphere of hate that allows extreme expressions of anger. For most people this anger could be processed and expressed in other ways; for the murderer it took the form of extreme violence which is wholly unacceptable and will be punished.

Jo's family and friends are now faced with an irreplaceable loss; the nation has been robbed of an exceptional politician.

What of the anger?

I surmise that it was the far reaches of the anger felt by many as a result of their not being listened to. Some have tried to express their fears. Fears for their future where the world has changed and the jobs that used to be are no longer there. Fears about immigration which have been fuelled by newspapers and political movements, but no less real for that.

They have not been listened to and if people are not listened to, anger is the result.

This anger born out of fear produces hatred which then becomes the cancer of society.

This anger could now find expression in ejecting this nation from the prosperity and safety of the EU.

I believe that the anger has now been heard by all the major political parties. I believe that they have now listened to the fears and will take action.

In a few short weeks we as a nation have almost come to accept expressions of hatred and anger as the norm of political debate. They are not. They cause terrible damage.

The underlying fear, though, has to be listened to and addressed. This requires men and women of the stature of Jo Cox. Her husband has eloquently suggested that the whole debate on refugees and migration has to change and get to the heart of the issues.

I sincerely hope that the anger of which I have written does not take expression in a vote to Leave the EU. With equal sincerity I hope that, should we stay, we work hard to address the fears expressed by so many and build an EU worthy of Jo Cox.

Thursday 16 June 2016

The EU was born after two horrific wars - it's a baby too important to throw out

Babies and bathwater

Over the last weeks we have heard a lot about what’s wrong with the European Union, but
hidden in all that dirty water there’s a baby, and, like all babies, it is precious.

My daughter led me to stumble upon the heart of it.

By her own admission, she’s not the greatest historian. She was reading a novel set in 1916 and asked me whether that was in the First World War. It was. 

‘So when did it start and end?’ 1914 to 1918.

‘What about the Second World War, you know that your book is about?’

I said it started in 1939. I found myself adding that I couldn’t imagine what parents who had survived the first war could have felt watching their children go off to the second. 

Silence, and then she asked, ‘why hasn’t it happened again?’ 

This took me by surprise, but perhaps for someone who has grown up far away from war it was not so odd. 

The answer too was a bit of shock, The European Union: for it was those waring nations that came together in peace to make sure that it could not happen again. 

That is some precious baby.

As I pondered that, more of what the European Union has achieved came to mind. The former dictatorships that have joined and that are now democracies. The millions of employees whose rights are protected. The environment which is far better cared for. The fact that our young people are free to go and work in any member state of their choosing.

There is then perhaps the greatest strength now, the fact that we can together face the enormous challenges that the global economy will throw at us. Multinational companies, who try to pay no tax or who seek unfairly to dominate a market, are fearful of Brussels. There are others including, of course, migration.

Migration is the difficult one. Is it baby or bathwater? Neither, it is people like you and me. People who may be escaping oppression or worse, or those seeking a better life. The question is whether we pull up the drawbridge and hope the English channel will isolate us, or whether we engage with the issues.

The problem is huge and needs the cooperation of nations to address its root causes. We need to make home countries safe and and we need to invest to grow their economies. No one I met in Lesvos wanted to come here; they wanted to go home.

We are a nation of migrants. Saxons and Vikings, Normans, West Indians, Africans, Indians and so many more, more recently those from other EU countries. This makes for a rich and diverse culture. We have learnt a huge amount about how peoples from different cultures can live in harmony. We can offer this experience as these issues are faced and tackled in the years to come. As a nation we have always engaged with the world around us.  

The EU is not perfect. But it has the structures that can and do benefit us, other member states and indeed our world. As I wrote in my previous article, this needs the best people to get involved. It is about leading and not leaving.

This article was published in the Lincolnshire Echo on 16 June 2016

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Why we should all vote on 23 June

I was leafleting by the University and a woman told me that she never votes. She was adamant. 

The trouble is at an abstention in a Referendum is a vote for the winning side. If that is what an elector truly wants, then so be it. If not, then please vote.

All this reminded me of a piece I wrote before last year's General Election. It is printed below and sets out the story of parliamentary democracy. 

Is the Referendum different? I would say that it was a mistake; the issues are far too complex and should have been left to Parliament. Nevertheless we do each have vote on 23 June. In a sense we have all been made a Member of Parliament for a day. We must exercise this privilege with a profound sense of duty to all those who down the centuries gave birth to and nurtured democracy, but also to those who come after us. 

It is not a vote to be exercised lightly.

This is what I wrote in May 2015.

The Reform Bill was introduced to Parliament in 1831, the year my grandfather, Alfred Hamlyn Williams, was born. When the Bill became an Act of Parliament it began the process of injecting a note of realism into parliamentary democracy which has continued through the emancipation of women to the universal franchise we enjoy, or are supposed to enjoy, today. In May of 2015 there will be another test of this enjoyment when we will see just how many of those eligible actually vote in the general election. There is a disconnect between the paper and the practice.

Disconnection can be traced back to the document which many assert is the bedrock of democracy, Magna Carta. In 2015 we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing by King John of this charter of some 3,500 words written in medieval Latin, which, but for the serendipity of history, may have been forgotten.  

Claire Brey, the curator of the forthcoming Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library, told Dr David Starkey, in his excellent TV programme on Magna Carta, about the phone calls she receives on a fairly regular basis from members of the public who think they have been treated unfairly, asking how they might quote Magna Carta in the particular argument they are having. Of course she has to reply that it probably can’t help, nevertheless the complainants are right in seeing this ancient document representing fairness in the face of oppression.

The story of the big charter, as opposed to the smaller charter of the forrest, was all about English Barons seeking to temper the excessive demands, mainly for money, of their king, John. The story continues that, no sooner had it been sealed, King John ran to the Pope to have it annulled. 

On 5 February 2015 the House of Lords staged an exhibition of the four remaining engrossments of Magna Carta which they placed alongside the Reform Act and the 1629 Petition of Right. I was lucky enough to be invited to the exhibition and I was struck in a number of quite different ways. 

The four engrossments look different, but David Carpenter, in his new book Magna Carta, assures us that their wording is almost identical. The manuscripts are written in tiny neat letters and I couldn't help thinking of the painstaking care that the clerks must have taken in producing their art, for art it is. I was then drawn to the thinking by Archbishop Langton and others, painstakingly built over many years, which arrived at the view of kingship and the exercise of power that Magna Carta expresses. These ideas were hedged in by a great deal of detail about the particular arguments of the Barons, but at its heart there was a delicate green shoot of how societies should function. My wonder is how it survived.

Magna Carta was reissued and revised many times in the thirteenth century and finally ‘became law’ in 1297, although some will argue that, with legal ‘time’ beginning only in 1189, Magna Carta was itself an iteration of Common Law. 

The Parliament exhibition of the Petition of Right was the next stop on the journey. This was again an argument about kingship. The Stuarts sought to assert that they were kings by divine right. The Petition of Right, challenged this and it was further and significantly tempered by the Bill of Rights of 1689 under which William and Mary came to the British throne. 

With the work of the great seventeenth the century lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, we move across the Atlantic and see Magna Carta quoted in the foundation documents of many States and indeed in the US Constitution itself. I was lucky enough to attend the academic symposium run alongside the exhibition of Magna Carta at the Library of Congress in Washington. The exhibition pointed with great clarity to the way Magna Carta has been viewed in the US over two centuries rather than getting bogged down too much in its origins. For the founding fathers, there was no doubt that bad King John was then bad King George. 

In the USA, the power of the President is tempered by the Constitution; in Britain the power of the Government is tempered by Parliament. This is where disconnection comes, since in reality President Obama has his power tempered, not by the Constitution, but  by Congress with the effect of stalemate. Prime Minister Cameron has his power tempered, not by Parliament, by his fear of non re-election by a minority of electors. But it is more than this, as David Starkey pointed out, both governments ignore the core principles of Magna Carta with their assertion of the right to imprison terrorist suspects without trial. In her insightful short radio programme, Helena Kennedy took a slightly tangential view and saw governmental power tempered by corporations which outmuscle most nation states, principally the massive financial institutions and internet providers. 

So, where does this leave us? In this country, with an urgent need for all electors to use their vote in putting pressure on government to adhere to Magna Carta but as importantly stand up to the shadowy corporate King Johns of the 21st century.

That's what I wrote in May 2015. I would just add that our membership of the EU means that some decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers and oversight is exercised by the directly elected European Parliament. This link to a more recent blog explains this a little more. To me this just emphasises the importance of people of high calibre standing as MEPs who will take their duties seriously, attend the parliament and challenge the Commission. 
St Albans Cathedral where the Magna Carta tour began in 2014

Sunday 5 June 2016

It seems that we matter

The Guardian on 4 June 2016 offered views from a number of writers from other European countries. I found them inspiring. This is just a flavour of what they had to say.

'Staying together is no longer an option but an obligation and an urgent necessity' Elena Ferrante - Italy

'Simply knowing that this small island spent years resisting tyranny and invasion is enough to make us all want to be able to count on its continuing presence.' Javier Marias - Spain

'What is the EU? It's the consequence of the second world war...60 million people had to die before most found it a worthwhile ambition' Timur Vermes - Germany

'It must be so tempting to shut the doors and pull the curtains, keep the money under the mattress....Don't go. you will not thrive, and we want you to thrive. You are still family to us.' Anne Enright - Ireland

'The reason that I want you to stay in is that voting to leave will not get you "out". Rather than escaping the EU, Brexit will keep you tied to a Europe that is nastier, sadder and increasingly dangerous to itself, to you, indeed to the rest of the planet. Yanis Varoufakis - Greece

'I think Brexit would be the beginning of the end of an unprecedented period of peace at the heart of Europe. Without you the EU will crack at its seems. I wish you would stay, and that all of us together - in toil, tears and sweat but not blood - will steer the peace project that is the European Union in the right direction.' Jonas Jonasson - Sweden

'Let us not be fooled that there is some better place, once we drift away. There isn't. There is only the cold Atlantic Ocean.... Europe is not a monoculture. It is a place where people ride reindeer, grow vines, and call themselves Shetlanders. Kapka Kassabova - Bulgaria

'Europe is caught in a vicious cycle, oscillating between the false opposites of surrender to global capitalism and surrender to anti-immigrant populism...socialist nationalism is not the right way to fight national socialism. Slavij Zizek - Slovenia

'Imagine the famous picture, The Congress of Vienna, without the British delegation. Have they really left the table? Our problems are manifold, but 50 years of peace is too precious to gamble with' Cees Nooteboom - Netherlands

These hearts felt views make the referendum decision even more important.

Thursday 26 May 2016

We are worried about sovereignty

A couple of months ago I was certain where I stood on the EU Referendum. Since then I have read the arguments, I have heard the reasons for staying or leaving. Most revealing of all, though, I have listened to people’s arguments on Lincoln High Street as I have been out leafletting. 

There is one concern that seems to swamp the others. This is about sovereignty, about having power to direct our destiny. 

I was told by one person that unelected people in Brussels make 60% of our laws. This made me scratch my head. I accept that it is over forty years since I studied European Law; it is twenty years since I was advising clients doing business in other European countries, but I had never heard this one before.

I looked at the EU Commission website and read about how proposed laws must be put before either The Council of Ministers, who represent each member state, or the directly elected European Parliament. So, in theory, OK. I then had visions of ‘Yes, Minister’ and was brought back to the reality that systems are only as good as the people who work them.

This really brings me to my first point. If we don’t like what comes out of Brussels, we have only ourselves to blame. What we need to do is to encourage our best people to engage in European politics. We need women and men of ability, energy, vision and above all stamina.

This still begs questions. Why have an EU at all? Well, at the beginning it was, I am sure, a strong desire of the part of European nations not to go to war again. In this it has been mercifully successful. 

There was then an ambition to make trade between European countries easier; that too has worked. As part of this, standards have been standardised. This might have been annoying, but it made sense. There is then employee protection which benefits all working people. The list grows and governments have been rightly worried about this growth. We said No to the Euro. This was right and many other countries should have done the same.

The EU becomes useful on those issues that are better faced together, including those that are too big to face alone, like migration. Arguably Winston Churchill’s most important act in WW2 was to bring together Allies strong enough together to defeat the Nazis; he knew we could not do it alone. National governments should do those things better done nationally and local governments those things better done locally. Wherever it is done there must be democratic control.

If, by the vote on 23 June, the Electorate allows the United Kingdom to remain in the EU, it will be incumbent on Government and Members of the European Parliament to listen to their Electorate and to be active in exercising the democratic control entrusted to them.

So where have I come to with a month to go before I vote?

Not to Exit (I won’t call it brexit because I am as passionately British as anyone); neither is it passively to vote Remain; it is to to Stay in the EU BUT to exercise democratic control and get stuck in to change those things that need changing so that the EU truly serves its peoples.

The text of this article was published in the Lincolnshire Echo on 26 May 2016

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Sovereignty without power

I was talking to a taxi driver today about the referendum and he told me that his customers were overwhelmingly in favour of brexit, actually passionately in favour.

He said that 'the trouble with you lot is that there is no passion for remain'. What is more with 25% of voters likely not to vote, brexit could win on a 36% vote.

That got me started.

His argument was all about sovereignty, how wrong it is for 60% of our laws to be imposed by the European Commission. I explained about the democratic control in the hands of the Council of Minsters and European Parliament. This is clearly being hidden in brexit arguments.

But what of it, if England left and had sovereignty? I say England, since it would not be long before Scotland left the Union and rejoined the EU. England would be a tiny country that no one would listen to. It would not be immune from the world's problems, just powerless to do anything about them. It would have sovereignty without power.

My argument, my passion is that the United Kingdom as part of the EU would have a significant voice in a powerblock that could match that of the US, Russia and China, and in due course India and an increasingly united Africa. Together we could actually tackle the huge issues of migration, of global warming, of the abuse of power by the super rich and those others that will surely emerge: problems too big for any nation state.

This is the United Kingdom of Wellington, Nelson and Churchill, a big nation with a voice that deserves to be and is listened to.

Thursday 14 April 2016

"We won two world wars and you say we couldn't survive outside the EU"

It would be tragic if bad history won the day. This is a slogan posted in Facebook by part of the out campaign.

I, of all people, would never dishonour those who fought for the Allies in the two world wars, but it was the Allies - USA brought vast quantities of equipment and men; Russia sacrificed untold millions of lives.

The European Union came about to end European wars - and has succeeded.

I for one would not relish a future in the company of Mr Putin and Mr Trump.

For me our natural partners are the countries closest to us with whom we share the same cultural inheritance.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Those tax returns and what really matters

One of the first things I was ever taught was to come clean. It is painful, but it is the best policy overall. Yet we all fail to do it from time to time; we are human and so are politicians.

The tax return revelations are not about this. They are not about how much a Prime Minister gets paid (this is decided by Parliament) nor about whether parents may give money to their children. The chilling figure is the rental income for just a quite a nice house in London. This rental is set by the market by reference to the sorts of prices people are willing to pay for houses in London. This figure is set by the super rich who are happy to pay ever increasing amounts for the very expensive properties whose values will go on rising so long as the super rich believe they will.  Where have we heard that before?

It is the amount of wealth held by the super rich which they put into real estate and which therefore has no benefit whatsoever to the economy - that is the issue that politicians should be shouting about and that newspapers and the other media should be probing. It is that issue that is causing hardship to the worse off in society and preventing ordinary people from owning their own home. Adair Turner has written with great brilliance on this. The fact that the super rich make their investments via tax havens only compounds the problems.

So, stop hounding middle rich politicians and go for the real culprits.

Saturday 9 April 2016

Get the EU vision

The origins of the EU were in the passionate wish of leaders and the people they led not to fight another war in Europe. The carnage had been too dreadful. It has worked; we have had peace for seventy years. We must do nothing to endanger that.

That is the biggest picture; what about the smallest: me. I am first and foremost British, but then I rejoice in being part of something bigger with my closest neighbours. We share the same history, the same culture; we are all products of a renaissance which spread throughout the continent of Europe and gave us so much in common to treasure.

I have lived and worked in continental Europe: Brussels. I loved it. I used a different language for work: French. I worked side by side native Belgians, but also Dutch and French. More recently volunteering with refugees on Lesvos, I was again working alongside Belgians, Dutch, French, Spanish and Germans in Greece. It was natural; we were fulfilling a common destiny.

The European Economic Community was about free trade and that has worked. It has grown into allowing free movement, so in Lincoln, for example, our biggest manufacturing employer offering most apprenticeships and supporting both University and UTC is German. There are also big investments from Spanish and Dutch. It works.

An EU budget allows what we used to call regional aid to operate across Europe to support the poorest areas and to enable them to grow vibrant economies. It is working, the gap between rich and poor countries is narrowing. This benefit everyone; the wider wealth is spread the stronger the economy. Poor areas of the UK benefit alongside everyone else, and that includes Lincolnshire.

BUT the EU has a bureaucracy that is adrift from the member states it should be serving and is not properly controlled by the leaders of those states. This is no reason to leave; it is reason to get stuck in and produce the Europe we want; it is our servant not our master.

This is something I feel passionately; come on politicians man up. Unless you want to be beaten by tabloid newspapers pandering to mean minded readers. Get the vision.

Post script

Friends remind me of other reasons for staying in: workers rights, employment protection, but then the benefits of scientific collaboration. We stand to lose so much if we fail to win the argument.

Thursday 24 March 2016

George Boole and public art

I am a huge fan of George Boole and totally agree that he should be celebrated in Lincoln.

Is public art the way to do it?

I am filled with admiration at the inventors of the tank and the Lincoln women who built them. I love the commemoration on Tritton Road.

Is public art though about more than this? This what I wrote for the Lincolnshire Echo.

Mention the words ‘public art’ in some circles and the groan will, if not audible, most emphatically be there. Why? Because we don’t understand it; there again, why should we? So, if not that then perhaps because some public art just doesn’t work. Is it the word ‘art’, yet again? I admit it, for years the very word ‘art’ was for me a ‘no entry’ sign. So, surely, ‘art’ in a public place, where I can’t escape it, must be a nightmare scenario.

I then began to ponder as I walked around our city. Public art at its most visible and permanent is of course architecture and, in Lincoln, we are blessed by great examples. I see from the new cathedral website that my favourite quote from John Ruskin, whom I am writing about at the moment, has been superseded:

“I have always held and proposed against all comers to maintain that the Cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles”

I still like it, and, more importantly, the point remains that we do have a massive example of great public art. Yet it is art that speaks of the past. What of the present?

I was one who said that the Barons would never catch on. I thought that the idea of a bunch of medieval toffs was so far removed from how I read the legacy of Magna Carta. I was wrong. They worked, not perhaps because they were ‘great art’, whatever that is, but because they were playful and engaged people of all ages. It was wonderful to see them being painted, and, yes, there were some great designs beautifully executed.

Another piece of public art from last year was the sand sculpture in the castle. I went with grandchildren to see it taking shape. We knew all about sand castles and so wondered at the skill of the makers and the huge risk of creating something from such material: a little too sunny or a little too rainy and a shapeless pile would be the result. Why did it work? Because it spoke of a subject that echoed elsewhere in the city? Actually it really worked for me because the artist was being creative in a public place.

Is this what we mean by public art in Lincoln?

A few years ago some of us explored the possibility of having Henry Moore sculptures in various places around the city centre. For various reasons it didn’t happen then, but perhaps it could in future. Is that was we mean?

For me there are perhaps two or three key points, and this is very much a personal view.

One of the big problems is that public art is often there for too long; it was a good idea at the time. How often do we see a piece of art that has been neglected and has deteriorated because the  artist used the wrong material or because the commissioning body forgot that it would need to be maintained. Again a big plus point for the Barons was that they didn’t stay. The sand sculpture didn’t stay long enough. The poppies in the castle will probably be there for the right amount of time. A piece created for a long stay needs a great deal of care.

Public art must be in reach of us all. That means that it shouldn't be in a privileged place. The Barons were accessible; they were all round the city centre.

Public art in progress has a great potential to engage; so rather than a ‘thing’, an object, how about a space or spaces where things can be created? I would love it if the spaces were not just the ‘usual’ suspects: Cathedral, Castle, the Brayford and Cornhill. Why not St Giles, the Ermine or Birchwood? There is a precedent: St Giles has the wonderful 18th century church with it amazing story; the Ermine has Sam Scorer’s wonderful parabolic roofed church.

Art is not just an object; it can be performance. I love the immersive theatre I have experienced at the Drill Hall. Why not perform it in the open? Watch this space for this coming July.

These are my thoughts for what they are worth. If art is to be public we should all have our say. What do you think?

As published in the Lincolnshire Echo 24 March 2016

Wednesday 23 March 2016

I was concerned that I was exaggerating the plight of the refugees

I compared the plight of the refugees with the of experience of British PoWs on the Long March in the harsh winter of 1945. I was worried that I may have overstepped the mark. It has gone from worse to even worse.

The very next week a senior Greek politician compared the Idomeni refugee camp on the Macedonian border to a Nazi concentration camp. There were stories about Pakistanis being handcuffed and herded into trucks. News is coming out of refugees being forcibly returned to the country from which they were fleeing.

MSF and the UNHCR have both withdrawn since they can no longer be part of what is going on. Of course it is the refugees who suffer, but the point must be made.

We now have the dreadful Brussels attacks which receive wide coverage. All the time atrocities go on elsewhere and get nowhere near the same exposure.

John Simpson sees part of the problem as the lack of foreign correspondents.

Many ordinary people are reporting on social media. Perhaps this needs more air time on the major channels and Fleet Street.

This latest message from a volunteer tells it all. At least the FT reports it as it is. Were it war, this would be a war crime.

Sunday 20 March 2016

One Nation

Disraeli's famous description of his politics as one nation Tory is brought back centre stage by the resignation of Ian Duncan Smith.

I have absolutely no doubt that all in our nation must be valued equally. That does not mean they will all fare the same in economic terms, but they will have an equality of opportunity and will all benefit fro the same safety net in hard times.

As an adherent to the European dream, I am heartened that membership of the EU has brought up the income of poorer countries. Membership of a country should bring up the income of groups, whether they be regional or grouped by other common attributes. As Jeremy Corbyn said, we are all only a road crash away from disability.

I don't know why Mr Duncan Smith resigned. That is a matter for him. I do know that I disagree with him totally over Europe. On his concerns about welfare, I note Nick Clegg's comment that he took a long time to resign. What matters is that our government is a government for all and not just the privileged.

Thursday 17 March 2016

All they wanted was to be treated as human beings

My first book, War on Wheels, is to be published in September by The History Press. I have also been working on two more books, and one strikes me as particularly pertinent as I sit here waiting for a film crew from BBC Look North to arrive to interview Maggie and me about the refugees crisis. You may have read back in January an account of our time on Lesvos.

On the face of it the book I am referring to is about something completely different: Bomber Command in WW2. It tells the remarkable story of a mother who had lost her three sons, two in the service of the RAF, in the early years of the war. She wanted her dead sons to have their ‘reply’, and so she bought a Stirling Bomber for 15 Squadron. This cost something like £700,000 in today’s money, but she was a wealthy widow, her husband having made his fortune in India and her parents being a well to do family from New England.

The aircraft, called the MacRobert’s Reply, had the life of many such aircraft: it carried young men at great risk on missions over Germany, and it crashed as most did. Its particular crash was in Denmark and all the crew were killed but for one who amazingly, miraculously, survived. The Danish resistance found his badly injured body and only handed him over to the German authorities when they realised his injuries needed serious medical attention. This he received, but he ended up as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft VIIIB in southern Poland.

I met him last year and he told me something of his RAF days, but he told me very little about his time as a PoW, save that it was a seemingly endless period of nothingness and was followed by the truly horrific experience of being force marched through the bitter Polish winter of 1945 away from the Russian advance.

I agreed with his son, who had wanted the book written, that I should research the accounts of others who had had a similar PoW experience in order to give the reader a sense of what he endured. So I visited the Imperial War Museum and read and listened to a good number of accounts.

It was an experience I will never forget, as I discovered the dreadful hardship that these brave young men suffered as a result of their selfless sacrifice for their country and the liberty of others. Being a PoW meant that they all became malnourished even with occasional Red Cross parcels. The march, the Long March as it is known, took them through deep snow with inadequate clothing, few suitable places to stay en route and the ill temper of their German guards. There were, though, occasional small acts of kindness.

All the time the same thought kept coming through my mind, the more recent memory of those refugees in Lesvos and the accounts I read of their subsequent journey through the bitter Macedonian winter. Their’s is not a selfless sacrifice, but a brave attempt to secure, for their families, safety from oppression.

They do have something in common. All that any of these people ever wanted was to be treated as human beings: do as you would be done by.

Will we never learn?
Article published in the Lincolnshire Echo on 17 March 2016

Tuesday 15 March 2016

The shame is that everyone is running scared

Today's Guardian ran advertisements from both Save the Children and The Red Cross seeking aid for those suffering from the Syrian civil war. In the same edition there is the horrific story of Syrians and other refugees desperately crossing the river marking the border between Greece and Macedonia.

It is dreadful that the major NGOs do not appear to be active in Greece, MSN seemingly a shining exception. They are doing good work, but we are not hearing about it in the press. There seems almost a conspiracy of silence.

We understood from our time on Lesvos that the major NGOs were finding barriers to registering to offer aid to refugees in Greece. It seemed tied up with political gesturing with Brussels. If this is the case, then shame on the EU.

Without question the very large number of refugees now making their way slowly to Germany is a massive political problem, not least in the light of the recent elections in Germany. Nevertheless, it is even more shameful that governments cannot man up and take action, rather than leaving defenceless men, women and children to suffer.

Monday 7 March 2016

Have we earned it, our life as free people?

A reflection on the book, A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson might inform the referendum debate

The grandson of the hero of the story, who had piloted Halifax bombers in WW2, at one point has this thought:

‘They were his own age, doing something noble, something heroic. They were lucky. They’d been given history. It wasn’t going to happen to him. He was never going to be given the chance to be noble and heroic.’

This is something that haunts the post war generation; OK it haunts me: we have never played our part. It is perhaps the same as those dreadful lines said to Private Ryan at the end that film, ‘now earn it’. 

Have we earned it: our life as free people? Is there something we can do to go at least part of the way? 

I suggest that the Referendum gives us an opportunity. 

The European Union, the connection between previously warring European countries is at the heart. I freely accept that the EU is not perfect; it comes out with nonsense too often, but that is our fault for letting it; members states must take a greater say. Let none of this though hide the fact that it is a union of nations, of peoples with a common heritage, peoples who face the same questions. Surely it makes sense to face the questions together. 

As peoples and nations we can move on from our history of war and conflict. We can remember with pride those things we have done which have selflessly benefitted mankind, not least in the way we together tackled the massive refugee crisis left behind by WW2. 

The current refugee crisis is perhaps an acid test. Do we individually close our doors? This would run counter to our history and any claim we may have to a place on the world stage, let alone to reflect our national belief in fairness. 

If we vote ‘no’, with the objective of keeping the refugee out, we deny much that is good about Britain. If we vote ‘no’, because the current institution falls short, we are terminally short of imagination.

The horrors those Bomber Boys and so many others went through need not be in front of us every day, but they do matter. Some might say it is old and past and we should no longer dwell on it. To fly over enemy territory in a Halifax, Stirling or Lancaster is more fear in a single night than most of us have had to face in a lifetime, not to mention the Atlantic convoys, the leading vehicle in an armoured column, making it ashore on D Day or enduring years in captivity. 

Let us grasp this opportunity to do our bit to make the world a better place and move forward together with our neighbours.

Philip Hamlyn Williams - Lincoln - 7 March 2016

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Positive reasons for remaining in the EU

Migration will be one of the biggest issues of the 21st century. If we want to add a British voice with a long tradition of welcome, we can do it so much better when joined with our neighbours.

For the USA it is the single issue of Mexico and Trump's horrific suggestion of a wall. For Europe, we have had our walls, or iron curtains, let us work together to find a new sustainable way.

Monday 22 February 2016

How debate may proceed

This was the first full day and began with disappointment that Boris Johnson decided not to follow his great hero Winston Churchill in working for the great European project. For it is a project, not yet complete, probably never complete.

The disappointment was dispelled as the Twitter accounts supporting staying in began to multiply. So many young voices demanding a future in an EU which it will be for them to nurture. Young voices that demand, amongst other things, proper treatment for refugees.

Moria Camp on Lesvos

Sunday 14 February 2016

Ken Clarke and why we should stay in

'Being in the European Union gives us a much stronger voice in the great world problems of today.'

Zoe Williams' interview with Ken Clarke in Saturday's Guardian (13 February 2016) unearthed this key quote but also other important points that I set out here.

Talking of those who in 1975 would have left the EEC, he says, 'they were wrong. This country has benefitted enormously from joining the modern world.'

This to me holds the key, by being part of a body such as the EU, we are part of the modern world rather than a small country ploughing its own selfish way.

'I actually formed my political views, decided what I was in favour of, chose my party loyalty, quite quickly during my time as a student politician. Most of my views became settled:

Free markets with a social conscience, an internationalist approach to the world, welcoming globalisation and the opening up of trade. 

I've always thought one of the problems for Britain was how to persuade the country to cope with the ever-accelerating rate of change. I have never gone through periods of guilt or doubt that the EC was going wrong.'

I can't help thinking how much better the direction may have been had Clarke had a great hand in it all.

There can be few British politicians more committed to the European project, yet Clarke is clear that it is the voice of the younger generation that must argue the case before the British public. It would be sad, though, if he remained silent.

His conclusion is, 'being in the European Union gives us a much stronger voice in the great world problems of today. Given that we have to earn our living in a globalised and competitive economy, the best base for our economy is the biggest single open market in the world, which happens to be the major place [to] which we we sell our exports and the major place from which we get our inward investment.'

Saturday 6 February 2016

EU Referendum - forget the renegotiation; it is not what matters

'A place at the table where the rules of the world's largest single market are made'...'that is a seat no rational prime minster would vacate'.

'If Britain were to leave, Mr Cameron (or his successor) will promptly have to negotiate a way back into the single market, but from the diminished position of a supplicant to the very same leaders whose efforts at friendly compromise will just have been spurned.'

These extracts from the leading article in the Guardian of 6 February 2016 say it all, or nearly all.

The EU is a single market and that is where its true value lies. Nevertheless it is also a group of nations with a common bond who can, if they have the will, speak with a common and loud voice on the world stage. This stage is dominated by the USA whose future leadership is worrying, by Russia whose current leadership is terrifying (you might like to look at Natalie Nougayrede's article) and by China whose leadership for some time will be focused on massive internal issues.

British politicians have never since Edward Heath played a full part at the European table. If they fail to do so,  they have only themselves to blame if the direction in which the Union moves is not to their liking. Britain could and should have very strong voice.

If the British people are worried about immigration and the 'threat' of refugees, leaving the EU will not make a bean of difference unless they also wish for Britain to leave the world stage. Britain has much to offer the 21st century world but will be able to play its part immeasurably more effectively if it does so as a full and committed member of an EU run by the politicians of member countries and not by bureaucrats.

In relation to the renegotiation, Martin Kettle suggests that Prime Minister Cameron has achieved a good deal

Friday 15 January 2016

Between Debt and the Devil - Adair Turner

Money, Credit and Fixing Global Finance

Don't be put off - this really matters.

Adair Turner was appointed Chairman of the Financial Services Authority following the 2008 crash. He authored a report on the reasons for it and spent the next four years engaging with finance leaders seeking ways to avoid the same problems happening again. He knows his stuff.

His recent book, Between Debt and the Devil, is chilling. I read it in between working with refugees on Lesvos and it is all connected.

He sees a healthy economy as a prerequisite to successful life. It is the lack of this, and the tyranny of oppressive regimes that is sending millions seeking refuge elsewhere.

Inequality is highlighted as a major reason for the problems we face. In the last thirty years the rich have got so much richer and the poor so much poorer; many middle earning jobs have disappeared. Rich people are less likely to buy goods and services, which fuel an economy, and more likely to invest in property which benefits only them and the person who sold it to them. A better distribution of income enables more people to consume goods and services and so make the economy healthy and likely to grow.

Turner's main concern though is the level of debt, both personal and governmental, in the world. It is at an all time high. The UK accumulated massive debt during WWII for reasons we can all understand. This borrowing was not effectively repaid until 1970 and it was only possible to repay it because the UK economy grew strongly with the benefit if technical innovation. The debt now is even higher mainly because of the recession caused by the credit crunch which made people reluctant to spend which reduced government's revenues and so made them borrow more.

He has some revolutionary suggestions for reducing the debt burden and for avoiding it going forward. I will leave it to the Guardian to explain more and to give more detail, but in essence he is suggesting that governments should simply print more money - a one off exercise in effect to wipe the slate clean, or at least to reduce the debt to manageable levels. He is clear that it must not be ongoing as it was in pre war German and which lead to hyper inflation.

I shall follow the debate with huge interest. It really does matter.