Archive for the ‘Capitalism’ Category

British Companies ruined by the City of London.

February 2, 2018

The City of London demands that British companies put the short term interest of shareholders first. A ruinous demand.

Last Thursday the Governor of Thameside prison, operated by Serco, told staff, including me, that Carillion had been borrowing money to pay shareholders. ‘Serco don’t do this. Don’t worry that Serco is going to collapse like Carillion,’ was the message.

Most of us think, righty, that shareholders are only paid when the company makes a profit. The City of London thinks differently. Shareholders should be paid as a priority over anyone else. If there is no profit, you borrow money to pay shareholders. Carillion did it and the City of London was happy.

To pay shareholders Carillion borrowed money from its own workers, as well as from banks etc. For several years Carillion paid less than its obligation to the company pension fund.  The workers lost money on their pensions while the shareholders gained money in dividends and inflated share price: In 2012, outside advisers said Carillion had prioritised growing earnings and supporting the share price ahead of the pension scheme.  This led to a shortfall in the pension fund of £990million.

In the short term the shareholders benefited. In the long term, of course, they lost out, as the value of their shares has now collapsed. But the City of London is not interested in the long term interests of either companies or shareholders. The City of London concentrates on making sure shareholders can get out at signs of trouble, not on helping companies through difficult circumstances.

Last Friday someone who works for Severn Trent Water said that it is company policy that no work will be undertaken unless the cost can be recouped within 3 years. ‘It’s simply a matter of finances,’ is how this is explained.

Nonsense! It’s simply a matter of short term thinking. If a water main is leaking about £500 worth of water a year, and the repair will cost £2000, Severn Trent say the repair is ‘uneconomic.’ The company choose to lose £500 ever year for years and years, rather than pay for the repair. Of course it makes economic sense, in the long term, to repair the main. But Severn Trent only think in the short term. They ‘cannot afford’ this repair because it would reduce their short term profit and the City of London insists that their short term profit grows rather than reduces.

No UK farmer would expect to recoup the cost of land improvement within 3 years. No UK house-owner would expect to recoup the cost of extra insulation within 3 years. Ordinary people know we have to invest for the longer term. Not the City of London. They have their own twisted thinking, their own rigged rules.

The City of London serves the short term interests of shareholders, against the long term interest of British workers, British companies, the British nation. The City of London are flagrantly not loving their neighbour as they love themselves. It is time we found a different way of investing in British companies.

See for one different way.

Roger Harper



‘The Death of Stalin:’ Great truth and strange distortions. 23 December

December 23, 2017

The film ‘The Death of Stalin’ is a tour de force. Taken from a French book of the same name, financed and produced by French companies. Superbly written, acted, filmed, mostly by British filmmakers. (Why could the British financial institutions for whose benefit the whole British economy is geared, not have expressed financial confidence in this brilliant enterprise?)


‘The Death of Stalin’ conveys the grinding terror of post war Soviet Russia and the crazy chaos around and after the Communist dictator’s death. ‘Based on real events’ and on real people. Each nasty character is distinctive and believable, verging on caricature, yet never losing touch with the grimly real history. Yes Stalin did have his close colleagues play silly, degrading, games and watch American cowboy movies. Yes the whole population knew someone who had been dragged off in the night by the State Security Police and half expected, any night, to be on the ‘list’ for forcible removal, torture, exile, execution. (The composer Dmitri Shostakovich sometimes slept in the hallway so that when ‘they’ came, his family would not be disturbed.) Yes Soviet leaders were coarse and sex-obsessed. I remember an official Soviet ‘Peace Delegation’ being received by the Town Council of Belper, Derbyshire in the 1980s. During the break for refreshments three good Soviets, including an Orthodox Bishop, did not realise that I could understand the gist of their lewd conversation about the body of a female Councillor. Yes when Stalin had the stroke which finally killed him he was listening to a record of a Mozart Piano Concerto which had been made in the night after he had heard it broadcast and had ‘requested’ a record of the unrecorded broadcast. Yes the pianist was Maria Yudina who had written to Stalin critically. 

But no, Maria Yudina’s note was not as harsh as in the film. The Concerto had not been recorded the night before Stalin died but nine years previously. Neither did Yudina bargain for money, as in the film. Stalin was so pleased with the recording that he sent Yudina 20,000 roubles. She replied with a note assuring Stalin of her prayers, calling him to repent for his many sins, and explaining that she had given the money to her church. All expected Stalin to show some displeasure at the note, maybe a curling of the tip of his nose. This would have been enough for the night-time hammering on her door. Stalin’s face remained blank. See and Stalin also never forgot. Was there a true connection, not as immediate as in the film, between Yudina’s playing, her thank you note, and Stalin’s stroke?

Why does the film, and the book on which it is based, distort details? Beria the vicious head of the State Security Police did not die without a trial the day of Stalin’s death. He died three years later after a typical show trial. Was it because the writers thought a more compressed, more dramatized version of reality would be ‘truer’ in some way? Or that they wanted to leave their personal imprint, changing history to reflect their art? Better to be accurate in detail as well as in broad sweep, more respectful to the actual, named, people. 

More importantly, the film focuses entirely on the variegated human wickedness of the Soviet leaders and misses the wicked ideology which they followed. Anyone who visited Soviet Russia, as I did in 1974 and 1978, will have seen Communist Party slogans everywhere, especially on top of prominent buildings. These are absent from the film. Soviets lived a double life, the official narrative of present sacrifices for the glorious socialist future contrasting with the desperate struggle for survival, for human warmth. Life was always cloaked in pompous rhetoric; atrocities cloaked in official justification. The ideology was not a minor detail, as in the film, but a major feature of public and private life, a necessary part of the grinding terror. 

If we are to learn from history, as the makers of ‘The Death of Stalin’ would want, we must see more clearly the dangers of idolatrous ideology – whether Communist, racial-Fascist, Free Market, or Islamist. Each demands belief in a better world ahead for which bloody struggle is necessary now. People other than the ideological leaders are made to pay the price. Life becomes grim: over-controlled and diminished and fearful

Life is not to be lived in the service of the great Communist, Capitalist or Islamist dream, it is to be lived as an expression today of love of God and love of our neighbour. Maria Yudina, in her piano playing and living, expressed this counter-cultural love. This is fullness of life, tree freedom, based on full truth, with no distortions. 

Roger Harper

Leaving Europe for Bad Reasons: 15 July

July 15, 2016

Britain’s Leave Europe vote is significant and needs to be recorded clearly. When the consequences are experienced we will know what to apologise for.  Here is the view of one who was predicting a Leave majority, not surprised on June 24th.

‘The referendum was about openness and tolerance versus insularity and fear of “the other”, self interested nationalism versus the common good of the nations of Europe working together.’ Paul Oestreicher writing in the Church Times. Yes indeed.

A picture from Facebook about British insularity:


A majority in Britain chose a nationalism that is not only self interested, selfish, but proud and based on a slanted view of history. ‘We won two world wars. We don’t need that lot!’ This was said to me by a leave supporter with the agreement of others at the pub bar. Bad history. We needed our Allies to win the wars. Britain did not win the wars all by itself.

Remembering the wars is big in Britain, too big. TV programmes, books, films, hark back, especially to the Second World War. People like remembering because it brings a warm proud feeling. We naturally remember our own people. Yet this constant remembering of the plucky Brits gives us the mistaken impression that other people, other nations, had an insignificant role. Our excessive one-sided looking back gives us a slanted one-sided view of the present and the future.

Other Leavers wrote or said that Britain used to be great, you could walk out of one job into another, you could afford, with hard work, your own house, people were friendly and helpful to each other. They blame Europe and immigrants for diminishing their quality of life.

Yes British life has changed dramatically. This has far more to do with leaving Christendom than anything else. Most Brits grew up with Sunday School and Christian RE. Loving neighbours, not walking by on the other side, hard work, education, kindness, including to strangers, church-going, were promoted. Bullying, materialism, individualism, partying, alcohol, sex, were all restrained. We didn’t have much choice; that’s just how life was.

Now we have the choice. We can be as individualist, materialist, free-loving, with as much alcohol or drugs, as we like. Most people have gleefully chosen ‘freedom’ to indulge over ‘having religion rammed down our throats.’ This works at all levels, to the top where the City of London pursues more money more relentlessly with less concern for the well being of this or any other nation.

This has been the Great Change in British life, chosen by us not inflicted on us by Europe or immigrants. (I don’t bemoan the Change. We now also have less hypocrisy, more truth, more authentic Christian faith and enthusiasm.) If anything, Europe and immigrants have helped restrain the excesses of the new materialist ‘freedom.’ Europe has restrained bosses wanting their workers to work 50 hours a week when convenient. Europeans have bought up and maintained British companies when their City owners only wanted to sell them for short-term profit. Many immigrants have brought with them Christendom attitudes of hard work, appreciation of education, and church-going. These attitudes are an influence for good in areas where they are only a memory among the local Brits.

Europe or immigrants have not brought only the good, but the balance is on this side. Last Sunday, early evening, walking down the main street in Normanton, Derby, I mixed with East European and Asian immigrants shopping, chatting, looking and acting smart and responsible. The two people who accosted me for 20p / 50p were scruffy, semi-spaced out, White British.

Some Leave voters had genuine concerns about further European integration, the cumbersome working of a coalition of 28 nations, and the negative effect of large scale immigration on wages. For most it was much more instinctive, based largely on selfishness, pride, false history, suspicion of foreigners, blaming others instead of recognising our own faults. ‘If only we were on our own, controlling all our own affairs, life would be better!’

We’ll see. If life outside Europe turns out to be far from better, indeed notably worse, repentance will be needed. Repentance for selfishness, pride, false history, suspicion of foreigners, blaming others instead of recognising our own faults. And not heeding the many warnings given at the time.

The Church will have to join in the repentance, for not looking and speaking more clearly. ‘It beggars belief that the Church of England chose to have no official view on all this…’ continues Oestreicher. Yes indeed. The Leave campaign was based on values very different to loving your neighbour as you love yourself. The Church should have pointed this out.

This week truth about invading Iraq was conveyed in the Chilcot Report in findings almost identical to what was said at the time by people like Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons. Then too the Church neither looked nor spoke clearly and so shares some of the blame.

Even now the Church is officially saying ‘We just need to be nice to each other. Leaving or remaining makes no difference, is certainly not something which God might have a view on.’ This attitude ‘lacks the biblical sense that God acts in history in wrath and chastisement as well as in deliverance,’ according to Bishop Michael Bourke in a letter to the Church Times. He goes on to write of a call that ‘requires our nation to stand under God’s judgement…’ Time will tell if this judgement comes.

To me it looks that Britain’s post imperial and post Christendom, decline will only be accelerated by leaving the European Union. We’re in this mess together. Will we repent when needed?


Stay in Europe, to be blessed by Europe: 4 May

May 4, 2016

We Brits should maintain our place in Europe. Staying helps us fulfil our national purpose. Staying supports the vision of peace through economic cooperation. Staying honours the good kind leaders. Leaving Europe means choosing selfish splendid isolation, making us slaves to the money mills of the City of London who have no interest in building good British companies, or good British life.

Britain’s national purpose is to have one foot in Europe and one foot in the Commonwealth. The nations of Europe are our closest neighbours; we have more natural family connections with the Commonwealth. Our athletes compete in the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Britain fulfils its destiny when it links Europe and the Commonwealth. Indian leaders mostly urge us to stay in Europe

Exiting Europe would be a decision to stand on our own feet, independent of anyone. We would dwindle, increasingly cut off from both Europe and the Commonwealth. We have to maintain our place, our foot, in Europe, while also seeking stronger ties, economic and political cooperation with the Commonwealth.

Peace through economic cooperation was the founding vision of the European Union. Seeking peace, using economics to pursue lasting peace, especially in mainland Europe. Seeking first the peace that God wants, knowing that other things will follow, as Jesus said. This vision is still good and needs our support. Now that lasting peace in Europe has been achieved, the priority is to see how the vision and the method can be extended beyond Europe. How can peace through economic cooperation be extended to Pakistan and South Africa and Jamaica and Australia? We need to be working on this, inside Europe.

Splendid isolation is selfish. ‘We want to get out because we have been putting in more than we have been receiving,’ is a common exit argument. In other words ‘We don’t want to be net givers, we want to be net takers, or not in the club. We don’t want to use our historic wealth largely derived through our Empire, ie from other nations, for anyone but ourselves.’ Choosing to leave Europe means choosing selfishness. Woe betide us then!

The City of London is not our saviour, but our ruination. Currently a huge number of British based companies are fostered by European leadership and investment. We don’t like to think about this too much. ‘Our’ electricity companies have German, French and Spanish (Scottish Power) ultimate ownership. So do many other companies. Leaving Europe would make it much more likely that these owners would give up, like BMW giving up on recalcitrant Rover.

You would have thought that the substantial Investment Houses of London would be foremost in nurturing good British companies, good British prosperity, over the long term. The reality is that the City focus is not on long term prosperity but on next quarter’s profit. JCB has flourished precisely because it has nothing to do with the stock market.  The City of London asset strips for the benefit of the rich of the world. To maintain and develop good companies in Britain we need Europe.

We also need to continue in Europe for American, Canadian, Indian, and especially Japanese owners to continue to nurture companies here. Japanese car plants were built in Britain partly because we are part of the European Union. Leaving Europe would make the Japanese think again. Honda would be the first to leave, with catastrophic results.

Pro-Europe leaders also seem to me a much more likeable, trustable, lot. John Major rather than Nigel Farage, Barack Obama rather than Boris Johnson (both American), our world-leading University Professors rather than our Titled Landowners. By their fruits, by their character, can we see who to follow.

Seeking the peace and welfare of our neighbours, as ourselves, brings blessing. Dwelling in unity, sharing at least elements of a common household, with our brothers and sisters, brings blessing. Seeking to stand on our own selfish feet brings an isolation which may feel splendid at first, but becomes cold and crabby, bitter and bigoted, ineffectual and impoverished.

Government trying to kill off Sundays: 23 February

February 23, 2016

The UK Government is trying amend the current Enterprise Bill in order to increase Sunday Trading through devolving power to Local Authorities. This will kill off the small remaining space in the week for community rest. UK readers, please write to your MP, especially if they are Conservative, and ask them not to support this sick scheme.

Ill thought-through. The Government’s case is built on forecasts of possible economic benefit, surveys which show a substantial number of people would like their choice of when to shop widened, support for traditional rather than internet shopping, and a proclaimed need for London to compete internationally with other tourist destinations.

The Government give no detailed working of the economic forecasts. They do not demonstrate how the substantial increased salary and energy costs to retailers would be offset by increased sales. Rather, the findings of customer surveys indicate that people do not envisage spending more. People only envisage a wider choice of when to shop for the same amount of goods.

The Government quote no economic evidence. The most obvious such evidence would be from the extension of Sunday Trading for the Olympics. The Government do not mention this, probably because in that period there was a slight decrease in Sunday spending compared to the previous year. The slight decrease coupled with bigger overheads for retailers put pressure on retailers to raise prices. More widely the Government show no evidence that the extension of Sunday Trading so far in this country has led to more sales overall, rather than displacement of sales, or has created more jobs, or has lowered prices. These would be obvious figures for the Government to produce if they exist.

The Government give no evidence that increased Sunday Trading would reduce internet shopping. They could quote surveys of why people use internet shopping, which indicate that not being able to go to a shop before 10am and after 4pm on Sundays is a significant factor. The lack of such evidence probably indicates that Sunday shopping hours are an insignificant factor in people’s choice to shop online. The growth of internet shopping in the UK is much more due to the good, quick, delivery services possible in a nation more compact than others.

The Government take no account of proven economic success. Germany has the most successful economy in the world. Germany also has far less Sunday Trading than the UK at present. If our Government are, as they state, ‘committed to increasing the UK’s productivity’ they should learn from our most productive neighbour.

The Government are saying ‘We guess this will be good economically, but we are giving no evidence to support this view.’

The Government also give no indication of the administration costs of their scheme. Each Local Authority would have to spend valuable time and money consulting, debating and deciding their local rule. They would need to employ people to administer and enforce their policy. Some of these would already be employed, for instance in Trading Standards, but the added workload would be to the detriment of their existing work. The Government have given no costings for all this, hardly a business-minded approach to running our country. The probable reason for lack of costings is that their scheme would add to the administration costs of the country as a whole without bringing any assured benefits.

The Government also give no indication of the environmental costs of their scheme. Our international commitments mean that we must reduce carbon emissions, reduce energy consumption. All Government policies should have this in mind. The Government gives no assessment of the environmental impact of their scheme, while many businesses have to make such assessments for their expansion plans. The probable reason for lack of such assessment is that it would be very difficult to show how the increased fuel use for running shops for longer could be offset.

Hasty The lack of proper evidence and assessment shows that the Government’s scheme is being rushed. The amendment is being added to a Bill in its late stages to enable a quick decision and implementation. The Government are already saying that the changes ‘will’ take effect from the autumn of this year. They disregard the possibility that their scheme may not be accepted in the Commons. The Government state that there will be enough debate in Parliament, while also making sure that the Upper House has no opportunity for such debate.

Devious Before last year’s election, Conservative Central Office wrote clearly on behalf of David Cameron that the Party had no plans to change the existing good compromise on Sunday Trading. No apology has been issued for this misleading.

The Government’s explanation of their amendment begins by proclaiming that not allowing shops to open before 10am of after 4pm on Sundays is ‘stifling.’ This is a clear exaggeration. Their case continues with rhetorical language. and little substance.

The Government’s response to the Consultation last September quotes exact figures for people supporting their scheme and no figures for other views. These other views are dismissed in more general terms. They quote the number of Conservative Council Leaders and Members (misleadingly reported in the Press as Leaders alone) who wrote in support of their scheme, without indicating what proportion of Conservative Council Members this constitutes. 149 such people sound like a substantial number, but not when compared to the greater number of Conservative Council Members across England who declined to offer such support.

One example of such response is from South Oxfordshire District Council who indicated to the Government that they were in favour of the scheme. Their own consultation of local people showed 45% in favour and 56% against. (Their figures! ) Other Local Authorities may well have supported the Government Scheme more from Party loyalty than local opinion.

Extending Sunday Trading, in some Local Authorities, would have a greater, visible, impact on our communities than most other Government legislation. It would be a major and noticeable change. The Government should not be seeking to introduce such change through a late amendment in an unrelated Bill.

Harmful to our nation The Government highlight that they are trying to implement a request from shops in Knightsbridge and the West End of London. They make no mention of the rest of the country. As well as adding costs to every Local Authority, their scheme will lead to dissension and division within and between Local Authorities and to confusion as to which shop is open where. Such confusion is likely to put off shoppers.

The Government state that they want to give Local Authorities the ability to prioritise some sectors over others eg high street rather than out of town. The Government want to do this by giving the large retailers what they want and by disregarding the views of convenience store owners. There is a clear mismatch between what they state and what they are proposing. If the Government are concerned to support the high street and smaller traders, they should listen more to the representatives of these sectors and maintain the current compromise.

The Government make no mention of the impact to our society in any terms other than economic. They seem to be unconcerned about anything other than the economic theory of the free market. Sunday as a day of rest, including rest from shopping, is a significant marker in our national life that we humans are more than economic units. Our Government wants to remove this marker.

The detriment of longer Sunday Trading to shop workers and their families has been well expressed, not least by the Union USDAW. Thought should also be given to people who live on or near busy roads who at present relish the comparative quiet early and late on Sundays. If shop workers were working earlier and later, public transport to enable them to travel to and from work would also probably need to be increased, whether the transport workers want this or not. This would add to the overall cost of public transport. Of course this does not apply to London, where there is a full Sunday public transport service already, but the Government should think not only of London.

The Government indicate that they are siding with many large retailers and London shops. They are breaking a long established, well supported, national compromise to favour one interest group based in London.

The Government also seem to be in thrall to free market ideologues. In some ways having a complete Sunday of retailing will make little difference. This is only a matter of a very few hours in a whole week. It is not at all clear that shops would benefit economically. Yet the Government insist on bringing their scheme to the Commons, using up valuable Parliamentary time and energy. A few months ago the Government said, realistically, that they would not take their scheme any further. Now they are pushing it again. It seems that there are some people, connected to the Government, who find even a few hours of respite from retailing an affront to their free market ideology. They must be allowed to sell whenever they want. It is their right. The market, or more particularly the dominant market traders, must not be curtailed in any way.

Please urge your MP to vote against the Government amendment. Better for them to vote for family time on Sundays, for shop workers’ rest, for corner shops, for restricting the carbon output of big stores, for a clear national policy, for our current ‘classic British compromise,’ for national values other than those of the free market.

Roger Harper

UK Government plans to extend Sunday trading can be stopped: 24 August

August 24, 2015

The UK Government is asking people to give their views on its proposal to give local authorities the freedom to allow longer Sunday trading hours where they want. You can read the full Government rationale at 

Our Government quotes unsupported prediction that extended Sunday trading will bring economic benefit. Keep Sunday Special show how fabricated this claim is: How can shops paying more for staff time, heating buildings for longer, mean that prices will be lower? How can local authorities take on this extra administrative role without diverting stretched resources from other areas? 

Our Government disregards the detriment of extended Sunday trading – social, environmental, spiritual. Allowing this proposal to go ahead means saying ‘Possible economic benefit is all that matters to us as a nation.’ More families will be unable to find time to meet when no-one is working. More carbon will be released into the atmosphere. More people will feel their only worth is economic.  

The present rules on Sunday trading are widely regarded as a good British compromise. The last attempt by Government and large retailers to break this compromise, in 2006, was defeated by a targeted campaign. This year’s attempt can also be defeated. We must not allow a good working compromise to be replaced by division and dissension between and within local authorities.

Please can I encourage UK readers to return the Response, by 16 September, with a clear ‘No?’

Please encourage others also to respond. 

To write to you MP go to

If you would like to do more, including going in person to the Minister concerned, please comment. 

Roger Harper

PS How strange that this consultation is taking place in holiday season when many UK Christians are already much involved countering the Bill in Parliament to allow Assisted Dying!

Voting for high wages not an option: 6 May

May 6, 2015

The UK has long been a low wage economy. But will any political party recognise the problem and address it?

I live near the market town of Southwell, famous for its Workhouse. Built in 1824, it became the model for many others. One problem the Workhouse was addressing was that farm labourers were earning less than they needed to live on. Each parish had the responsibility of caring for the destitute and the burden was unwelcome. (The parishes were given this responsibility after the closing of the monasteries, which, until then, had provided help.) Instead of each parish paying each farm worker a supplement to their wages, a central provision was established where the poor would live and work under strict supervision. Workhouses quickly became intensely feared by working people, and objects of the ire of Charles Dickens and others.

Why were the landowners / farmers not instead told to pay their workers a decent wage? Such interference in the affairs of the well-off was deemed out of the question. Instead of the employers paying more, the burden was shared among all parishioners. Low wages were the accepted norm, with a more or less harsh ‘safety net’ for those unable to live on such wages.

The UK today operates a variation of the same system. Instead of each parish caring for the poor, sometimes united in the provision of a workhouse, our Government cares for the poor. Those on low wages are supported by the general taxpayer through personal allowances and tax credits. Surely it would be better for the employers not to pay such low wages? Why should tax payers effectively encourage and support employers in not paying decent wages?

The standard answer is that companies need to make profits and these profits are more of a priority. Company profits are mostly for shareholders. The interests of the shareholders are deemed more of a priority than those of the workers. Between 1824 and today the landowners and farmers have been replaced by shareholders. The underlying understanding is the same. Low wages are ‘good for business’ ie good for shareholders.

UK shareholders do very well out of this system. The priority of shareholder entitlement to profit means that the UK has the largest and most widening gap between the rich and the poor in the Western world. The Sunday Times Rich List recently elevated the chief shareholders of Primark, Home Bargains, and B&M Bargains to high places in the list. Investors in decent companies, not spectacularly innovative ones, see their wealth increase far more than the wealth of workers is the same companies. The huge wealth of the US investment guru Warren Buffet has been built on this simple understanding. This is great for shareholders but can in no way be deemed to be loving your neighbour as you love yourself.

The widening gap between shareholders and the rest is also not good for the country as a whole. Such inequality is closely correlated to, and probably contributes to, poor health, greater crime, increased unhappiness. (See  Our nation as a whole does not benefit. The common good is undermined by what is good for shareholders. Yet our nation subsidises shareholder profits massively through allowing limited liability. Shareholders are allowed to walk away from debts incurred through failed business while enjoying in perpetuity the benefits of successful businesses.

The UK model is not the only one. In Germany all companies have to be governed by a Supervisory Board composed of both shareholders and workers. Strategic decisions are made with the interests of both shareholders and workers in mind. As a result Germany has a high wage economy with much greater local manufacturing, much greater investment in development, and shareholders who are content with their level of return over a longer rather than shorter term.

The UK Government, whatever party is in power, has long encouraged a low wage, high shareholder return, economy. The clearest recent encouragement was the decision by the Tory / Lib Dem coalition to sell the Post Office to shareholders alone instead of investing ownership substantially in the workers, probably alongside shareholders. With workers having no more influence on company decisions than in any other shareholder company, Post Office wages will fall to the level of their competitors while the new shareholders will benefit as do those of their competitors. Post Office workers who cannot manage on the low wages will need Government support. (See When Labour was in power over many years a Minimum Wage was introduced at a low level but the basic system of prioritising shareholder returns was left untouched.

I would love to vote for a high wage UK economy at last. But tomorrow that option doesn’t seem to be on offer.

Roger Harper

The Threepenny Opera in Nottingham, Ipswich, Birmingham and Leeds: 24 February

February 24, 2014

The Threepenny Opera has just begun a run at Nottingham Playhouse, before travelling to the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Brecht and Weil’s famous musical is performed by Graeae, a lively company ‘boldly placing deaf and disabled artists centre stage.’ I went on Saturday with friends.

The Threepenny Opera, from Berlin 1928, is a relentless gruesome tale of an unlovable criminal who is ridiculously reprieved in the end. It mocks and challenges notions of the deserving poor and the worthy Establishment, also of Christian charity, ethics and salvation. It is ‘in your face’ and preachy, especially at the end. The music is occasionally likeable but blunt and repetitive. The ‘Opera’ celebrates a culture of violence, and violent leaders. Although Brecht and Weil, writer and composer, had a very left wing stance, the play gives a somewhat chilling indication of a society that could welcome Hitler. Quite how it can be deemed so wonderful is a mystery.

The cast played with energy and enthusiasm. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, which helped the audience to enjoy the show as much as we could. The female singer-actors were all good, especially Victoria Oruwari playing Mrs Peachum. It would be good to hear her in concert. The supporting actors were impressive, with accuracy and verve. Unfortunately Milton Lopes as the main villain / hero Macheath was miscast. His laconic delivery of lines was flat and formulaic compared to the other cast and his singing voice weak. Overall, the company kept the audience interested and engaged, but, for me, they were struggling against a simply nasty script.

The Threepenny Opera has been described as the crowning symbol of the Weimar Republic, the Germany between the First World War and the Nazi dictatorship. Here we have leading, celebrated, intellectuals mocking ordinary people’s sense of hard work, reward, fair play, marital faithfulness and community care. There is no appreciation of the human values, just an assault against all that these self-appointed preachers, Brecht and Weil, deem ‘bourgeois.’ There is no vision of a better world, just an adolescent denigration of status quo. There is no sympathy or support for democracy, for diversity and fair play, just a glorification of people who win fights in an urban jungle and long to ‘shoot the lot of them.’ No wonder that many ordinary people were affronted and felt they needed protection from this left wing intellectualism. No wonder that democracy had no champions, even on the left wing. The winner in the real German urban jungle, the man with more brownshirted bullies at his disposal than anyone else, Adolf Hitler, was indeed ready and able to ‘shoot the lot of them’, beginning with left-wingers like Brecht and Weil who had to flee Germany. But he was only proving better at the game they had celebrated and promoted.

We in England cannot crow. The Threepenny Opera is set in London, and is an adaptation of ‘The Beggars Opera’ by John Gay of 1728. Brecht and Weil thought that Germany and England had much in common. They were reacting against the Imperialism that dominated both countries, the selfish misuse of power and position by the haves against the have-nots. They failed to understand that the teaching and life of Jesus was essentially anti-imperialist, a force for everyone, non-violently tearing down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. They wanted to throw out the life-giving baby with the bathwater of imperialism. It was not only Germans who had a ‘shoot the lot of them’ attitude. The British Empire, underneath its veneer of Christendom, was sustained by the use of machine guns against people with spears. Thank God we live in different times, aware of the dangers of repeating the mistakes of history.

Comments welcome, especially from theatre-goers in Nottingham, Ipswich, Birmingham and Leeds.

Roger Harper

No Democracy in the Mutuals: 20 August

August 20, 2013

UK Mutual Building Societies are anti-democratic. A sad discovery of this year.

A few years ago I put some inheritance money into a couple of mutual Building Societies. Most UK companies, and therefore the stock market, are in trouble. Their inherent flaws are being worked out. Better to put money in a more love-your-neighbour-as-you-love-yourself pot, where it will be used simply to help other people buy their own homes.

This year I went to my first Building Society Annual Meeting, for the West Brom Society. The members of the Board sat elevated in front of us, behind a table and tablecloth bright and substantial. The Annual Report explained that they were all financial services experts nominated by other Board members, to be approved without contest.

One of the ordinary members had asked how other people could be nominated. The procedure and the form were explained to him. Bizarrely, the Society expected the nominator to draw up their own form, there being no standard form in use. One indication of how very extraordinary, it is deemed, that members of a mutual organisation might want to nominate people to make decisions about their organisation.

A senior West Brom employee sitting next to me, explained that the UK Government Financial Services Regulators insist that all Board members have prior expertise in Financial Services. Even if members did nominate one of their own to the Board, this person would be deemed inadmissible unless they had worked at a high level in a similar organisation.

UK Building Societies are technocratic rather than democratic. Ordinary members are effectively excluded from the Board, and from nominating to the Board. Yet the technocrats have made bad decisions. A few years ago the West Brom Board decided to increase its lending for commercial property development and decrease lending to homeowners. At the time it seemed a good way to make a profit. It turned out to be a disaster, creating substantial ongoing losses for the Society.

The Board of Financial Services experts, who had created the West Brom mess, was replaced by another group of Financial Services experts. The expert and well-paid opinion of the new Board is that the Society should stop the kind of lending which has made losses and go back to traditional lending to home owners. In other words simple, blindingly obvious, common sense which any member of the Society could have come up with.

What if there had been an ordinary Society member or two on the Board when it was considering its disastrous policy? It is likely that a West Brom saver would have said ‘I didn’t put my money in a mutual Building Society in order to finance new distribution centres. I think we should carry on lending to people to buy homes.’ It is likely that a West Brom home owner would have said ‘But our staff know about mortgages to home owners, isn’t commercial property a different ball game?’

Mutual Societies should be run by their members (and employees) not by technocrats appointed under a pretence of democracy. The members serving on the Board could buy in the technical advice they need. There could be a requirement for 3 Advisors to be appointed who do not and have not hitherto worked together. (At present Board members nominate people they know, often having worked with them.) This would ensure that no decisions are taken which conflict with the requirements of the Regulators. Board members would also receive training in any technical area they need, in the same way that, for instance, parent and community School Governors are trained.

The technical aspects of decision making would be covered. These, however, are the minor aspects. More important are the broad direction decisions. How many local branches should the Society maintain? With far more savers and borrowers outside the Black Country than within it, how much of a local foundation should be retained? How much should the West Brom continue as independent and how much should it develop partnerships with complementary Societies? Some smaller regional Societies, for instance the Derbyshire Building Society, have become part of larger national Societies, in this instance the Nationwide. These decisions are far more than technical. They should be taken by people truly representing the members, with expert advice.

Researching for a book on my grandfather’s life, I have been shocked how widespread was the scorn for democracy in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A warning from history. If we allow those who insist they know best to control our common life, we are heading for disaster.

Roger Harper

UK Government promotes low UK wages: 15 July

July 15, 2013

2 weeks ago Vince Cable, UK Government Business Secretary, was lauding employee ownership – Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, said ‘The benefits of employee ownership are clear…. Giving hard-working people a real stake in their company is a hugely underused tool in unlocking growth.’ Vince Cable said ‘As we rebuild the economy, there has never been a more important time to support different ways of running a business.’

Last week Cable announced plans for the future of Royal Mail: The company will be owned by shareholders with only 10% of shares set aside for workers. Somehow, in a week, Cable and Clegg had changed their minds about meaningful employee ownership. Or were they simply saying one thing while ready to do the opposite? Hypocrisy.

Alternatives for Royal Mail exist. Cable and Clegg, before they became part of the Government, promoted selling less that 50% of shares. An Employee Benefit Trust could own most of the shares, a model proved to work elsewhere. Cable last week visited and lauded Arup, a large and successful building engineering company owned by such a Trust.

Royal Mail workers have not been impressed by the 10% sop handed to them. They know that the new owners will consider it their paramount duty to maximise profit for shareholders. This will mean minimising wages. Royal Mail wages will drop to the level of wages in other, minimum wage, delivery companies. Royal Mail workers will have no effective say in this decision, nor in any company decision.

For years the UK has run a low wage, high share value / share dividend economy. Recently we have been keen to benefit from low wages overseas, transferring manufacturing to low wage countries thus preserving share values. Before that we had low wage regions in the UK. After the Second World War, Ford planned to open a factory on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent. The owners of the pottery factories lobbied hard against this because they were not prepared to raise wages to compete with Ford. Nor were they prepared to make less profit for themselves. The pottery owners won and Ford went elsewhere. (This history was told me by ordinary people at the local hospice when I worked there.)

At the same time as Ford were losing their bid to pay Stoke workers a better wage, German leaders were working out how to structure their devastated economy. They specifically rejected the low wage, high share value approach, which they called ‘manchesterism.’ They equally rejected a State controlled economy. They consciously followed a middle path, inspired largely by Roman Catholic social teaching, and ultimately by ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ They enshrined in law that the overseeing Board of a German company has to be composed equally of representatives of shareholders and representatives of workers.

Another way of describing the UK low wage, high share value economy is that we prioritise financial services above everything else. If there is a conflict between the interests of the City of London and any other interests, the City wins. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury wrote that this is precisely the approach which has put us in our economic depression. ‘I believe the jury is now out as to whether, since the reopening of the Eurobond markets by S.G. Warburg & Co. in the early 1960s, financial services have been a net benefit to the U.K. economy as a whole…. financial services must serve society, and not rule it.’
‘The jury is out’ is polite Eton-speak for ‘we know but most people won’t yet admit.’

The contrast with Germany is stark: their companies survive and grow, ours don’t. Our companies, run for the greater good of ‘financial services’, are bled until they either fold or are sold cheaply to foreign companies. Our Government, including our Lib Dem Ministers, have decided to continue and support our low wage, shareholder owned, City-controlled economy. They have not learnt the lessons of the past. There indeed has never been a more important time to support and promote different ways of running a business. Our Government, knowing this, fail to do it. Expect UK wages to fall – thanks to Vince Cable et al.

Roger Harper