Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

Rethinking Hell in London: 10 November

November 10, 2016

Rethinking Hell in London was a great conference with stimulating speakers, interested and perceptive attenders. Much fascinating talk about the subject at meal times, not usual at Christian conferences. We would have liked more people to share the truth-seeking. I left heartened and energised by gracious engagement with an important subject.

My message was that the traditional Hell is a distortion of the Biblical message of Hades and Gehenna. Part of the distortion is talking of one place instead of two, assuming that when Jesus used two names, He meant the same place.

This distinction was new to many there and challenged by one of the other speakers. Some said that the most useful part of my presentation was to chart the differences between Hades and Gehenna:

Hades                                   Gehenna

Torment                                Destruction

After death                            After Judgement

Has gates and keys                Is a fire, a lake of fire

Presence of Jesus                   Away from Jesus

Presence of holy angels          Same place as beast, devil, false prophet

No fear                                  Fear

Gospel preached                     ?

Jesus risen as first fruit           No resurrection from this second death

Ends at Final Judgement         ‘Eternal’

Part of the distortion is that on entering Hell, understood as after death, wicked people are supposedly told ‘Abandon hope all you who enter here.’ Jesus, in contrast, says ‘Don’t be afraid… I have the keys of Death and Hades.’ This means that Jesus has the power and authority of entry and exit to Hades, where the wicked go when they die. Jesus can go in and out of Hades and take people in and out of Hades. I consider Jesus not only can, but does. Jesus can and does seek and save the lost even in Hades. This is why we are not to fear.

You can hear me explaining this at the first, 2014, Rethinking Hell Conference in Houston, here:

This year, as requested, I talked about responses to the message of Hades and Gehenna.

Complexity: An honest response might be: ‘One hell, that of endless torment, was bad enough. Now you are talking about two hells!’ We are so used to thinking that eternal life begins the moment we die. It takes time and effort to take in that there is life after death before Final Judgement and more, or no, life after Final Judgement.

Clarity and Confidence: ‘I have got really excited about the whole thing. Now you wouldn’t expect someone to get excited about hell, but you might understand someone getting excited about there being no hell…’ The words of David Munby to his congregation in Barnsley, Yorkshire. A Church Warden wrote: ‘Now there is more clarity and less mystery, more appreciation of Jesus as my Saviour and the Saviour of others, more connection with God as my loving Father.’

Comfort: One elderly woman in a Malaysian home group had tears in her eyes as she thought about the hope of Jesus using his keys for her good non-Christian parents. She is far from alone.

One man in my prison was much disturbed by being inside when his mother, not a Christian, was terminally ill and then died. He had had sessions of bereavement counselling but was still distressed. As his release approached, the issue became more acute. I talked with him of Jesus being able to take messages to people who have died, (because He has the keys of Hades and came to serve us.) The man wrote a letter to his mother with all he wanted to say. We placed it on the Communion table. I told him that this was not only a symbol. Jesus really was taking those words and delivering them to his mother. A few weeks later the prisoner considered that he had no further need of talking about this either to myself or the bereavement counsellor. He was simply less distressed than before and could face his upcoming release in a better frame of mind.

Talking to Jesus, asking Him to pass on a message, is much better than the common, unhealthy, practice of talking directly to the dead, either at the grave or when looking at the stars.

Repentance: When our emphasis is ‘Don’t be afraid. Jesus has the keys, even after death,’ this feels like ‘Don’t be afraid. Jesus has the keys to unlock a better future for you in this life as well.’ There is always a point in repentance. All will need to do it, and the sooner the better. It is never too late.

Disturbance: Many people, particularly in the UK, believe that ‘we all’ (except maybe the few really wicked people) go to heaven because we’ve led decent lives. The message of Hades and Gehenna can make these people uncomfortable, disturbed. When talking in churches it is best to begin with the more comforting message of Paradise and the New Universe. The words of Jesus, and of John the Baptist, however were deliberately disturbing to those who considered they were basically all right on their own.

Being ignored: David Hilborn, Principal of St John’s School of Mission and Editor of the Evangelical Alliance Report The Nature of Hell wrote of my book The Lie of Hell ‘it deserves serious attention and a serious response.’ Instead there has so far been virtually no response.

Why carry on with the message of Hades and Gehenna?

Because it is Jesus’ truth.

Because it can unite Christians. Traditionalists who hold to the idea of ongoing torment for the wicked after death can see that this happens in Hades. It is ‘for ages and ages’ but not eternal. Universalists who hold to the idea that most, maybe all, people will eventually reach ‘heaven’ can see that Jesus having and using the keys of Hades makes this likely, though not certain.

Because it might unite Protestants and Roman Catholics. Can Protestants accept Hades as Biblical, separate from and preceding Gehenna, the Hades to which Jesus has the keys and to which the Church has access, the gates availing nothing? Can Catholics accept Hades as the lost ancestor of Purgatory, the truer, more original, teaching of the Church founded on the revelation given to Peter? Protestants would have to learn what is the role of the Church beyond this life, instead of dismissing the idea of any such role for the Church. Catholics would have to learn the true nature of Hades, of which Purgatory is an artificial shadow, and from which release is not earned through penance or prayer, but given as free gift through the gracious forgiveness of Jesus and to which the Church bears witness.

Because it might improve society. Sociologists have shown a link between a general belief in an ‘or else’ after death and both lower crime rates and economic growth. See

With the message of Hades and Gehenna we help the Church, and the nations, to be transformed by the renewing of our understanding. We spearhead a unity that the Church has not known for hundreds of years. We annihilationists become redundant because there are no more conflicting schools of thought but one Church built on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching, Hades and Gehenna. We are agents of renewal in faith and hope and love for everyone.



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

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

Satanic mills to Jerusalem? January 31

January 31, 2012

All together now: ‘We will not rest until we have built good capitalism inEngland’s green and pleasant land.’ David Cameron gives the melody ‘I want these difficult economic times… to lead to a socially responsible and genuinely popular capitalism.’ Nick Clegg harmonises with ‘I want this to be the decade of employee ownership.’ Ed Milliband provides the robust bass line: ‘Let’s see deeds, not just hear words.’

How do you move from dark satanic mills toJerusalem? From dark satanic Stock Exchange companies, run for the benefit of those with capital, to properly equitable companies run for the benefit of investors, workers and other stake holders equally?

First, you begin by recognising the nature and scale of the problem. The fundamental structure ofUKshare-holding companies favours the rich few. The few have been joined by others, including millions of pension holders. The basic system, however, has not changed. The role of pension fund managers is still to boost the wealth of their clients, not to support good companies. Adding more employee shareholders into existing companies will not change anything lasting. Those who have provided capital for the companies will still have the upper hand.

Some years ago Barclays Uganda announced that it would share 5% of profit among staff. Their workforce responded by producing increased profits. But the Board said there were also more bad debts that year. Profit was set aside to cover loans not being repaid. The workforce continued to expect their ‘shares.’ The following year profits were again up, and, as key workers knew, some of the bad debts had been repaid. The Board looked at the 5% and decided it was too much money to ‘give away’ to employees. They allocated a smaller percentage and then scrapped the scheme.

A friend of mine worked for an international business consultancy. Under the founder, each consultant was treated as a partner, sharing some profit. The founder retired and the company was taken over by new owners who made reassurances that they would retain the ethos of the founder. The profit sharing stopped.

Tinkering with little alterations, making promises which can easily be broken with impunity, is no good. It will lead to cosmetic, token, temporary, initiatives. The problem is with the foundation of UK share-holder companies.

Second, you address the foundation. I am not sure the UK Government can do much here. They could try to enact new company law requiring each company’s Board to have equal representation from investors and workers. This would take an iron will and would be unpopular because it would be copyingGermany. They could give tax benefits to cooperatives and other more equitable companies. This would be seen to be unfair, particularly as cooperatives have not had a good track record in theUK, especially cooperatives subsidised by the Government.

What is needed are equitable companies with good track records. First we need to build ‘love your investor and you love your worker’ companies. We need to demonstrate that building on a different foundation is possible and better both ethically and economically. Once people can see the benefits of these companies, people will opt for them, governments will be able to promote them.

A few of us are already seeking to build Christian Equitable Companies, which are neither shareholder companies nor cooperatives. For more details please write to

And I look forward to writing blog posts about other matters as well as economics. Unless you prefer this theme to continue? Leave a comment.

Roger Harper

PS Today I wrote a comment on a Sun newspaper rant against Arch Druid Williams and the Red Bishops. Ignoring the invective, I picked up one good idea – having ‘merchants, medics and mechanical engineers’ in the House of Lords. (See Reforming the Lords: 25 June.)

Europe and Britain’s interests: 12 December

December 12, 2011

David Cameron’s UK veto of the proposed European Treaty to address the ‘financial crisis,’ is a terrible ungodly decision. Not because it isolates theUKfromEurope– geographically, historically, fundamentally, we are semi-detached. Not because it is a refusal to sign up to some sensible rules about governments borrowing money. But because it is proudly based on pursuing our own interests, and the interests of the City ofLondonin particular, without regard for the interests of others. Once again our leaders show how far we are from loving our neighbours as ourselves.

European nations have learnt that the long term interests of one are tied to the interests of others.Germanyhas been able to export so much partly because the Euro is fairly weak. The Euro is weak because other European countries are not so financially healthy asGermany,Greececriminally so. It could easily be argued that it is not inGermany’s interest to prop up much of the rest ofEurope. But German leaders understand that it is inGermany’s interest to continue as part of the fellowship, even if it means paying over the odds for a while. Germans also like to holiday in sunnier places and want to build and continue good relationships with their holiday hosts. German leaders see good sense in looking not to their own interests but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

Britain, by contrast, is still set in looking to our own interests. David Cameron was proud to state that this was what he set out to do. He also said that he is favouring the interests of the City ofLondonover the rest ofEurope. This is crazy. The French President pointed out rightly that it is the financiers, looking to their own interest and those of their wealthy clients, who put us in this mess. The City ofLondonworks for the benefit of those with capital, not for the interests of British business or British people in general. Why should we refrain from helping our partner nations and holiday hosts and help the wealthy few across the world instead? Once again we are subsidising theLondonfinancial services ‘industry’ at the cost of every other industry.

 Giles Fraser, famous for resigning as Canon of St Paul’s, wrote in the Church Times this week decrying recent levels of executive pay, especially in the City ofLondon:

‘Part of this has to do with the indifference of institutional investors, and in particular those big pension funds that own the company. These are the people who ought to be hopping mad that top bankers are getting paid shed-loads of money, even when they are manifestly doing such a poor job.

Yet these big institutional investors don’t seem to care. This is because they are able to sell their shares with such ease that they have little interest in the long-term health of the companies they own…

Top executives come and go; shareholders come and go; the only people who have a long-term interest in a firm such as Barclays are those lower down the management structure, who work there for long periods of time. This is why we need more inclusive employee-representation in the boardroom, as they have inGermany. Many employees invest their lives in the long-term health of a company. They ought to have a greater stake in the decision making.’

Japanese companies, as well as German companies, have more employee participation as part of their structure. Perhaps the two countries have learnt that disaster comes from aggressively pursuing one’s own interests at the expense of others? British workers respond well to such participation.Toyotarecently announced its decision to make its new hatchback in Derbyshire, creating up to 1500 jobs. David Cameron said this was a ‘massive vote of confidence for British manufacturing.’ A distortion of the truth. This is a vote of confidence in British workers alone. British financiers and managers, in British shareholder companies, mishandled those companies, causing all British-owned car manufacturers to collapse. We need to learn the lesson: create companies in which investors and workers look not only to their own interests, properly loving each other as they love themselves.

 Roger Harper