Lincoln Drill Hall

Lincoln Drill Hall
Lincoln Drill Hall

Friday, 30 March 2018

England's churches

Simon Jenkins rightly argues for our church buildings to be used for the broader benefit of local communities. The buildings could continue to to have part set aside for worship. However, he also suggests that they should come into public ownership, possibly paid for by local taxation.
I ask him to pause for thought.

I spent some twenty years working for the church, or do I mean Church, in one way or another. I got to know its organisation at local, diocesan and national levels. I met very many people who were striving to keep the Church, or do I mean church, going?

I found, over the years, many instances where church buildings were being used by local communities for concerts and plays. I found some in use as meeting places. I know of one certainly in use as the village post office.

Medieval churches are now generally sound buildings, but not always warm or dry. Adaption is often needed and that costs money. I say that the structures are generally sound and that is true for now because of the efforts made by congregations and dioceses aided by English Heritage and Lottery funding amongst others. It is only true for now, since maintenance has to be on going.
There is thus a significant cost attached to open and indeed closed churches, as Jenkins recognises.
A key question is how to pay.

In villages, my experience is that voluntary groups of Friends are very successful in attracting financial support from villagers who never go near the church for worship; it is their church. To interfere with this, by imposing local authority ownership or control, would I am sure be a strong disincentive. People like to give, but are not so keen on being taxed. Just witness the outcry caused by chancel repair liabilities.

The model that I have found works well in many size and type of community, but not everywhere.
Simon Jenkins is right to re-ignite this debate. At the very least we need to consider having an imperative placed on Dioceses to enable community use of church buildings.


Saturday, 3 March 2018

Churchill's courage compared to the weak response to Euro-blackmail in Brexit

I have a very old friend who is a committed Brexiteer and who has lived in Australia for the last forty years. I posted recently about my enthusiasm for the latest Churchill film, Darkest Hour. He responded with this comment:

I could not help comparing the courage of Churchill and the nation in facing up to an enemy from the east with the weak responses to Euro blackmail in the Brexit negotiations.

Whilst watching the film the thought occurred to me: what would Churchill be doing now. As another friend said when I mentioned it to him, the choice of precedents from a career of more than sixty years is enormous; you can almost take your pick. So, I pondered further.

In the Second World War Churchill was the arch populist, but that had not always been the case. Up until Dunkirk I would say that public opinion favoured Chamberlain and his efforts to secure peace. The memory of the carnage of the trenches was far too vivid for any sane person to want war. I suspect that very few favoured Hitler, although some wealthy people and others holding right wing views probably did. So, I think that Churchill was in a very lonely place seeing that something wholly undesirable was inevitable.

In order to swing the argument in his favour, he employed undeniably populist techniques by his brilliant use of simple language and imagery. He continued to do this until the war was finally won.

In peacetime, he was strongly in favour of a union of European nations. He did not favour the United Kingdom being a part, but, I suspect, because he was still much wedded to Empire.

I truly don't know what he would have done now. He was not a successful peacetime Prime Minister and so not the first choice as a negotiator. He might have toughed up to the Commission. However, certainly in his later years there is evidence that he would look for a roundabout route to securing his aims. It would have involved his oratory skills, but also his nose for the unexpected route through a problem.

So, I say to my friend, we would probably benefit from him now, not to tough up but to have a little vision on our route and destination.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Banking ten years on

I was lucky enough to be a student during the banking crisis which meant I had time to read about it, research it and indeed to write about it.

I remember my anger at reckless and greedy bankers. I remember too the calm reflection that pointed the finger at me, at us. Bankers may have been reckless and greedy, but we, as members of pension schemes, wanted our pensions. If we had savings, we wanted a return.

The reality though was that high returns were a thing of the past. Chinese surpluses had provided all the cash the western world needed and interest rates could be rock bottom. It didn't matter.

We have now lived through ten years of rock bottom interest rates. From time to time amazing investments appear, only to disappear. Ironically for British investors Brexit provided a shot in the arm: a weaker pound meant that the non sterling earnings of global British companies were worth more overnight. Returns have been good and will remain so, unless we decide to invest in the UK economy which, what any one says, is suffering.

As a nation we can no longer pay our way. Look at the evidence:
The NHS needs billions more just to stand still.
University lecturers want decent pensions; actually everybody does. The reality is that the investment returns simply aren't there to provide them.
We are desperately short of housing, yet houses have never been more valuable.
Government outsourcing was meant to be a panacea. Now outsourcing companies are losing money and going bust.
High Street names failing to survive

Labour wants to take over banking so that banks lend to businesses rather than providing mortgages on over priced residential property or providing ever increasing credit card debt. This is laudable but it ignores what banks have become. They are global. They make a good slice of their money from trading currency and securities and this profit provides much needed tax revenue. There is no longer the bank manager in his sober grey suit. The world has moved on.

Any government seeking to address the economic issues facing this country needs to take the country as it is, not as it was in the 1950s. It needs to recognise that it can only effect change if it works with like minded governments of like minded nations. It can do nothing alone.
The scene of the 'march of shock' following the referendum result.

Ian Jack's article is a helpful reference