After the film “The UK Gold” last night my mind went back to a conference of the Student Christian Movement fifty years ago. It was called by the newly appointed General Secretary, Bishop Ambrose Reeves, who had been expelled from apartheid South Africa. The title was “Nationalism, Neutralism and Neocolonialism”. The argument was that the end of the British Empire which was then being achieved year by year would lead, unless we did something, to a more subtle economic domination. It was heady stuff and even I thought it a bit over the top. My father recently retired from the colonial service and my mother an SCM member for the 1930s were both furious as what they saw as mindless left-wing propaganda. Alas, after seeing the film last night and reading the associated documents, I cannot but conclude that SCM conference was prophetic.
The picture we are presented with is a web of tax havens across the world to which all too many individuals and, above all, multi-national corporations can divert their funds in order to avoid tax and keep what they are doing secret. At least half of these jurisdictions are former parts of the British Empire and in some cases still have Governor Generals capable of taking final decisions on behalf of the Crown. Money from dictators or dodgy commercial dealings can if necessary be laundered through trust funds, and the widespread stretch of the British maritime empire from the Caribbean to Singapore, together with the City of London as its hub, can ensure that there can be a ready interchange between the hegemonies of the dollar, the pound, the euro and the yen. Most amazing to me was that all this had been going on under my nose while like Rip Van Winkle I was asleep until wakened by reading extracts from a book by Nicholas Shaxson about tax havens in 2011.
The present situation is grossly unjust, primarily to the ordinary people of poor nations who are taken advantage of – this subterranean web fostering collusion with unjust rulers or a kleptocratic elite – but also to the ordinary businesses and citizens of the UK who have to pay the more tax when others pay less. Furthermore the golden calf of the City of London diverts attention from other regions and sectors of the UK economy. Finally, like so much that is unjust, it is also fundamentally foolish. Hate begets hate. Greed begets greed. Exploitation brings nemesis in its wake. Will the guardians of the dollar and continue to allow London to steal a march on them by such cheating? How will the new Bric economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China react? Certainly with no sympathy unless it is to outdo the experts at their own game?
At the G8 our Prime Minister spoke about the need for action but so far precious little has been done. I only hope he is sincere and his government effective. Otherwise some of the words of Bishop Ambrose Reeves come back to me. Talking about South Africa in the 1960s he said some such words: “It may surprise you that many Africans fighting apartheid prefer dealing with the Afrikaners to the British. The former may be brutal and reactionary but at least they are honest. You know where you are with them. As for the English, they entirely sympathise with you, they make lofty statements on your behalf. But they do precisely nothing!”
(c) John Nightingale 22nd November 2013
Some 80 or so MPs and campaigners were present. It was the fifteenth anniversary of Jubilee Debt Campaign (formerly Jubilee 2000)
Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells, saw JDC as a movement of ordinary people. He recalled Bill Peters who had the original idea and was at time the chair of USPG while he Peter was the General Secretary. Bill had asked him for £1,000 to get the idea off the ground. Though they were sort of men, they agreed. Bill, together with Martin Dent, got the vision going. The change had come about through grass-roots action, from the bottom up. “When debts are remitted, lives are changed.” New life had been made possible thanks to the people, faith leaders and parliament.
Bhai Mohinder Singh from the Sikh Community recalled how the Sikh Scriptures spoke of there being one God and the human race being one large family; God abhors our exploiting other human beings – our own kith and kin. The different faiths could agree about the millennium goals and about the principles of compassion and love. His Sikh community held continuous days of prayer for peace and prosperity for all. A global infrastructure was required, and a just and fair financial system. There should be responsible lending and borrowing, with a proper debt work-out mechanism. He had been delighted to sign the faith leaders’ letter. There were enough resources in the world as long as people were not greedy. It was greed that led to financial crises.
Rabbi Sybil Sheridan from The Movement for Reform Judaism referred to the book of Leviticus chapter 25 verse 10 by which, in the year of Jubilee every 50 years, liberty was ensured for everyone in the land. People’s ancestral lands which might have been sold to others were then restored to them. Wealth then was seen not so much as a wealth but as a gift from God, with corresponding responsibilities to take care of the widows, the orphans and the strangers; neighbours who had become slaves were to have their liberty bought back. The same principle should be followed today through the development of some sort of international bankruptcy procedure by which indebted nations could have their situations resolved.
The Revd Dr Mark Wakelin, President of the Methodist Conference, said that organisations like JDC encouraged us to change our narrative so that politicians could change the world.
Trisha Rogers, a past Director of JDC and Vice Chair of the British Humanist Association felt honoured to be present. Humanist values, she said, included thinking for oneself with reason, empathy and compassion, respect for the individual, democracy and cooperation. Unfortunately international debt was not subject to the safeguards that applied to lending within the UK where judges could overrule repayment conditions that were unfair; international loans were often to the advantage of the lender and the conditions unreasonable
Nick Dearden, current Director of JDC, spoke of the success of JDC over the years in putting pressure on the G8 and holding governments to account. The most important change had not in fact been the $130 debt relief achieved but rather the change in values – the principle that debt should not always be repaid, irrespective of circumstances or consequences. That was still relevant for another generation since we now had a debt crisis on our own doorstep, with the worst features of the Latin American experience applied to Europe. It was not acceptable for the poorest to be paying the price of the errors of the rich. Justice required not just a one-off cancellation of debt but, in the pattern of the biblical Jubilee, a continuous process within the world economy. A spiritual renewal was needed, the equivalent today of the abolition of slavery, something once thought utopian but which actually happened. We needed to think the impossible and embark on a major fight against soaring inequality and deep levels of world poverty. He expressed his thanks for the past and looked forward to further cooperation in the future.
I am very much looking forward to attending the Crash Conference at the University of Aston. The purpose of this is to bring together all the many people concerned about economic justice. Also to give confidence to those of us who feel inhibited because of its complexity and so empower us to speak out. Great speakers. It’s free but please register as soon as possible.
The financial crisis and what to do about it.
From Birmingham to Barcelona and beyond
Saturday 24th November 2012
10.30 – 17.00
Main Building, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham, B4 7ET
If you want to understand how the global economy got into such a mess, and what to do about it this event is for you!
The financial crisis has led to wide-ranging cuts to public services, job losses and massive bank bailouts in the UK. This isn’t the first time this has happened – countries across the global South have experienced the same process after devastating debt crises from the 1970s to the present day.
Find out about the history of the present financial crisis, understand the basics of how it happened and the impacts it is having on social justice in the UK and around the world.
Whether you are interested in global justice, or the UK anti-cuts movement, whether you know a bit about the economy, or nothing at all, this event is for you.
– Roger McKenzie, UNISON Assistant General Secretary
– Nick Dearden of Jubilee Debt Campaign
– Iolanda Fresnillo Spanish Debt and anti-austerity activist
& more to be announced
Workshops will include:
How to understand the financial crisis | What would a fair economy look like? | Tax Justice in the UK and around the world | How to communicate effectively about the financial crisis | Direct action taster session | Local economies in the West Midlands | Eurozone crisis: what is going on? | and others…
This is a free event, but please register by phone 020 7324 4722 or at www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/crashto help us plan.
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Current contributors include: Jubilee Debt Campaign Birmingham, West Midlands Office of Christian Aid, student campaigners and the event is supported by People & Planet and Jubilee Debt Campaign UK.
In an article in the Guardian of 9th October John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, calls for a new Jubilee.
He points out that today the poorest in our society – in the richer nations as well as the poorer – are suffering the most from a financial crisis caused for the most part by the greed and speculation of the wealthy. He argues that a new Jubilee today requires lenders and borrowers jointly to share risk so that the burden of debt is shared
Second, governments should reckon to raise funds not just by borrowing but progressive taxes, including those for companies and investors. Thirdly there must be rules for financial markets to work better. Regulation of capital flows should help to shift money from being a means of speculation to that of exchanging goods.
Points that are covered in jubilee for Justice
Add you support and read the article in full
Rev John Nightingale Chairman of Jubilee Debt campaign Birmingham group
International debt week.
October 8th – 15th is International Debt Week. A moment when campaigners around the world can reflect on the global poor country debt situation.
It is all to easy to perhaps think there is, nothing I can do about such a huge problem.This was certainly the view of some when we began the campaign here in the Midlands.
Dr Martin Dent at Keele University played a key role but the seminal moment was in 1998 when a “Human Chain” was formed around the G8 leaders at the Birmingham summit. 100,000 people coming together in such a peaceful and purpose way.That began the focus of a huge number of people from all faiths and none.
Now in this International Debt week JDC can tell everyone that $130 billions of debt has been cancelled for 34 countries. That means children in school, vaccines given and the fight against poverty begun across the world. We have done something at least. But we fully realise its not enough and have to involve more and more people in the campaign.
It is encouraging that the Jubilee Debt has now become a global movement particular strong in USA where they have special events in the coming Jubilee weekend.
Jewish Christians and Muslims all taking part in the actions.
Here in the UK we will be focussing on getting more Faith Leaders to sign the letter ( 253 so far)to PM. Across the country the Jubilee for Justice petition and the paper chains grow every day .
Now we need to reflect on new ways to take the message to new generation of campaigners seeking Jubilee for Justice in 2012. there are lots of ways to help during the week a prayer a donation your ideas and encouragement too.
Jubilee for Justice petition continues to grow. more and more people are signing up on our paper chain links and even celebrate the completion of each chain by taking photos and wearing them at each event.
The Methodist Birmingham District Synod saw Rev Bill Anderson wearing some of the paper chains beside the Faith in Action banner which had been made by the women attending a multi faith workshop earlier in the year. The hand sewn red chains were another novel way of raising awareness through art.
Dozens of Methodist clergy have now signed the Faith leaders letter to the PM. The total number from across many different faith groups stands at approximately 250 persons.
The Zimbabwean Fellowship meeting at Selly Oak Birmingham also signed up in large numbers. Inspired by reading the report on Debt in Zimbabwe.
Do please get in touch if we can have space at one of your meetings to collect more signatures and make this a meaningful Jubilee year for all.
The target is 15,000 chain links with lots more photos.