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When I was Archbishop of Canterbury, I regularly found that it was work in the area of international development that most engaged and inspired me. I was delighted when Christian Aid invited me to become its new Chair and gave me a chance to carry on this involvement.
Supporting people in developing countries and fighting the causes of poverty and injustice demands sustained dedication, perhaps now more than ever, when people in rich countries are themselves struggling with austerity.
Christian Aid has been helping people in poverty since just after the Second World War and Christian Aid Week – from 12 until 18th May – is the UK’s longest-running door to door fundraising event.
The week is financially crucial for the charity. But it has other benefits too: it brings neighbours and churches together in a common cause and encourages people to take a global perspective. Most simply, it gives them a chance to make a concrete difference in the lives of people less fortunate than themselves.
But this means we have to ask, ‘What will do most to make such a difference in the long term?’ Ambulance work is never enough. And Christian Aid’s major campaign in recent years has been on a subject now gathering tremendous political attention across the world. That subject is tax.
If people are to be helped out of poverty and enabled to take some control of their lives, they need effective government, reliable public infrastructure, health care and education; and this depends on fair and effective taxation. When companies fail to pay their fair share in tax in developing economies, the results are even more serious than they are in a still relatively secure economy like ours.
Christian Aid highlighted the tax problems facing people both at home and in developing countries last year when, along with Church Action on Poverty, we sent a Tax Bus on a tour of the UK. Christian Aid supporters met with MPs up and down the country, including the leaders of all three main parties, to declare their solidarity with the poor and their hope for a fairer global tax system.
And tax evasion and avoidance are particularly devastating for developing countries, because their tax authorities are even less able than our own to compete for the costly services of tax lawyers and accountants who advise multinationals. As a result, poor countries collect far less tax than rich ones, relative to the size of their economies.
The shortfall in tax revenue can make the difference between life and death. It weakens already shaky public services such as clinics and hospitals, reduces support for small farmers and harms or destroys safety nets for people who would otherwise face extreme poverty and hunger.
Christian Aid is one of some 180 organisations making the link between tax dodging and hunger this year as part of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. We are arguing that IF multinationals and wealthy individuals paid their taxes, governments would have vastly more funds available to tackle the hunger and deprivation that still afflict so many.
The world produces more than enough food for everyone. Yet there are still some 868 million men, women and children who go hungry, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). That is one-in-eight of the world’s population.
With tax justice, governments could end such suffering. The FAO cites an estimate that the cost of creating a world free from hunger is $50.2bn in extra spending every year between now and 2025. The money would need to be invested in fostering rural development and self-reliance in food production, creating sustainable patterns of land use making responsible use of natural resources, and securing social safety nets for people suffering from hunger.
But tax evasion by multinational companies drains away some $160bn annually from the economies of poorer nations, according to a Christian Aid estimate. That sum is far more than these nations receive in aid.
In a new report released on Sunday, ‘Who Pays the Price? Hunger: The Hidden Cost Of Tax Injustice’, Christian Aid pinpoints the disturbing levels of hunger and malnutrition in India, Ghana and El Salvador and examines the staggering amounts of corporate tax that all three countries lose as a result both of tax dodging and of the use of official tax incentives to attract foreign investment. This report includes new research on multinationals with operations in India, indicating that those with links to tax havens paid 30% less in corporation tax than those without such links.
The report concludes by urging political leaders worldwide to put an end to the financial secrecy which serves the interests of tax evaders and avoiders everywhere. And it is important to remember that it is financial secrecy that fuels corruption as well, and so holds back good governance in many countries.
The UK is especially well-placed to do so this year, as chair of the G8. I’ve been encouraged by the energy and attention that ministers and other Parliamentarians are devoting at the moment to tax-related investigations and reforms.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee and International Development Committee have made excellent recommendations on domestic and international tax problems. Ministers have made some significant progress in tackling the financial secrecy on sale in UK-linked tax havens such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. At European and OECD levels, there is valuable work on improving corporate transparency and taxation.
But the crucial remaining task is to ensure that these reforms involve and are of benefit to poor as well as rich countries. For instance, when tax havens are required to share information about foreign taxpayers’ bank accounts, they should have to share it with all governments – not merely the most powerful ones.
Some will argue that individuals and companies should be free to reduce their tax liability wherever they can: after all, they are not breaking the law. It will be important to ask hard questions about how the law can and should work in this connection. But the crucial thing is to recognise that mere legality doesn’t guarantee moral credibility. After all, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was once legal.
Both our personal actions and those of global companies impact directly for good and ill on our fellow human beings. The person giving at the door to Christian Aid is making a vital difference to the lives of others; so is the tax lawyer. As Government continues to legislate and negotiate internationally on tax reform, I hope they will be seeking consistently to make the right kind of difference for the most vulnerable.
The lamps are going out all over Europe. We will not see them lit again in our lifetime”. It is for these famous words, uttered on the outbreak of the First World War, that Sir Edward Grey will always be chiefly remembered. They reflect the overwhelming sadness felt by the British statesman who had carried almost alone the heavy responsibility of trying to avert the catastrophe.
Asquith, a brilliant peace-time Prime Minister, left policy in the hands of his Foreign Secretary to an extent that would be inconceivable today. The reputation of the entire Liberal Government rested with him when he rose in the House of Commons on 3 August 1914 to give a full account of the events that had shattered the peace of Europe. A leading Conservative opponent wrote: “Grey’s speech was very wonderful – I think in the circumstances one may say the greatest speech delivered in our time.”
Grey was Foreign Secretary for 11 years, a longer unbroken period than either Palmerston or Castlereagh. Does he match them in greatness? Opinion has always been sharply divided. Grey’s critics have been numerous and persistent. This book gives them short shrift, insisting that Grey belongs at the very forefront of the diplomats’ pantheon.
Michael Waterhouse, an accomplished and experienced writer, admires his subject profoundly. Grey was indeed an estimable person. Few successful politicians can honestly exclude ambition from the motives that brought them to Westminster; Grey was one of the select few. “I was really always miserable and out of place in public life,” he confessed in old age. He found true fulfilment only in the countryside for which he felt a deep spiritual affinity akin to Wordsworth’s. He produced beautifully written, bestselling works on fly-fishing and ornithology, on both of which he was a leading expert. As Waterhouse observes, “no other public figure wrote with such colour, passion and knowledge on the countryside as did Edward Grey”. No other public figure would have preferred to have devoted his entire career to the countryside.
High ideals of public service overcame his innate distaste for political life. Arthur Balfour, the Tory leader, regarded him as a remarkable combination of “an old-fashioned Whig and a Socialist”. He wanted to transform Britain as radically as Lloyd George. He advocated the compulsory purchase of land by local authorities to cover England in small farms of 50 to 200 acres. He condemned the House of Lords even more vehemently than Lloyd George. Whereas the Welsh wizard was content to clip its wings, Grey wanted to abolish and replace it. In 1910 he proposed “a new Second Chamber, much smaller in size than the House of Commons, based upon the elective principle, with, if desired, a minority of distinguished life-members”. What a pity that Nick Clegg has no interest in history. Grey ought to be his hero.
A paragon in public, Grey was much less virtuous in private life. His wife insisted that they live together as sister and brother. He sought other company. Waterhouse has examined closely his dalliances with various women. He matched, perhaps even exceeded, Lloyd George in the frequency of his conquests. A bevy of illegitimate children is attributed to him, plausibly in every case, as Waterhouse shows, though there is no absolute proof.
This book provides a remarkable portrait of a double life. Famed for his calm public rectitude, Grey emerges here as a man of great private passion, promiscuously indulged.
Could this complex man have stopped the lamps going out? No one could have done more for the cause of peace. Waterhouse concludes that “he prepared his country for what many saw as the inevitable conflict and, although exhausted and half blind, he was the only European statesman who fought hard for peace during the July crisis” – the supreme moment in Grey’s career which is described here in all its complexity with brilliant clarity. The odds against him were too great. As Grey himself wrote, “Germany has the most powerful army in the world and it is at the command of a madman”. The Kaiser and his military commanders who were thirsting for war, put the lamps out. Grey’s patient diplomacy in the cause of freedom is rightly and eloquently applauded in this important book which must rank among the finest political biographies of recent years.
Journalists like to reflect on our current mood of ‘anti-politics’ – cynical electors, low turnout, UKIP hoovering up the votes with a ‘none of the above’ programme, like the Five Star ‘Grillini’ in Italy. If this is so, this sparkling performance of James Graham’s This House at the National Theatre could have a huge and enduring appeal. It focuses on the chaotic years of a largely minority Labour Government in 1974-9, with the Labour and Conservative whips’ offices both plunged into manoeuvres and misdemeanours. The Labour whips’ office, focusing on the deputy whip, Walter Harrison, is knee-deep in desperate skulduggery to keep a tottering administration in office for a five-year term, dragging in not just the ambulance vote but the actually dying in the person of poor Sir Alfred Broughton, locking up the drunken Nationalist publican (and republican) Frank Maguire in a cupboard, fixing that Harrison votes simultaneously in two key committee sessions by being counted as two-thirds of a person, wheeler-dealing with the ‘odds and sods’ of Celtic minority parties, conducting late-night love-ins with the 13 Liberals. The Conservatives, turning pairing arrangements off and on like a bar-room tap, are scarcely more reputable. What both sides share is an alleged inability to complete a sentence without swearing, be it robust Northern industrial or feline public-school smut. There is an air of permanent frenzy. One climax comes when Michael Heseltine swings a manic mace, Labour backbenchers bellow ‘The Red Flag’ and honourable members slug it out in the lobbies. The irony of the denouement, a one-vote defeat for the Government and Mrs. Thatcher bizarrely pronouncing the peaceful gospel of St. Francis of Assisi, is rich indeed.
However, commentators, even more historians, need not see this play as a parable for our times. It is basically ripe entertainment, even slapstick with interludes of rock music, and no kind of cautionary chronicle for today. There are obvious improbabilities – an unlikely David Steel portrayed in totally fictitious negotiations; my former room-mate Jeff Rooker shown in talks on the Rooker-Wise amendment while being publicly shaved by a Sweeney Todd look-alike; the absurd proposition that the whips office had advance notice of Harold Wilson’s coming resignation as Prime Minister. The assorted Scots, Welsh and Irish are stage caricatures, while a memorable Norman St John-Stevas shimmies like a refugee from Strictly Come Dancing. The actual voting issues are all jumbled up in sweaty confusion – devolution, Grunwick, Rooker-Wise, Northern Ireland. It must be difficult for laymen, especially those under forty, to make much sense of it. Sticking to the actual chronology of events might have made things clearer, though also maybe rather duller. Finally, this is party politics with the politics left out. The great issues of the time – the IMF crisis, the Europe referendum, Rhodesia, strikes and union power – are noises off, drowned by the playground mayhem of the lobbies and noisy tantrums in the rival whips’ offices, where Labour’s Ann Taylor is a rare voice of sense and sensibility. All the giants, Prime Minister Callaghan, Healey, Foot, Benn, Margaret Thatcher (once manoeuvred into the leadership), Heath, Whitelaw, need never have been. Most important, perhaps, for the play’s central theme, it wasn’t a time of mayhem all the time. For 18 months from March 1977 the Lib-Lab pact gave the Government some stability, during which time the economy perked up and Callaghan blossomed as leader. Even the much-tried Michael Cocks and Walter Harrison could calm down and spend more time with their families.
In fact, what this play may convey is not that all politicians are neurotic twisters, but that the essential theatricality of their calling could suggest warm and deeply human values. This House is not really about politics but it implies that it could be exciting and a kind of masochistic fun. The final coming together of Harrison and Jack Wetherill, two fundamentally decent men, even shows that a sense of honour could seep in through the floorboards. Mr. Graham’s audiences could end up giving at least two cheers for democracy – as long as they don’t take it all too seriously.
It is not difficult to imagine Nigel Farage at the Bar of the House. I am thinking not so much of the line marking the boundary of the chamber, more of Strangers’ Bar. Farage would fit in well there, supping a pint of bitter or a large glass of red wine, cackling with laughter at the jokes made by Labour MPs or nodding a good natured hello at Tories who have popped in for a swift gin and tonic. Of course, the UKIP leader would need to slip outside regularly for a cigarette, but is there a finer designated smoking area in the country than that set aside on the terrace?
Farage may soon be a regular fixture inside the Palace of Westminster. If he chooses to fight the right seat at the 2015 general election, perhaps a three way marginal where the established parties are vulnerable, he will be in with a very good chance of becoming his party’s first MP. During the campaign he is all but guaranteed to receive an enormous amount of national media attention that will be hugely valuable locally. Even his exclusion from the leaders televised debates – if they happen next time – will assist the UKIP leader in promoting himself as the plucky outsider taking on the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems.
Historically, Westminster has tended to be uncomfortable with plucky outsiders and new parties that exist outside the established system. The chamber, the infrastructure of Westminster, the committee structure and the culture of the place are built around a two party set-up, or for now a three party system. The first nationalist MPs found the place very unwelcoming when they arrived and on the unusual occasions when an independent MP makes it to the Commons they tend to find it hard to make themselves heard.
None of that will worry Farage, even if he ends up being UKIP’s sole MP. Any insults or snubs by fellow MPs would bounce off. He is made of steely stuff and he is extraordinarily driven. Indeed, as the UKIP leader readies himself for the European elections and then the General Election, his confidence – already pretty high before the local elections in which his party made progress – is now soaring.
No wonder Farage is so upbeat. UKIP under his leadership has turned itself into the most powerful political party in Britain, even without representation at Westminster. Regardless of what one thinks of its thin policy portfolio, it is having an extraordinary degree of influence by reshaping the landscape and reordering the priorities of the two largest parties.
The Conservatives did seem to have developed a fairly settled European policy. After much debate they settled on renegotiation after the next election and then an in/out EU referendum. Until the local elections it appeared that position would hold. Now, driven by fear of Farage and a desire to reconnect with some of their voters who have defected, the pressure is on David Cameron from some in his party to do more and go further. The draft referendum bill has been published and some Tories, ignoring the realities of coalition, demand that it gets Government time.
Labour is also more worried about how to respond than it appears. For all the glee about Conservative discomfort, the party’s strategists know that UKIP is hitting its vote too. In this month’s poll by ICM Labour was down at just 34 points, six points ahead of the Conservatives but at a level that is pretty disappointing for a party aiming to return to power in less than two years.
Nigel Farage, wanting out of the EU, is determined to disrupt the old order and shake up Westminster. Unless David Cameron or Ed Miliband have a good plan for stopping him, the UKIP leader may soon be toasting his success with a drink in Strangers’ Bar. Make Nigel’s a large one.
Towards the end of his career, playwright Terence Rattigan might have wondered what he’d done wrong. With his work deemed out of time as a nation threw itself into the 1960s, Rattigan fell out of fashion and out of sight.
Half a century on, however, the Old Vic’s production of Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy thrives on old-fashioned virtues which make great theatre: a strong script, a collection of powerful performances, and a simple but perfectly constructed set.
And with a story which takes in media intrusion, as the Winslow family try to deal with 13 year-old Ronnie’s ejection from his naval college after being accused of stealing a five shilling postal cheque, the play even manages to makes itself relevant for 2013. “Whatever you say will have little bearing on what they write” is the script’s damning assessment of the fourth estate, a line which had a post-Leveson era audience laughing all too knowingly.
Henry Goodman, fresh from his turn as Sir Humphrey Appleby, captures the obstinacy and pride of Mr Winslow but still portrays a sympathetic character who clearly loves his children. He is a father prepared to drop everything to fund the fight for Ronnie’s reputation: his daughter’s prospective marriage and his elder son’s Oxford education both fall by the wayside as Ronnie takes precedence, with Arthur Winslow’s own health deteriorating throughout the play.
The part of Ronnie is played by 16 year old Charlie Rowe, with the Old Vic’s youngest ever lead deserving of many other central turns to come. Rowe takes part in the play’s most enjoyable moment, when he goes head to head with Sir Robert Morton, an emotionally repressed and struttingly self-confident barrister.
Played superbly by a sneering Peter Sullivan, the role of Sir Robert might have a few Tory MPs harking back to the glory days of late night sittings and part-time careers as he effortlessly juggles his Commons duties with his legal pursuits. In his day job as a lawyer, Morton is employed by the Winslows to defend Ronnie, with his relentlessly brutal interrogation of the boy undoubtedly the play’s most dramatic and entertaining moment.
Unfortunately it came just before the interval, leaving the second half somewhat struggling to scale the heights of the final scenes of the first.
And as the play winds its way towards conclusion, the drama seems to wither away with the audience – at least on the night I attended – more likely to laugh at the exchanges between the Winslows and their friends and neighbours than gasp as the family pay the price for their determination to prove Ronnie’s innocence. Perhaps the upper middle class angst of post-Edwardian Londoners has lost a little poignancy, but at times it felt as though the reaction was not the one Rattigan had intended.
Indeed, with the real Winslow Boy, George Archer-Shee, upon whom the story is based, ending up in an unknown grave after being killed at Ypres, a tragic undercurrent runs through the story. Somehow that seems to vanish as Ronnie finds himself happily in a new school, his older brother Dickie (Nick Hendrick) embraces an easy life in a Reading bank, and his suffragette sister Catherine (Naomi Frederick) fails to crack the steely shell of the family’s legal saviour.
Perhaps, as in the 1960s, something of Rattigan’s script found itself lost in translation. But director Lindsay Posner should otherwise be congratulated for this impressive, entertaining, and well-crafted adaption. Like the boy at the centre of the story, this is a play that very much deserves its second chance.