I am surprised that no one takes any notice when Justin Welby says that our economic model is broken. I was taught at school that the Archbishop of Canterbury is the second most important person in the land. Do we do longer grant people in authority due deference and respect? Should the Church of England and the House of Windsor worry for their future?
Or are we so accustomed to senior clerics sounding off, in the manner of Robert Runcie and David Jenkins, that we turn a deaf ear. Welby’s article in the Financial Times was dumped in the looney lefty prelate bin by the popular press . What a pity, as he knows about finance and economics and had something important to say.
But then experts are the last people we listen to. When the Head of NATO says the world is a more dangerous place today than it has been for a generation, nobody bats an eyelid. When the United Nation’s rapporteur on human rights say the government is “flouting” its duties on air pollution, no one expects any action. When endless experts, most recently the Chairman of John Lewis, tell us that Brexit will be a disaster, it only strengthens the resolve of those proclaiming the opposite course.
We are so overwhelmed by finding a way out of Europe that we have locked down our systems that relate to the state of the world, the health of the nation or the injustices in our society. We are not accepting new information, discordant views or uncomfortable facts. We are hunkered down and scared.
“Britain stands at a moment of significant economic uncertainty” Justin Welby writes in prophetic mode “ a watershed moment, where we need to make fundamental choices about the sort of economy we need for the way we want to live”
He believes “we are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising”. He points to the growing gap between executive pay and average wages; the lack of pay rises for more than a decade and the fall in living standards in his past postings in Liverpool and Durham. He suspects that the resulting discontent fed into the referendum and general election results.
The Archbishop’s article announced the interim report of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice, on which he sits alongside academics, business people and Sara Bryson, a community organiser from Newcastle. “The British economy today is not generating rising prosperity for a majority of the population” the report concludes. It notes that young people are poorer than the previous generations at the same age and that UK remains among the most unequal countries in western Europe.
The Commission believes that the 2008 global financial crisis has precipitated a breakdown like the Great Depression of the 1930s and the oil crisis of the 1970s. It requires the kind of radical change that we last saw under the Attlee government and the Thatcher government to “define a new settlement for the 21st century”.
IPPR calls for reforms of our institutions that will include devolution. It wants to see the economy become more competitive and innovative and be rewired for social justice. In the next stage of its work, the Commission will consider how to promote better paid and more secure jobs, reform the tax system and adopt new approaches to housing. We must wait until the final report appears next year to know how this wish list will come about. But this is a promising start.
It is just possible that someone was listening to Justin Welby and his fellow commissioners as the cap on public sector pay has been lifted. It has been handled in a ham fisted way that has not satisfied the police and prison officers, who have been offered small increases, or the nurses and teachers who have not. A winter of discontent could be ahead.
It is just this kind of muddle that IPPR is worried about. Comprehensive change is needed to produce a new alignment for the next thirty years that reduces inequality. But who will listen until Brexit has run its weary way ?
The second season of Kynren, the spectacular outdoor pageant of English history within sight of Justin Welby’s former home at Bishop Auckland, came to end this weekend. I am intrigued by the economic model of Eleven Arches, the production company responsible for the event, which would fall apart without 1500 volunteers who give up their weekends all through the summer.
The self styled ‘Archers’ are gaining skills, growing in confidence and taking ownership according to Eleven Arches They are motivated by wanting to revive the fortunes of their town and, on both my visits, have been foot perfect on stage and remorselessly cheerful as stewards off stage. They could not have been more helpful well into the night to a member of our party taken ill last week.
The investment comes from the new owner of Auckland Castle, the wealthy Jonathan Ruffer. Who else would have had the courage to back a business plan which depends on engaging, training and retaining such a massive volunteer force who could walk away at any point? It is an astonishing testament to community spirit and it shows that radical new approaches are possible.
Published in Newcastle Journal 19th Sept 2017