The turbulent priest intervenes

Rowan Williams calls for a Tobin tax and other measures to address the protesters' "moral agenda".

The turbulent priest is back to cause more trouble for the government. In his initial statement on the St Paul's protest, Rowan Williams pointedly noted that "the urgent larger issues raised by the protesters ... remain very much on the table". His thoughtful article in today's Financial Times is an attempt to address them.

Lamenting that there has been "little visible change in banking practices" since the crisis, the Archbishop calls for a Tobin tax on financial transactions as a part of a series of measures to reflect "the moral agenda" of the protesters. It is a welcome and long overdue recognition that, whether or not one agrees with their tactics, the protesters' cause is just. As Williams writes, their protest has been welcomed "by an unexpectedly large number of people as the expression of a widespread and deep exasperation with the financial establishment that shows no sign of diminishing". At the same time, he concedes that many of their demands are "vague", insisting: "it is time we tried to be more specific".

With this mind, he sets out a three-point programme, largely based, in an act of ecumenicism, on the document published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Williams calls for "early government action" to separate retail and investment banking, for the creation of an obligation for banks to "help reinvigorate the real economy" and, most strikingly, for a "Robin Hood Tax" on financial transactions. His intervention is significant not least because, as City AM reveals today, George Osborne, despite his protestations to the contrary, is minded to oppose a Tobin tax even if it is applied globally. In a private letter to bank chiefs, the Chancellor wrote: "I agree there would need to be further discussions about whether any FTT model offers an efficient mechanism to raise revenue."

It is not, you sense, a view that Williams has any sympathy with. He writes:

The objections made by some who claim it would mean a substantial drop in employment and in the economy generally seem to rest on exaggerated and sharply challenged projections - and, more important, ignore the potential of such a tax to stabilise currency markets in a way to boost rather than damage the real economy.

Williams's article, like his coruscating New Statesman leader earlier this year, will trouble some conservatives. But it would be absurd for the leader of the Anglican communion not to respond to a protest that raises urgent questions of fairness and social justice. As it has before, with the 1985 publication of Faith In The City, an excoriating critique of Thatcherism, the Church should lead the debate. Williams's article is an admirable attempt to do so.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Brexit slowdown is real

As Europe surges ahead, the UK is enduring its worst economic growth for five years. 

The recession that the Treasury and others forecast would follow the EU referendum never came. But there is now unmistakable evidence of an economic slowdown. 

Growth in the second quarter of this year was 0.3 per cent, which, following quarter one's 0.2 per cent, makes this the worst opening half since 2012. For individuals, growth is now almost non-existent. GDP per capita rose by just 0.1 per cent, continuing the worst living standards recovery on record. 

That Brexit helped cause the slowdown, rather than merely coincided with it, is evidenced by several facts. One is that, as George Osborne's former chief of staff Rupert Harrison observes, "the rest of Europe is booming and we're not". In the year since the EU referendum, Britain has gone from being one of the west's strongest performers to one of its weakest. 

The long-promised economic rebalancing, meanwhile, is further away than ever. Industrial production and manufacturing declined by 0.4 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively, with only services (up 0.5 per cent) making up for the shortfall. But with real wage growth negative (falling by 0.7 per cent in the three months to May 2017), and household saving at a record low, there is limited potential for consumers to continue to power growth. The pound's sharp depreciation since the Brexit vote has cut wages (by increasing inflation) without producing a corresponding rise in exports. 

To the UK's existing defects – low productivity, low investment and low pay – new ones have been added: political uncertainty and economic instability. As the clock runs down on its departure date, Britain is drifting towards Brexit in ever-worse shape. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.