Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Robin Hood Tax debate

Last night I went to a panel debate about banking, taxation and the Robin Hood Tax organised by CAFOD, St Paul’s Institute, Tearfund and the Salvation Army, held at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The event, expertly chaired by Today programme presenter and former BBC economics editor Evan Davis, was attended by several hundred people all keen to hear what the panellists had to say about whether banks have a responsibility to contribute to the common good and if the proposed Robin Hood Tax is the solution.
The Robin Hood Tax campaign has over a quarter of a million supporters in more than 25 countries worldwide and proposes:
·         A tax of 0.05% on financial transactions such as stocks, bonds, foreign currency and derivatives.
·         Raising up to £20 billion a year in the United Kingdom.
·         Spending 50% of the money on fighting poverty in the United Kingdom, 25% on fighting poverty overseas and 25% on mitigating the effects of climate change around the globe.
Baroness Shirley Williams, prominent Catholic member of the House of Lords and co-founder of the Liberal Democrats, kicked off the debate by putting forward the moral case for the Robin Hood Tax. She pointed out that the argument has existed far longer than the Robin Hood Tax campaign as the idea of the Tobin tax, put forward in the 1970s by the Nobel award winning James Tobin, has been around for a long time. She said that this kind of tax could be the ‘sand in the oyster’ that helps to produce a purer, clearer and fairer banking sector. She lamented the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the unequal society in which we live now and the scandalous bonus culture of the banks, which, she argued, have already gone back to their bad ways.  She showed the audience how much money could be raised to alleviate poverty in the UK, could be spent on international aid and to solve international crises such as climate change.  
The next speaker presented a contrasting view of the Robin Hood Tax. Michael Green, an independent economist and co-author of “The Road from Ruin: A New Capitalism for the Big Society” and “Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World”, began by saying that he is ‘deeply disturbed by the Robin Hood Tax’. He outlined his opposition to the Robin Hood Tax saying that he believes that a tax on banks would be passed on to the customers like you and me. He added that his ‘greatest concern is that the Robin Hood Tax is a distraction from the fundamental reform that global capitalism needs.'
Michael Izza, Chief Executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, was next up in the Robin Hood tax debate. He advocated a currency transaction levy and explained that we have the technology now to make this possible. Izza explained that in real terms, this currency transaction levy would take £5 from every £100,000 transaction, not a huge amount. He concluded by highlighting that the foreign exchange markets are an area of concern: ‘The Foreign Exchange markets are starting to show a lot of ‘bubble-like' characteristics.'
Former Anglican Bishop of Worcester, Rt Revd Peter Selby, concluded this section of the debate with a moral perspective on the financial industry. Although he agreed with the concept of taxing the rich to help the poor, he pointed out that 'taxation doesn't make something that isn't right alright’. He believes that the financial industry needs far more radical reform to serve the common good.
After the speeches, the panel took questions from the floor. There were some fantastic questions including one from Gavin Shuker MP about the possible international implications of the Robin Hood Tax and a question about whether the Robin Hood Tax is revenge for the financial crisis to which Shirley Williams responded that it is not but that it is an act of justice.
Evan Davis, who was chairing the debate, asked the audience a couple of questions about their attitudes to the Robin Hood Tax. He asked us whether we would prefer reform of the banking sector or the Robin Hood Tax, to which the overwhelming proportion preferred the former option. Many of us also said we would like to see both. At the end of the evening, however, the vast majority of the audience attending the debate said they were in favour of the Robin Hood Tax.
The Robin Hood Tax debate was very well organised by the four hosts and took place in a beautiful venue, the standard of debate was high and the arguments compelling, all in all, a very enjoyable and interesting evening.  
Naomi Brandon
Public Affairs Intern at CESEW

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Inter-faith day: Visit to a synagogue and discussing interreligious dialogue

It's been awhile since I've blogged so here I am! We've been very busy recently, meeting new people and learning new things so expect a few blogs explaining what we've been up to.

Meeting God in Friend and Stranger

Last Friday we spent the day with Katharina Muller, who is involved with interreligious dialgoue at the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Eccleston Square. The day began with a session on Meeting God in Friend in Stranger, which is a document put out by the conference on inter-faith dialogue and issues arising from this. During the session we broke down each section dealing with a variety of issues including inter-faith marriage, dialogue between religions and the importance of lay people engaging in dialogue.

The MGFS document was released in 2010 by the Conference, to remind Catholics that we are all called in our Baptism to engage in dialogue with others, even those of other faiths.The document particularly stresses the importance of the lay people, the grass roots, to enter into talks with other faiths and that dialogue can occur in everyday life - not just in Church or between religious leaders.

We also touched on Nostra Aetate, a Vatican doument from 1965. The document is the Church's declaration on the relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, which we were directed to if we wanted to read more on the topic.

Bevis Marks Synagogue

After the enlightening discussion we hopped on the tube to Liverpool Street, to the Bevis Marks Synagogue (1701), the oldest synagogue in the UK and home to a Spanish and Portugese Jewish community.

At the synagogue we were given a talk on the history of the community and the building. The man giving the talk (he sounded like Alan Sugar!) explained how the community had mostly moved away now to Maida Vale, but that Bevis Marks had a growing service attendance, mostly young professionals, due to its central location.

He gave us a potted history as well as the architectural facts about the building. The architect, Joseph Avis, a Quaker, designed the building around the same time as the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. His Quaker background seemed evident from the hard pews! There was also an impressive ornate Ark, which contains the Torah scrolls, and seven candelabra (one for each day of the week). The man created a lovely image of the synagogue lit by candle light alone for weddings during the winter months.

Pointing out a roped off seat the man explained it was for Sir Moses Montefiore. I knew only a little about him before the talk, so it was interesting to hear about his good works. The seat is kept free in tribute to him, and only when there is a Jewish London Mayor - who is 'blessed' at the synagogue rather than St Paul's Cathedral - is someone allowed to sit in it. Prince Charles had the honour for their tercentenary service and Tony Blair for their service marking the 350th annivesary of the settlement of the Jews in Great Britain.

It sounds silly but I hadn't really thought about how other religions also have different strands. Just as Christianity has Catholics and Anglicans, Methodists and so on, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam have separate strands too. It was apparent by the end of the day how different these strands can be, and I found this an important lesson to take away in how I view other faiths. Our experience at the synagogue was an enlightening one, and I found it strange why I hadn't really ever visited another religions place of worship before.

Over a fish lunch (inspired by the Archbishop's pastoral letter) we discussed what we'd learnt, while lamenting our Lenten abstinences - although I did shamelessly enjoy a rather nice piece of fish. Katharina suggested perhaps we could have another inter-faith day, and next time visit a mosque. If the inter-faith session is anything to go by it should be an interesting experience! I'll look forward to it.

Until next time!


P.S The Conference's website has some links if you're interested in reading more about interreligious dialogue...

Friday, 11 March 2011

Interns in the City Day 3: The insiders view with Bill Moyes and Francis Campbell

Sadly today was the end of the three day City intern experience. We ended on a high, meeting Bill Moyes, former Executive Chairman of Monitor - an independent regulator of NHS foundation trusts, and Francis Campbell - former ambassador to the Holy See.

We had a change of scenery today, as we spent our morning at Eccleston Square. First up was Bill Moyes. We had done a little research on Bill before our chat, so our questions stemmed from his time as a civil servant, his work with Monitor and what he felt needed to be done with the NHS now. Bill was open with his suggestions and his criticisms of what the government are doing and gave praise to policy where it was deserved. He gave us lovely anecdotes from his time in the civil service as well as an insight into Margaret Thatcher's time, which he spent at Number 10, as well how the focus changed from parliament to Number 10 during Blair's reign. Our time with Bill was over too quickly, but we were left with a great insight into the world of parliament and practical tips on how to get things done.

Next was Francis Campbell. I'd been dying to have a chat with the former ambassador since we saw him give the Tablet lecture last year and I wasn't disappointed. Campbell explained honestly how he couldn't answer everything for various reasons, but would answer what he could as fully as possible. That he did. A particularly inspiring and touching moment was when he was talking about his new posting to Pakistan, following the death of Bhatti for his faith. We asked if he was worried about going out there as a Catholic. He spoke of his determination to attend Mass while in Pakistan, and his discussions to ensure this happens, he humbly said he realised the threat to his life and was willing to go out there, referring to providence and God's will. Campbell came across as a humble and brave man and I think we all got a lot from our session.

Following our meeting we attending Mass in the chapel at Eccleston Square - a perfect end to an intense, interesting and enlightening three days!

Until next time


Thursday, 10 March 2011

Interns in the City Day 2: Economic explanations with JP Morgan, and sharing stories with Ruth Kelly

Day two began with a brisk walk to JP Morgan in the City of London for a series of presentations. If the flavour of the previous day had been living your faith in the workplace, today was exploring and understanding how London works and learning about the economic crisis.

Malcolm Barr gave the first presentation which was about the UK following the Economic Crisis. I found this talk really helpful as we constantly are told what to think about the current economic climate by the media, but too often the facts are confusing and just make my head spin! Malcolm made the situation easy to understand, explaining the finer details for the 'economic novices' like myself. 

Then it was over to Guidhall, which houses the City of London Corporation to meet Tony, Head of Public Relations. With a huge map behind the meeting room table we were able to see the breadth of London, and all the jobs the authorities do to keep the city going, as well as learning the difference between the City - big C, with the city - small c! I've not been able to visit a park without checking who runs it since!

After an interesting talk on the history of London in a nutshell from Tony, it was back to JP Morgan for a presentation by Sam Panda on the relationship between the City and the Regulators. Sam works in the Government Relations department so he works closely with MPs informing them about how the City and banks work to inform their decision making. His job proved interesting to the interns placed in parliament as well as those interested in policy and influencing MPs' opinions.

To end the day it was a quick tube ride to St James' Street, stopping for a nice lunch with the gang before meeting Rt Hon. Ruth Kelly. Now Head of Client Experience, Wealth and External Wholesale for HSBC (say that more than once!) she spoke about her time in the Cabinet, the problem of conscience in parliament and how she made decisions when it posed a challenge to her career and faith. Ruth shared her experiences with us comparing her experiences of Tony Blair in comparison to Gordon Brown and how things are changing in parliament today.

After over-running on most of our talks we'd soon reached the end of day two in the City. Tomorrow we meet with Bill Moyes, the  former Executive Chairman of quango Monitor, the NHS regulator and Francis Campbell, former ambassador to the Holy See. Can't wait!

Until then!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Interns in the City Day 1: Lord-ing it up!

All of us, including our Brussels intern - Chris, have just finished the first of our three days of intense talks and meetings in the City. Today we met two Lords - Lord Griffiths and Lord Alton.

Our three day stint began with a meeting with Lord Brian Griffiths, Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs. Lord Giffiths kindly gave us his time to talk over what he thought Christian teaching was on wealth and private property, he also entered into a debate over the bonus culture of the banks and the place faith has in the City along with the challenges this presents.

We all found Lord Griffiths' discussion interesting, whether we agreed with all his points or not. It was particularly fascinating to hear the other point of view - hearing what a man from inside the machinations of the City says in defence of bonuses and high spending of the banks. What was especially interesting was Lord Griffiths justification of wealth and private property using the old testament and passages to highlight his points.

After a very tempting buffet lunch including dinky little fish and chips (Ash Wednesday!) we rushed over to the Houses of Parliament to see Lord Alton. Known for his cause driven nature, he spoke of his change from Liberal to an independent due to the difference between the party view and his own on certain issues as well as the importance of making a difference however small.

After a far too short time with Lord Alton (though we covered a lot of ground!) we meandered around parliament with the boys giving us a mini tour. Chris got to properly have a look around for the first time since he'd been in Brussels and we all got to see the amazing view from Andrew's office!

Then it was off to Canary Wharf for Ash Wednesday Mass. Archbishop Vincent Nichols was presiding at a Mass in Barclays Bank plc, which I felt ws an opportunity not to be missed. Arriving early we took a look around the banking district before the start of Mass, and indulging in a snack and tea before Mass (lenten resolutions permitting of course!).

Mass was in the large refectory a few floors up, so after registering and being herded into a huge lift we arrived and were seated. It was nice to have a fellow Newman House resident playing the piano for the Mass as well.

Wednesday was soon over, tomorrow JP Morgan and the City Corporation!

Until next time


Wednesday, 2 March 2011

European Intern: "Jasmin leaves EU between a rock and a hard place"

Madame High Representative Ashton

Half way through the internship with the European Parliament, Chris shares the latest news from Brussels.

The past few months have proven extremely interesting, as far as the diplomatic outreach of the European Union (EU) is concerned (or the lack thereof!). Seeing as my MEP presides an EU Delegation to Northern African countries, the recent developments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, to mention but a few countries involved, have meant that my work has largely focussed on research and analysis of this 'Jasmin revolution'. In addition to this responsibility, I have also been made in charge of providing briefing notes for the higher than usual concentration of media interviews, and even playing a role in preparing parliamentary speeches on the issue.

The amount of heavy criticism for the relatively slow and staggered reaction of EU officials (are you reading Madame High Representative Ashton?) resulted in numerous member states finding themselves 'on the wrong side of history': Sarkozy offering to send riot police to Tunisia to control the uprising for example. The upcoming weeks and months will be crucial in the fruitful democratisation of the region, and in the unfolding of whatever this revolutionary incertitude still has in store politically and economically, namely in reference to the repercussions on Israel and the cost of oil.

All in all, it just goes to show how the life of a political assistant in the European Parliament is one of great variety!