What Would Jesus Donate?: The Big Money Behind St Paul’s

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[First published in The Morning Star, 29/10/11. This piece was filed on Thursday, the day before the Cathedral announced it would take legal action to evict the protesters.]

The public furore around London’s occupation movement hit a new peak on Thursday when the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral quit, reportedly over internal pressure to take legal action against the social activists of Occupy London Stock Exchange who have sought sanctuary on the cathedral’s steps for the last fortnight.

The Revd Giles Fraser, who the campers regard as an ally within the church, issued a statement just days before his resignation insisting that rumours the cathedral had closed its doors for commercial reasons were “complete nonsense.”

But in light of his sudden exit and the cathedral’s loss of income – an estimated £20,000 a day – it’s worth taking a look at who does control the cathedral’s purse strings.

For that we must look to the St Paul’s Cathedral Foundation and its board of 10 trustees, which channelled £1.3 million worth of funds into the cathedral last year alone.

There’s the chairman Sir John Stuttard, a former lord mayor and sheriff who racked up 30 years as a partner at the multinational auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers, taking two years off in the early ’80s to join the Central Policy Review Staff advising the Thatcher government’s privatisation agenda.

After leaving PwC in 2005 he was elected lord mayor of the city of London, a role typically understood as an ambassador for Britain’s financial industry, and he appears to have done a bang-up job of defending its reputation.

In one instance in 2007 – just six months before the collapse of Northern Rock – Sir John led a public outcry over a US Securities & Exchange Commission chief’s description of London’s high-risk alternative investment market as a “casino.”

Such comments were “inaccurate, injudicious and inflammatory,” he said.

Indeed, Sir John assured the Guardian that Britain had “quite a mature, benign regulatory environment, which stops excesses, abuses and systemic risk.”

It seems unlikely that Sir John would personally side with the protesters but, that said, he is only the chairman. So who else is on the board?

There’s Dame Helen Alexander DBE – deputy chairwoman of the right-wing Confederation of British Industry, the largest and most influential business lobby group in the country. Much like Sir John, she beams confidence in the neoliberal status quo.

On her appointment to the confederation in 2009 amid a national uproar over CEO pay and bonuses, she said: “I think it should be left up to individual companies and remuneration committees to make sure that they get that right. It is serious stuff and they need to take it very seriously.”

Dame Helen is also a director of energy giant Centrica, whose subsidiaries Scottish and British Gas notoriously raised gas and electricity prices by double digits this year despite reporting £1.3 billion in profits.

Dame Helen is incidentally also chairwoman of its remuneration committee, which less than three months later awarded nearly £16m in bonuses to Centrica board members, including a split of £3.2m between just five executive directors.

Then there’s Carol Sergeant CBE. Having worked as the Financial Services Authority’s managing director for regulatory process and risk, Sergeant left in 2004 to join Lloyds TSB as its chief risk director.

By 2009, the bank stood on the brink of collapse and was salvaged only by a £260bn taxpayer bailout in which the bank became 65 per cent state owned.

Yet before the year was out Sergeant was advising Chancellor George Osborne on his plans to disband the Financial Services Authority altogether, and rumour in the City suggests she is now tipped to lead whatever organisation replaces it.

And the list goes on. There’s her one-time colleague at Lloyds, business banking director John Spence OBE, Roger Gifford, the British head of Swedish merchant bank SEB and former master of the Worshipful Company of International Bankers, Gavin Ralston of the FTSE 100’s Schroder Investment Management and former Met commissioner Lord Blair of Boughton – who since retiring in 2008 has retained a pension of around £160,000 a year, in addition to whatever savings he may have scraped together from his £240,000 annual salary.

All that leaves on the board is theatre director Joyce Hytner, the cathedral’s fundraiser in the US John Harvey and the cathedral’s Dean Graeme Knowles himself – not exactly a cross-section of Britain’s civil society.

And that’s just the trustees. The foundation’s full list of current corporate donors consists of Lloyds, money managers to the mega-rich Fidelity and Sarasin & Partners, brokers BGC Partners and the London Stock Exchange itself.

Such arrangements may have helped the cathedral to be the awe-inspiring icon it is today, but, as the original temple-crasher said:

“No-one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

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