Liam Fox, the UK Government International Trade Secretary, spoke at the DSEI Arms Fair and is quoted in The Independent as saying the following:
“If nations and peoples have an inalienable right to look after their own defence, those of us from advanced economies must remember that if we do not provide countries with means of defending themselves, then we will see a proliferation of uncontrolled and unregulated arms sales free from oversight or inhibitions. To allow such a situation to develop would be vastly irresponsible.”
Let us try to understand what Mr Fox means. First, we read, “If nations and people have an inalienable right to look after their own defence…” It seems to be that Mr Fox adds mentally, “and they do.” Because of that supposition, Mr Fox argues, “those of us from advanced economies must remember” . . . This is rather a strange thing to say. First, it implies that those of us from advanced economies are in danger of forgetting, might have an amnesia in this area, whatever it is. Second, it focusses on “those of us from advanced economies”, which of course might mean you and me, but does not because we have not even thought about forgetting our inalienable rights. Rather, what Mr Fox is doing is suggesting, or presuming, that the business of defence is on a par with the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” mentioned in the Declaration of American Independence, an inalienable right. He is doing his best to legitimate the selling of arms and is speaking to mega arms dealers from “advanced” countries at an arms fair who are not likely to forget that they need to sell arms to provide countries with the “means of defending themselves”. It is an entirely concocted conceit.
But, Mr Fox is not actually talking about selling arms, which might bring to mind selling arms to dictators, to those who attack other countries, to human rights abusers, indirectly to terrorists and to those who have or might attack us. No. Mr Fox is talking about not selling arms. If we do NOT provide… This is a warning. But what kind of warning is it about not selling arms? What prophetic words are being laid before us if we are not supplying arms to those who would defend themselves?
This is where Mr Fox produces his supposed coup de grace. If we are not selling arms to those who would defend themselves, then “we will see a proliferation of uncontrolled and unregulated arms sales free from oversight or inhibitions.” There is only one response to this sentence, something like “Eh?” or “You what?” or “The logic eludes me.” Why should not selling arms to countries which would defend themselves lead to a proliferation of uncontrolled and unregulated arms sales? Would the US, UK, Japanese, German, French, Russian, Chinese and other Governments suspend all their regulations and allow a proliferation of uncontrolled and unregulated arms sales, when they have suffered from terrorism and opportunist wars? Would these Governments seek to allow North Korea and terrorist groups to buy arms because we are not selling arms to those who would defend themselves. It is flattery to call this an idea, or to seek for a causal relationship which inhabits Mr Fox’s word, “then”. There is no causality, but this is merely a scare dreamed up somewhere in Mr Fox’s head or left elbow. He is greasing the arms trade that he has served so well, but without the semblance of an argument. It is empty of any conceivable sense. It is a thought in absentia.
To “allow such a situation to develop would be vastly irresponsible”, but that is precisely why it is unthinkable and why Mr Fox is talking nothing in a long sentence. In fact, the real question to which Mr Fox might turn his mind is whether the West selling arms to Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Argentina, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and throughout much of Africa and to countless dictators has helped world peace? We could wait decades for an answer. Meanwhile , it is through this kind of rubbishy scare that the trade in arms is justified by our Government. The question is whether the scare works, as other scares by the arms companies and their acolytes have. That is up to you.
The time has long come for some clear thinking about the North Korean military threat. But, of course, it is not the only military threat in the area. Another is the United States under President Trump. More widely, militarism is a world-wide problem encouraged by the arms trade. Most states have weapons, a visible sign of mistrust of other states and of domestic populations. Wars are often about the existence of these weapons and their destructive power around the globe is immense, causing grief, poverty, masses of refugees and the destruction of property and infrastructure. Militarism is the biggest failed experiment on the planet, causing perhaps 10% of total global warming, yet the big problem is rarely addressed. North Korea is a symptom of a bigger problem, but a serious one.
North Korea is now a nuclear crisis. The regime is testing nuclear weapons and missiles. We note nuclear tests have already killed an estimated 60 million world-wide through cancer. But now it seems there is a direct nuclear threat in the hands of a dictator who might use them.
It is time Christianity, espoused by well over two billion of the world’s population, made its contribution to world politics and to the increasing militarism around the world. Its principles and perspective should be there in the arena of world affairs. Sadly, Donald Trump has not undertaken any Christian thought beyond kindergarten and is completely unequipped to make any contribution.
There are three basic principles. Christianity sits under God’s commandment not to murder. Christ requires us to love our enemies, and we are to be peacemakers. Now we have threats, the building of hate and misunderstanding and war preparation. We are travelling exactly in the wrong direction, and need a rethink in the light of these Christian principles.
Christ deconstructed fear and trauma. Let us think in a different way. First, let us put North Korea in context. It has an economy half the size of Lancashire and a population which is poor. Second, we can understand that it has remained traumatized since the Korean War, when General MacArthur, had not Eisenhower firmly sacked him, would have happily nuked the North. It needs extracting from that past. Third, the United States and South Korea have undertaken forty years of joint military exercises against North Korea and subjected it to sanctions. As with Cuba, it has tried to make it into a failed state. No love there. Fourth, North Korea has built up its nuclear weapon capability partly through Pakistan, but also by buying bits and pieces from the nuclear and missile industries east and west; we have helped because we have not disarmed and removed the threat under which North Korea cowers. The United States has 9,600 nuclear warheads; it, and we, have killed vast numbers in a unilateral war in Iraq. North Korea can legitimately feel in danger. Finally, the double standard: – We can have nuclear weapons and you cannot – is laughable as well as violating our signing of the Non-Proliferation treaty.
The biggest point remains Christ’s insistence that we love our enemies. If you treat someone, or a state, as an enemy, for forty years, it is likely they will turn out to be an enemy, especially if bullying is involved, but if an enemy is loved and respected, they will grow not to be antipathetic and vindictive. As Christian leaders met after the intense hatred of the Second World War and vowed friendship and an end to conflict and have made European War unthinkable, so friendship and love can mark all international relations. Loving enemies is the basis of all international politics, not the UK’s frequently stated national self-interest, and it involves justice, closing down militarism and making sure that nation speaks peace unto nation. But we have wasted forty years and the danger is intense.
This perspective shows the way ahead. China, not the United States, should be the lead country. Actually, China has had a patient, long-term relationship with North Korea which has neither involved sloppy acceptance of faults nor threatening aggression. It is neighbour and a good neighbour to North Korea, and it also has good relationships with South Korea and very strong trading links. In other words, it is a close by, fair broker between the two regimes, and moreover its trading relationship and size gives it strong leverage. China advocates total nuclear disarmament, is totally against the first use of nuclear weapons, and it could make clear to North Korea that all external aggression is out, given the absence of the United States from immediate engagement with the area. The policy required is therefore the withdrawal of the United States from this situation. At the same time, if North Korea has no threat, it needs, and should have, no nuclear weapons, like the rest of us. Multilateral nuclear disarmament could happen here and begin now.
Thank you for your wonderful letter full of informalities and pearls of wisdom. Could you put the “e” before the “r” in my name, please. It’s harder than “Donald”. I shall treasure it as pure you and it will probably finish up in the Ordinary British Museum to show that you wrote to us. We await the Great United States of America Announcement and I am teaching all our people to say GUSA now, though Boris will take a long while to learn it. Trumpacare sounds very nice too.
I am glad, Mr President, that you are addressing the North Korean situation. I said last year in the Trident debate, we need our nuclear weapons to defend ourselves against North Korea, and you are even nearer than we are. I seem to remember that General MacArthur wanted to drop atomic bombs on them in the Korean War. It is a pity he did not finish the job.
I do not understand why North Korea should want nuclear weapons and missiles. They should know that we have about eight thousand and they will have only about ten. That is pathetic. I do not know what they are frightened of. I hope you will let me know of any attack and we will send one of our smaller missiles along too and an attack helicopter in support of your strike. I may not be Tony Blair but I can back GUSA when you need me.
You said in your wonderful letter that you had installed buttons on our missiles to switch them off if necessary. I know you made them and kindly exported them to us, and I know that when one of your superb wockets went astray off your coast in one of our trials, you were able to explode it before it damaged the United States. I was very grateful for that and staying allies and not thinking of nuking us, but I have to say that we are supposed to have an independent nuclear deterrent, and if noise of your buttons got around it would be difficult for me in the House of Commons. Corbyn, that awful man, might want an off-button too.
I think the way you sack your staff is so impressive. As a woman I find it more difficult. I want to sack most of mine. Boris is mentally in a scrum, Philip has to go. Gove is still in short trousers. But they are after me, like they are after you, and I am too afraid to sack them. They would seek their revenge. It is indeed lonely at the top. That is why we must stick together, me slightly behind. I have asked the Queen to retrain the staff for your visit and I understand you want all the furry hat soldiers who stamp to do their show. Of course. And there is a room in the palace with a long carpet where you can practice putting.
With my effusive best wishes and the understanding that the British will want to buy everything from GUSA in our new trade deal.
Teresa May (Ordinary Britain Prime Minister, your ally)
If you are reading this to him say what a nice letter it is.
Anglican Christianity did not express a strong view on Brexit. It issued a prayer for the Referendum which was scrupulously neutral between staying and leaving. It seemed that the Anglican commitment to Christians in Europe was not strong enough to sway God through our prayers, and presumably God heard our indifference. The prayer was a fudge.
This position is understandable because by and large the Church of England is a national, even nationalist, understanding of Christianity. It was founded by an English monarch. Its creed has been the 39 articles. It central document is the Book of Common Prayer, and the Anglican Communion which forms its primary international relationships are based on the British Empire and Commonwealth, not on our European relations. Anglican contact with the Reformation was heavily expunged in 1662 by the Act of Uniformity and the ejection of some two thousand ministers soon afterwards, the ones most influenced by the European Reformation of Luther and Calvin. Indeed, in the 18th century when Wesley was also influenced by European Christianity, he too had to leave the Church of England.
This pattern continued during the 19th century when mission was strongly identified with the Empire, and then, since the visit of Moody in the 1870s English Christianity has been more exposed to and influenced by American Christianity than anything from Europe, and, apart from some notable exceptions, the European connections have been relatively weak, compared, for example, with the links between Scottish and German theology.
Most Anglicans do not see this as a problem and the possibility that we might need insights from Europe in English Anglican Christianity scarcely crosses our minds. We are happy to be little Englanders cut off from European Christianity for the foreseeable future.
Actually, this is in part our problem. Anglican churchgoing, practice and liturgy carry on, but they are hardly inspiring for much of the time, partly because they are introverted and do not see European insights and awareness. One obvious contrast was the way Angela Merkel and the German Christian Democrats welcomed a million refugees in an obvious Christian response to people in need. It was a courageous Christian act, echoing the Good Samaritan and the teaching of Jesus. Meanwhile, the British Government withdrew, passing by on the other side, and the Church of England made statements which were on one side and the other with its usual lack of clarity. We need to think whether the European political engagement in both Protestant and Catholic churches in Europe does not have something to teach us.
More than this, Europe has exposed our national self-promotion. We always want to be leaders. We rubbished the French for not supporting the invasion of Iraq, when the French were right. We talk of leading Europe and come up with a financial crisis and self-important interventions in Libya and Syria which are making matters worse. Europeans get on with one another. England faces an identity crisis born of our own arrogance, as the Scots have recognized. English identity has nothing to do with Christianity. The Christian faith is not merely marginalised; it does not feature in our public life. Yet, none of this is addressed by the Church of England. Perhaps we should reflect as to whether English Christianity has anything to say? Does it, for example, have a worldview rather than a national view?
Meanwhile., the Anglican Church becomes increasingly spineless and parochial, unable to make any real public interventions and spending three decades on the internal business of moving towards women bishops. It is odd that the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus himself, spent so much time critiquing the domestic leaders and politics of their time, when the Anglican Church does not dare to say anything which might rock the Westminster establishment. The Pope takes on Presidents, but we dare not offend the Daily Mail and dress up to go through the next ceremonial act of State.
Brexit, the withdrawal from Europe, is a defeat for English Christianity, a withdrawal from millions of brother and sister Christians in Europe, a withdrawal from part of Christendom. Rather than just going with the flow, like a wrapping paper sliding along the gutter of British nationalism, we could engage with our European brothers and sisters. We could give and receive a European Christian holiday each year, link churches across Europe, have a European Christian website, language exchanges for children, have forums for European theology, Christian art, Christian economics; we could feature European churches, visions, failures and challenges. We can reconstruct Christian Europe as a body formed in Christ. Some of this happens but European Christianity is too much to lose.
We share nearly two millennia of Christian history with Europe, Christianity came to us through Europe and we should know that this agape relationship is rich to bless all of us. It is time to wake up, Anglicans, and think of yourselves as members of the Church of Europe.
Tackling road congestion requires the highest efficiency in passenger movement, especially in terms of using road space. Cars are profligate, using 20-60 metres per passenger. Coaches cut this by a factor of 15 or more, simply by grouping people. This vast economy can be mobilized throughout the main congested road and motorway system. More passengers can be moved in coaches at 60mph than sit in stationary cars in a traffic jam, and the Transmilenio System in Bogata can move 35,000 people an hour in one lane.
Coaches also cut fuel use by 80%, (actually 90% through other factors), eliminate billions of hours of driving time, use the vehicle a hundred times more efficiently than cars (in terms of lifetime passenger miles) and can potentially clear roads, congestion and much urban parking. They can also improve the efficiency of buses and road safety.
If coaches are such an outstanding mode of passenger why are they not more used? In part, they are unsubsidized, ignored by the establishment, marginalized in policy, and coach companies have transferred earnings into train franchises. Yet, mainly, they presently provide an infrequent, pre-booked service (apart from the Oxford-London route), are based on city centre to city centre coach stations which mire them in congested city traffic, have slow journey times with inadequate transfers for most journeys. They are not an attractive mode of travel.
This study suggests a different rationale for coaches – gathering from the suburban and outer city populations for medium and long journeys which at present can only be done by car. These constitute most of our travelling. They are vastly duplicated, often congested, driver monotonous movements, and ripe for mass transit. Coaches could provide quality journeys. They can be as comfortable as we choose to make them; they are merely another form of stretch limousine. A set of some hundred Coachway transfer stations and, initially, ten thousand coaches gives frequencies of five minutes or less and a capacity to cut car movements on the Strategic Road Network by 5% (at present average occupancy rates). Because coaches cost some 40p per passenger mile less than cars to run, these economies can drive growth and demand. They can become the arteries of our road passenger movement, benefitting cars by the extra road space they create. A coach at 60mph cuts out a mile of car traffic.
The infrastructure for this change centres on Coachway interchanges at major road and motorway junctions. These need careful design. They must not be “Park and Ride” or the areas would be clogged with cars. The coach to coach movements must be fluent and rapid. There should be flat entry and exit, pleasant seating and facilities, and easy transfer. Crucial is the gathering system to the Coachway. Buses, coaches, shuttles from rail links and bike parks must be designed to provide the fast full journey times to and from homes. Coachways will be gathering local populations of often 100-500,000 into the national system of mass road transit. Fortunately the land for these Coachways is often available at motorway intersections.
This plan doubles the effectiveness of buses by providing a rationale on most routes for bus journeys out of town to the coach link. It makes bikes more effective by providing the long distance movement that bikes cannot do. Other local gathering systems become possible. It helps the poor and carless. It cuts the car ownership needs of millions, especially the young and complements rail’s city-centre to city centre emphasis. It is the intermodal completion of the road passenger system.
Key are the orbitals round the M25, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow and other cities. At present these are heavily congested by cars, and they therefore offer big potential transfers to coaches both on the orbital and radial motorways. But orbital movements are themselves major traffic components for commuting, moving around cities, as part of longer journeys. They can be grouped and streamlined by coaches. They can pull rail movements out of cities and avoid many within-city journeys and meliorate its traffic. Additional gathering possibilities are present on orbitals when there are bridges; here layby coach/bus stops can give local people direct access to the orbials and thence links to the Coachways. Billions of journeys can be improved.
This policy change, because it mainly uses motorways and trunk roads fifteen times more efficiently for passenger journeys, is low cost in terms of infrastructure and running costs. It is also flexible in business terms, because it allows an easy demand expansion. It offers a major growth industry in producing coaches and subsidiary technologies. The main costs are the Coachways and the coaches (which immediately become earning investment). These require an investment programme of, say, £10-20bn over five years and a Strategic Authority to implement them.
But, absent a policy awakening, this change will not happen. The coach companies are not organized. DfT is asleep on the issue. Transport for the poor does not count. The car lobby will fight tooth and nail against a possible substantial reduction in sales, and the rail lobby likewise, although there is limited competition. Politicians do not turned up to briefings. My suggestion to the ORBIT study of 2003 was weakly built into their proposals. It remains a largely unthought possibility in public policy.
The rationale is incontrovertible. Coaches address global warming by cutting car emissions per passenger mile by a full 80-90%. They cut congestion where it is worst, save driving, de-stress the road system and offer to make our cities better and emptier of pollution. How can this policy and the infrastructure it requires be ignored?
A NATIONAL INTEGRATED COACH SYSTEM FOR £10-20bn IN FIVE YEARS.
Chapter One: The Present Car Empasse.
1a. Cars are convenient, popular and flexible.
1b. Cars are clogging the system.
1c. They produce massive energy loss and pollution.
Table1: Energy Consumption in megajoules per passenger km.
1d. Cars contribute substantially to global warming.
Chapter Two: The Private, Public and Real Costs of Road Transport.
2a. The private costs of cars are, say, an average of 50p a mile.
2b. The public, government and full costs of cars.
Table 2: Guesstimated Public/Real costs of car use
2c. Cars really cost 75p a mile, or 50p a passenger mile.
2d. Buses cost 10-50p a mile and have subsidies.
2e. The 10p a mile coach.
Chapter Three: Coaches and the Economics of Road Space.
3a. Car and coach use of road space.
Table 3. Car and Coach Road Space Per Passenger (RSPP)
3b. Cars 30 and coaches 450 per lane mile.
3c. An example: the M25 passenger capacity.
Table 4. The total car and coach passenger capacity of the present M25 at different speeds.
3d. The crucial policy conclusion: Coaches solve the road space problem.
Chapter Four: The Present Failure of Coaches.
4a. City centre transfers do not work.
4b. Overall journey speeds are slow.
4c. Coaches gather passengers inefficiently.
4d. Coaches are infrequent and booking is tiresome.
4e. Coach quality needs improving.
4f. Coaches are stuck in low demand.
4g. The Department for Transport is asleep and has no policy for coaches.
4h. Yet coaches are the Policy Good for everyone.
Chapter Five: Apologia – advantages of the Coach
• Cutting car driving time.
• Low infrastructure costs.
• Efficient use of vehicles.
• Cutting Car Ownership
• Transport for the Car-less.
• The intermodal links – doubling the purpose for buses and the underground.
• Orbital travel.
• Demand led development.
• Frequency of service.
• Journey flexibility.
• Eradicating parking.
• Fast transfer.
• Ecologically the best.
Chapter Six: The Strategic Coach Network.
6a. The main coach network.
6b. Coach priority.
6c. The system requires a fleet of some 10,000 coaches.
6d. Gathering systems are key.
6e. Journeys are linked through some 90-150 Coachway transfer stations.
6f. The Cloverleaf or Desegregation Problem.
6g. Development Costs.
Chapter Seven: The M25 and other orbitals.
7a. Orbitals link to most of the population.
7b. They gather for the main journeys.
7c. The M25 Orbital Necklace.
Table 5: Possible M25 Coachway transfers.
7d. The Radial coach lanes and Transmilenio.
Chapter Eight: The Overall Strategy.
8a. The required policy now.
8b. A Strategic Authority and public policy.
8c. The technologies and a new industry.
8d. The opposition and the culture of cars.
8e. Let’s do it.
Chapter One: The Present Car Empasse.
Most of us are aware of the present car empasse. It occurs daily in queuing traffic all over Britain. Yet, how we perceive it affects our response, and we therefore review some parts of the picture.
1a. Cars are convenient, popular and flexible. For most people life without car transport would be difficult and even unthinkable. They are available, comfortable, usually offer door to door movement (though this is less so than is often assumed) and they are often cheaper than public transport. They are also relatively fast. Journey speeds across England are about 53 mph on the trunk road and motorway system. They are the most successful mode of passenger road transport. There are 32 million cars in the UK, about 1.2 for each household. No transport policy which does not take all of these and other advantages into account can work. An alternative strategic policy cannot be crudely anti-car. Especially, it must address the jump-in-a-car convenience of the first mile or two of a trip and the full journey time. It should be able to replace a substantial proportion of car journeys, and even cars, with transport that is relatively fast, cheap, comfortable and convenient. It could even aim to improve car movement. That is a challenge, but maybe it can be done.
1b. Cars are clogging the System. Cars dominate passenger transport mileage; for every twenty miles we travel, seventeen of them are in cars. Car use tends to grow, absent recession, by about 1% a year. DfT projects an increase of 27-57% in vehicle miles between 2014 and 2040. Traffic growth is especially heavy on motorways, increasing by about 3% a year. Recently, we have squeezed more out of the major road system by patterns of traffic management, but the load continues to increase. We know congestion is, and will be, a major transport problem for millions of us; it will increase faster than road use, because much of the road system hovers on the edge of congestion. Even now hundreds of miles of motorways and major trunk roads are clogged for several “rush” hours a day. Voluntary temporal displacement of journeys earlier and later eases this congestion, but it grows towards four hours on some roads. Recent Department of Transport expenditure reviews have opted for widening motorways; the M25 is four lanes throughout its orbit, but still is often clogged. Road building will not solve the problem. The personal and structural costs of congestion will rise year by year. It is estimated to cost some £13bn in 2013, moving to £21bn in 2030.
1c. Cars produce massive energy loss and pollution. Cars use vast amounts of energy relatively inefficiently. They weigh about a ton and a half and move about 1.6 persons. With air travel they are the most profligate energy user. John Houghton set out the energy consumption by mode.
Table 1: Energy Consumption in megajoules per passenger km.
Typical occupancy Full
Express coach 0.3 0.2
125 train 0.8 0.4
Suburban train 1.7 0.4
Small car 1.4 0.5
Big car 2.8 1.0
Air 3.5 2.3
Note, because this is our theme, express coaches fuel use is 11-21% of car use, say 20%, at normal occupancy. In congestion fuel use rises alarmingly. Millions of car passengers are sitting in traffic jams burning up a limited and valuable resource. Petrol will probably become more scarce and expensive; North Sea oil is declining, peak oil may soon come and oil import costs will weaken the economy. Each household uses about 9 litres of petrol a day (including through its wider economic demands). Obviously, this is accompanied by exhaust fumes pollution which results in thousands of deaths and costs in health/work loss and medical costs of several billion pounds aside the personal suffering. This huge energy consumption and car-caused urban pollution needs to be cut.
1d. Cars contribute substantially to Global Warming.
Cars are obviously a major contributor to CO² emissions. This was partly understated by manufacturers cheating in recent car trial figures. Cars create over 50% of all transport CO², perhaps 13% of all UK CO²; they are a substantial main cause. They produce about 150-100gms of CO² per passenger km. We will use 120gCO²/km as a generous rough indicator for the coming decade or so. Car improvements may reduce this to 100gms, but it remains profligate. Far and away the most effective way of cutting this energy use and pollution is to group people together on the roads. It prevents using vast quantities of steel and tyres to move very few people and cuts wind drag and friction by having people in the same shell. We anticipate the direction of this study by noting that, by contrast, coaches presently run at 29gCO2/km (which can fall to 11-20 more or less immediately), a 70-89% cut on present car pollution, and even better than trains. For other reasons, the total fuel and CO² saving by using coach transport amounts to about 90%, an amazing economy and one we should reap.
Chapter Two: The Private, Public and Full Costs of Road Transport.
2a. The private cost of car mileage are, say, an average of 50p a mile.
Private motoring costs now amount to some £60 a week per household, with, of course major variations with two and no car households; my estimate is £67 , pushing towards £3,500 a year. Cars are thus an expensive form of transport, costing some 50p per mile in average private expenditure. It is interesting to map estimates of the constituent costs. A rough calculation of average costs would be30p a mile fixed and 20p variable. The former includes most insurance, tax, purchase price (perhaps not fully included) /depreciation/ loan costs, MOT, fixed parking and garaging costs including household garaging (often ignored). Variable costs include petrol, wear and tear/repairs, tyres, paid parking, oil etc and some insurance. The cost of having a car is greater than that of using it. Once the car is on the drive, the marginal cost of using the car at 20p is low, encouraging overuse. Many drivers see running costs as “just petrol” which may be 13p a mile, which leads them to drive even more. When you have a car you might as well use it.
2b. Public, government and full costs of cars.
In addition to the private costs, there are very substantial government/public costs. They include road building and maintenance, safety, policing, noise control, urban and national planning costs, hospital care resulting from accidents, noise management, urban parking and the costs resulting from CO² and NOX like respiratory problems. One EU study suggests this could be 10-20p a mile, pushing up the overall public and real cost to 60-70p a mile . A study by Bradbury and Nulty suggests even wider public costs.
Table 2 : Guesstimated Public/Real Costs of Car Use.
a. Government Expenditure on Roads. This is running at something like £5-7 billion a year, partly depending on when big motorway projects kick in. Say £6 billion
b. Parking. The public costs of car parking on roads and in municipal car parks over and above any parking charges paid by car users. The Bradbury and Nulty estimate is £6.7 billion. Some of this features as congestion costs.
c. Cost of accidents and breakdowns. This includes police, accident and emergency cover, hospital treatment, work lost. The UK calculation by DETR for 2002 was £17.8 billion which we will call £18 billion.
d. Police, Court and Prison Costs. Apart from the driving-related policing and court costs, there are also the costs associated with car theft. Say £3 billion.
e. Annual return of the asset value of roads Bradbury and Nulty argue that because rail is expected to generate an 8% return on the asset value of the rail network, so should road users. That produces a figure of £32 billion, because obviously this is a very expensive asset. Normally we regard it as a free or public good, provided by previous generations, but clearly it is an asset enjoyed by road users. As a compromise divide the B/N figure by four to give £8 billion.
f. Environmental and Pollution Costs. These include the recognition that several million properties near motorways and trunk roads have their values reduced by a substantial proportion. Vehicle noise requires double glazing and other noise reduction strategies. Noise pollution costs alone are estimated at £3-10 billion. Land by roads is degraded. Exhaust pollution contributes to global warming, reflected in the costs associated with extreme weather events. There are health costs of getting fat and accident costs, but there are also breathing difficulties and chest complaints associated with road pollution and particulates. There are five million asthma sufferers and 1,400 deaths a year. – perhaps £25 billion.
Congestion costs. This is the cost generated by cars on the road slowing other cars. All of us have been held up in traffic jams, wasting private or work time paid at their normal rate. Many, not just lorry and taxi drivers would find their output climb dramatically were it not for other vehicles crowding the road. Expensive vehicles are immobilized and fuel consumption rises, perhaps by £2 billion. Total cost £20 billion.
Historic costs. One of the biggest costs of car use will emerge in the future as oil prices rise, let us say to double the present level. Then, it will emerge that we have used us our resources at a profligate rate and we have extracted and marketed North Sea Oil at the historic period when prices have been lowest. The cost of this short-termism could quite minimally be seen at 5p a litre, which would cost some £2 billion
Defence Costs. The oil guzzling west requires a policy of control of the Middle East in order to prevent monopolistic control of the market. This will be even more acute in the coming decades as the concentration of reserves in the area becomes even more acute. As President Carter pointed out two decades back, this policy of high consumption oil dependence will both generate high defence costs and lead to war. The two Gulf wars have partly been about oil, and it would not be unreasonable to see them as related to oil use. An estimate would see 10% of the defence budget of £37 billion as related to oil, say £3.7 billion.
2c. Cars really cost some75p a mile, or 50p a passenger mile.
These external costs are difficult to assess, but a guesstimate of the full real cost of car travel comes out at a further c£90 billion. This pushes the realistic cost of motoring up by 25p to, say, 75p per mile per car, or given an occupancy rate of 1.6, about 50p per passenger mile, As a public cost tax on petrol (at the average 7 miles per litre) this would come to £1.75p a litre without paying for the petrol. Perhaps the proper cost of petrol, ignoring future scarcity, should therefore be something like £2 per litre, about 70% more than we currently pay.
This makes car a far less efficient a form of transport than many of us assume because we do not incur these costs directly. For example, congestion costs are often spread into business and private lives as time lost in traffic jams, whereas we just want to get home. If, for millions of people, the private and real costs of passenger transport could be cut by 10-40p a mile, it would be a massive national benefit.
2d. Buses cost 10-50p a mile and have subsidies.
The two other forms of road passenger transport are bus and coach. Buses are local, urban and rural. They cost some £3.20p a mile to run, say £4. Once there are 20 people on a bus, the cost per passenger is down to 20p per passenger mile – extraordinarily low. Full, it is even lower. After a fall in use in the 1970s through to about 2005, bus transport recovered, especially in London, because of this efficiency in grouping people. Now the journey figures are falling because local authorities are financially strapped and subsidies are declining.
Yet, this efficiency is only achieved in patches. Buses are subsidized to the tune of 50p a mile or so in three ways – a local government subsidy to some routes, through the OAP free bus travel, and through a fuel duty exemption. Bus use works best during commuting times for children to school and adults to work when they are often packed, but they are less well used in the suburbs and at non-peak hours. The average occupancy is 19.8 in London, but only 9.8 in England outside London, giving a cost of over 40p a mile. In most of the national system they are not operating in a sweet, profitable, congestion-saving way because occupancy is too low. Their overall range of costs is 10-50p a passenger mile, but they operate much of the time at the top of that range. They are subsidized to keep them on the road often with few passengers. Thus, the bus system can cut urban congestion, but works badly. Maybe that could change.
2e. The 10p a mile Coach.
Finally, there are coaches which receive no subsidy and have a similar, but slightly lower cost per mile than buses (because they travel with fewer stops) say £3.00. The National Express normal occupancy of coaches is 30 , and that gives a private, real, and public cost of about 10p a passenger mile or £10 per hundred miles. The contrast between 50p plus for cars and 10p a passenger mile for coaches is stark and strategic; it is bi-planes to jumbo jets. It results simply from grouping passengers and thereby, cutting weight, wind drag and friction loss per person. Coaches are the most economic form of powered road passenger transport – neglected, unsubsidised, low supply and demand for seats, little infrastructure and no political interest, yet they have this amazing economy of operation and extraordinary potential if properly developed.
Chapter Three: Coaches and the Economics of Road Space.
3a. Car and Coach Use of Road Space.
Road space is a key economic variable, and complex, because on the same road at different times space is abundant or acutely scare. It is variable depending on how it is used. Perhaps the major congestion/road space problem is on the Strategic Road Network, where millions of cars crawl daily. Here, coaches save space dramatically; the faster a car goes the more space it needs, while the coach bunches people together safely. Let us assess the space required at various speeds. The Highway Code sets out the thinking and braking distances that contribute to overall Stopping Distance. We add car length of four metres per car to the stopping distance for the overall road space required per vehicle and divide by 1.6 for the road space per passenger (RSPP). In the case of coaches we presume a 25% increase in stopping distance and a fifteen metre length, both extravagant, and the normal occupancy of 30.
Table 3. Car and Coach Road Space Per Passenger (RSPP).
The Highway Code points out these distances for cars are the minimum and should be doubled on wet roads. These are remarkable figures showing the demand on road-space which cars and coaches create.
3b 30 car passengers and 450 coach passengers occupy a mile of roadway.
We focus on 60 mph as a good speed. At this speed 21 cars, or 34 passengers at a 1.6 occupancy rate (rush hour occupancy is lower), take up a mile of roadway. Usually, of course the gaps are not uniform and there will be fewer than this. Let us call it 30 passengers a mile for cars.
By contrast, if we give each coach 100 metres at 60mph, there are sixteen per mile. At a normal occupancy of 30, this gives 450 passengers a mile. With full coaches and larger capacity ones (the Japanese megaliner has 84 seats) this capacity goes up to a thousand (1344) a mile. If we focus on 450 per mile for coaches compared with 30 per mile for cars, we see the crucial economy of road space that coaches offer – fifteen times more people. Suddenly our present road space becomes more than generous. At 60 mph each coach takes out a mile of car traffic. Coaches-on-roads becomes the key to our passenger transport system. They replace cars and clear our roads.
3c. An example: the M25 passenger capacity.
The M25 is 118 miles long and this means that a single lane can carry 2500 cars at a 60 mph speed and about 4000 passengers at an occupancy rate of 1.6. On the eight lanes, assuming two are used by lorries and vans, the passenger capacity is thus 12,000 each way. Thus we have room on the M25 for fewer than 24,000 people at a decent speed. During the rush hour occupancy is down to 1.15 reducing the capacity further to 17,250. Obviously the people who need to use it far outstrip this figure for several hours most days and traffic slows. Below is a chart of M25 car passenger occupancy at various speeds.
Table 4. The total car and coach passenger capacity of the present M25 at different speeds.
Speed Car Capacity Passenger Capacity Coach Passenger Capacity
Stationary 189,903 303,845 2,010,737
20mph 71,203 113,942 1,266,020
30 42,201 67,521 776,876
40 28,485 45,577 569,709
50 19,990 31,984 427,282
60 14,798 23,678 322,477
70 11,394 18,231 244,161
This is with six lanes given over to cars or coaches. There is a certain poetic justice in the conclusion that coaches travelling at 60mph can carry more people around the motorway than can sit static in cars on six lanes of “the world’s biggest car park”.
Of course, in practice, coaches replace cars incrementally. A rough rule of thumb is that 150 coaches each way on the M25 would clear a lane of cars. That would require 400 in service, including stops and backup coaches, although rush hour loads are heavier. Clearly, a fleet of 400 could make a substantial dent in morning and evening rush hour traffic. Put in other terms, given the car low occupancy rate during the rush hours of 1.15, four full coaches per mile could double the speed of a 20mph rush hour crawl over three lanes.
The on-the-ground scarcity of road space differs under a range of factors – at junctions, with weather, at road-works, with holidays, at rush hours, with the weekend flux, and most of these can only be addressed by facing the extravagant use of space which cars require. It does not matter much if the roads are clear, but it is crucial in congestion. Expanding the M25 to ten lanes would not create sufficient road space at rush hours, and the surrounding roads would continue to be hopelessly clogged. We need a system which drastically economizes on road space per person. There is only one available and fortunately it is a rewarding alternative.
3c. The key policy conclusion: coaches solve the problem.
This problem of road-space the coach radically addresses simply by eliminating the stopping distance between isolated passengers and having people four abreast. This is an extraordinary leap in efficiency, and this factor allows the coach to transform our transport system, if we use it properly. It has been done in a different system from that proposed here. The Transmilenio System in Bogata, carries up to35,000 people an hour on mass transit lanes commuting into the City, an amazing people moving exercise. It now suffers from overuse. We in Britain need an organized system to reap these similar benefits, a national coach system which can replace millions of repetitive, inefficient car journeys. But first we consider the failures in the existing coach system.
Chapter Four. The Present Failure of Coaches.
The present coach system is thin, infrequent, weak on comfort, service, speed and connectivity. This destroys the possibility of high levels of demand. We do not even know accurately what the situation is, because DfT does not have the data. The weaknesses of the current coach system include the following.
4a. City centre transfers do not work. We presently talk about a rail system. It has transfers based on city centre stations built in the 19th century. They allow movement from one line to another quite easily via platforms. Coaches ape this rail system with City Centre Coach stations, including Victoria Coach Station in London. They usually compete with rail and lose, because they are surrounded by road congestion. Let us take one journey taken at random– Manchester to Reading by National Express. Here the transfer points are Birmingham and Oxford Coach Stations or London Victoria. The journey time that results varies between 6 hours 25 minutes and 9 hours 11 minutes. The average speeds corresponding to these times are 28-20 mph. Newcastle/London is 40mph. The mode of transport can do 70mph. But these slow speeds reflect congestion and waiting times in Birmingham and Oxford or the long drag into and out of London. These speeds are unacceptable for a national transport system. Can coaches do something instead that rail does not do?
4b. Overall journey speeds are slow.
Although average coach speeds vary with the time of day and the routes concerned, they are regularly below 30mph. But full journey speeds are even slower. Someone in outer Manchester or Birmingham has to travel to and from home to the centre in addition to the coach journey, often adding twenty miles and one or two hours to the journey. This can slow the full journey speed towards 15 mph, unacceptable for most people. Indeed the system was better half a century back. If passengers could go directly out to an orbital link, have fast transfers and some road priority, many overall journey times could plummet. The achievable aim is to push average speeds over 40 or 50 mph by providing such routes and infrastructure.
4c. Coaches gather passengers inefficiently. Quite a lot of coaches gather passengers by calling at a number of places. This slows the journey time. The Stagecoach Oxford-Cambridge X5 coach increased the number of stopping places en route in 2004 to pick up more passengers by moving in and out of towns, and the average speed for the full journey has slowed to 22 mph. This guarantees a small pool of demand. What is required is a fast national system where gathering and dispersion are carried out by subsidiary services that feed the strategic network. The underlying requirement is a fast, frequent motorway based coach system with limited stops into which people can easily plug their full journeys. Passenger concentration for a mass transit system requires new gathering systems.
4d. Coaches are infrequent and booking is tiresome. For many people transport is a get-up-and-go business, especially if the journey is less than a hundred miles. Catching a booked train or coach is time wasting, because of the cost of missing departure is a safety margin of 15-30 minutes. Booking a fast train is tolerable, but booking a 25 mph coach is too little of a bad thing. When departure frequency is high, people can turn up and go. The London-Oxford route with a less than ten minute service generates levels of demand five or ten times higher than other coach routes in the UK mainly because of its frequency. Booked infrequent coaches have low demand. Frequency of five minutes on major routes is relatively easy to achieve, given the size of the coach units, compared, for example, with a train.
4e. Coach Quality needs improving. Car manufacturers have been addressing issues of comfort for years, and many cars are very comfortable, given the awkward sitting position that their design seems to require and the limited space. Coaches by comparison have seemed less pleasant, cramped and difficult to enter. Many coaches now are very good and improving, but, as yet, coaches do not have a good transport image.
4f. Coaches are stuck in low demand. Overall, it is not difficult to see why coaches presently have low levels of demand and seem to serve passengers badly. With some exceptions, they are stuck in a low demand, high fixed cost mode with underinvestment and high prices. Car dominance in public policy has made coaches a marginal service for decades. Moreover, coach companies have often transferred some of their profits to rail franchises. Yet, this position is not intrinsic to the mode, but the result of historic failure.
4g. The Department for Transport is asleep and has no policy for coaches.
Part of this failure can be located with the Department of Transport. The DfT has no strategic policies for coaches, no staff and even collects no separate data. It offers no subsidies to encourage coach transport and has blanked initiatives except the Milton Keynes Coachway, and a coach lane on the M4 for a few years. The ORBIT study recommendations on an M25 coach orbital were ignored. This failure to have any coach policy, collect separate data, think coach infrastructure is surprising in view of the fact that it is the greenest form of motorized transport and we are supposed to have been cutting CO² emissions for decades; it probably arises from the likelihood that Government Ministers and Senior Civil Servants hardly ever use coaches. Rail and air cannot expand much and are limited in their journey possibilities. Bike, bus and walking are good for short journeys, but there is at present no policy alternative to inter-city and long distance passenger travel by car except the coach which is totally without DfT consideration.
4h. Yet coaches are the policy good for everyone.
This study suggests that, despite the present failings of coach transport, it can become the basis of a vastly more efficient road passenger transport system for everyone. It is pro-car by saving space. It saves money. Crudely, transferring 10% of car passenger transport to coach/bus saves £9.8 bn (24.4 bn miles at 40p) and 20% saves some £20bn. Because congestion costs are also reduced by perhaps £5bn or more, and car purchase could fall substantially, the savings are even greater. Yet these economies are unthought, because of the dominance of the car lobby and the skewing of our transport system away from public road passenger transport.
Chapter Five: Full Apologia for the Coach.
Other than the strategic advantages of low cost and road-space economy, coaches have a number of other advantages as a mode of travel.
• Speed. They travel fast and well on open roads and motorways. A regular cruising speed of 60-70mph is easily obtained in a modern coach with high visibility and a wide wheel base. There is no faster, safe speed available for inter-city and orbital road travel without breaking the law. Crucial is not just the cruising speed, but the speed including stops. With good motorway based transfers, average speeds of 50mph are possible on the major motorway routes up and down the country. Through coaches could easily manage an average of 60 mph, and the average orbital speeds on the M25 and elsewhere with more stops could be 30-50 mph. These compare well with cars and trains for many similar journeys
• Cutting car driving time. Self drive cars are now a major technological investment by the car industry, because of the driving problem. “Britons have become so reliant on their cars that most spend more than one working day (10 hours) every week driving”. Coaches do it now and without a windscreen fixation. One careful driver replaces twenty or thirty car drivers, freeing them up to do other things and reducing their experience of stress and the monotonous work they do. At present millions of drivers are duplicating quite simple work for relatively small returns (carrying 0.6 other people), a grossly inefficient process. Coaches could open up perhaps a billion hours of work/leisure a year for people in transit.
• Comfort. Coaches can be comfortable as we want them to be. They are big stretch limousines. Some already have tables, good seats, work stations, media centres and a range of other features. They should have flat entry and exit via platform Coachway stations. They can have wi-fi, films, social areas, tables, good disabled areas, family seats, seminar and other such areas. The mix of public/private specialized coaches can grow with coaches offering office facilities, holidays, outings and party facilities. In other words these vehicles can be a rich form of road travel, sociable and comfortable. At present we are stuck with the idea of cars as luxury and coaches as cramped and unpleasant transport; that can be fully reversed.
• Low infrastructure costs. Infrastructure costs for a coach system are extremely low, or, rather, they have already largely been met by the motorway system. There are development costs, like the Coachway stations, system maintenance and information technology, but they are relatively low. A high proportion of costs is located in the operating capital – the coaches – rather than in the infrastructure necessary to make them viable. This is any investor’s dream. In an era when major transport infrastructure expenditure, like HS2, is vast, a development where the major emphasis is on using existing resources fifteen times more efficiently is practical politics.
• Efficient use of vehicles. The Coach, easily covering 30,000,000 passenger miles in its life, is deeply efficient simply because it is on the road most of the time and groups people. Cars manage perhaps 200,000 passenger miles in their lifetime. Actually, our cars mainly sit in the drive deteriorating through age. One piece of equipment, a coach, can cover 10,000 passenger miles a day, while the average car might clock up 20 a day. They are “used up” a hundred and fifty times more quickly. Thus, coaches save vast amounts of inefficient manufacture and are much greener. Each car embodies about a year of car use CO² in its manufacture and each coach saves this a hundred times over. It is this fact that makes coaches 90% or more greener than cars, the kind of saving that can address global warming world-wide.
• Cutting car ownership. Cars are an economic burden to own and are often needed for only part of the week by owners. Many city commuters just use them at weekends to “get away”. If coaches enable these journeys, ownership becomes unnecessary. A Coach system allows many more people, even several million, to be without cars. It saves on a major item of capital and weekly expenditure, on parking in roads and garages and on the overall efficient use of personal capital. A coach, costing say £300, 000 does as much work as perhaps 200 cars costing £10,000 each, a big increase in personal capital efficiency. People can be richer in their living by not buying as well as by spending.
• Transport for the car-less. Some 20% of households are presently without cars and this pattern is also linked to poverty. The poor are more often car-less and necessarily more immobile. Some of those with cars can scarcely afford them. Others are too old or disabled to drive. Any system of transport which gave this group access to cheap, effective, long distance travel would be a major national boon. Coaches do it.
• The intermodal links – doubling the purpose of buses and the underground. Coaches complete a road-based public passenger system. Buses at present cater for journeys into town, but their routes usually offer no reason to take people out of town. Perhaps, there is a lonely terminus. Yet if people could also use buses to get out onto a national coach network, we would suddenly have a two-way purpose for buses. The same applies to the outer underground stations in London, usually empty at their outer termini. The planned orbital and inter-city coach links give the outer journeys of both bus and underground train a strong passenger focus. So the end of the Piccadilly Line at Cockfosters is a short ride away from M25/J24 on the 298 bus, when both are usually quite empty at this stage. These modal links makes the bus and underground systems far more efficient, especially at the rush hours when they move against the dominant metropolitan commuting flow.
• Orbital travel. Coaches address orbital travel, unlike any other public form of transport. Much of our present rail, underground and coach system is still based on the in-out model, ignoring the fact that most people often moving laterally for work, shopping, trips, family and leisure. The lack of orbital public transport in outer London is well known and explains the congestion on the M25 and associated roads from cars. The ORBIT study looked at the problem in depth and the journey variations. Something like 43% of the journeys on the M25 start and finish outside its orbit. The Coach Orbital necklace addresses this need directly, as we see later, by putting coaches where the problem is – on the congested orbits.
• Demand-led development. Coach development addresses existing demand and helps create further demand because of its efficiency. More than this, the emerging coach network can be focussed where existing traffic flows and congestion are at their greatest. You put the supply where the potential demand is; when you have a couple of people a second using a section of motorway, there is a good possibility of picking up custom. Origin-to-destination coaches often have not fitted the national flows of human traffic; this national system goes with the flows already established by car movements. We know the demand for the M25 or M62 is great and can put the coaches there. It is merely a question of seeing how much of that potential demand can be translated from car to coach.
• Frequency of service. The unit size of coaches promotes high frequency and short transfer times. Tube and intercity trains have capacities of several hundred and are therefore relatively infrequent and load more slowly. Coaches with a capacity of 60 are frequent with reasonable demand. Waiting times would be cut, say, below that of the underground. The Oxford-London coaches are able to offer a less than ten minute service at present simply by providing an unbooked, on-off service, despite congestion and the need to go in to Victoria Coach station. With an effective network most of the inter-city motorway journeys could have a waiting time of five minutes or less. Once people could use this system with confidence in its regularity, demand would surge as it has on the Oxford-London route. Then high occupancy coaches could emerge.
• Journey flexibility compared with rail. Coaches are more flexible than trains in the routes they are able to access the connectivity on the road system. By contrast, new train routes will not emerge often. Additional supporting coach routes can be fed into the basic system from local points without large capital expenditure. The system can penetrate into the areas where most people live. Some 60% of city dwellers live in outer boroughs, and the flexibility of the car in this area can be copied by coach, bus and other links without the rigidity of rail.
• Eradicating parking. Operational coaches do not need parking. The costs of parking are considerable in domestic garages and at the other end of the journey. Bradbury and Nulty suggest that as well as the parking costs to motorists of £1.25 billion, there is a public estimated cost of between £6.7-15 billion. Parked cars dominate streets and verges. On-road parked cars restrict traffic, contribute to accidents and disfigure areas. However, the personal costs of parking to the driver are also considerable. Many drivers crawl areas to find open parking spaces, often contributing to traffic. Other drivers have to park a long way from their destination. Being able to leave a vehicle without retaining responsibility for it is often liberation. This the coach offers on a mass scale, another virtuous cicle.
• Fast Transfer. Coach transfers can be quick and easy for passengers, although they are not so at present. It is relatively easy to step off one coach and onto another on the flat via a platform system. They can have multiple doors. Waiting times can be far lower than for trains, taxis or underground. Coach reliability can contradict the reputation that many bus services have developed over the years of three arriving at once. This requires that coach services are moved out of the congestion lottery that makes bus arrivals often so uneven. This seems easier to organize on motorways than in the congested and complex urban areas which buses inhabit. The location, design and conception of transfer stations we examine below, but they can create transfer ease and comfort.
• The out of city rail link. At present trains carry passengers who journey to and then from city centres taking advantage of its speed and directness. There are few out of town stations which can be accessed from the suburbs. One is Bristol Parkway, some 7 miles and most of an hour’s travel from Temple Meads. If it were located less than a mile to the East, near the M32/M4 motorway junction is could be easily reach by bus and coach by half a million people in much less time than the full journey into Bristol. There are other Parkway stations, as their name implies for parked cars, but actually, having a car at such a station is a liability and usually incurs high parking charges. Far better to have coach/bus links to outer city stations for another modal link, cutting inner city congestion.
• Ecologically the best. Coaches are energy efficient beyond their own use. They use less fuel, cut congestion, pollution, the energy costs of car manufacture, parking and garaging. They therefore move above a 90% saving in CO², and in some areas will be well above 100%. Any who take global warming seriously must see that cars-to-coaches is a planet wide imperative, not just a local issue.
• Safety. Coaches tend also to be about three times safer than cars. They are large units with a stable wheel base, high driving position and good visibility. Drivers are probably less distracted by passengers. With seat belts and a careful set of driving rules, it should be possible to push down accident levels on coaches further.
Thus, coaches have these multiple advantages which can be fed into our transport system. Though the car lobby will not see this, they are also the best news for car users by addressing the congestion of remaining cars. Coaches can be fast, flexible, frequent, energy efficient, clean and relaxing, though they are not always so at present. Moving millions of journeys over to this form of transport would save money, energy and massively cut pollution. Nor would these changes be marginal. Coaches can pick up 20% or more of present car transport and decongest the nation’s roads.
Chapter Six. The Strategic Coach Network.
The strategy is for a coach network which functions smoothly and efficiently as a national system. It needs to be based on the most heavily used motorways and trunk roads. It should not ape rail routes in linking city centres, but access the large populations living in suburbs (31 million, 55% of England and Wales ). It requires fast transfers and gathering systems. It is not the Park and Ride model, because car traffic congestion near the Coachway stations impedes fast movement. Key is decongesting the coach. The gathering systems are as important as the coach network in making full journey times efficient. The strategy involves something like a five to tenfold initial expansion in scheduled coach travel.
6a The Main Coach network. We focus mainly on England as an example. The Network of Coach routes would largely centre on the Strategic Road Network which carries a third of all traffic. It comprises 4,300 miles and with, say, another 700 miles of linked routes makes a 5000 mile network of frequent, fast coaches operating outside urban congestion. Where and when car congestion occurs, priority for coaches on hard shoulders, exit lanes and even moterway lanes can occur on the moral principle that people in these vehicles are taking less space. Almost entirely this development uses the existing network more efficiently. It has zero net cost other than signage and road markings.
The network would cover all the main motorways and trunk roads of the UK Of course, each route would need to be assessed against a number of criteria and the system could be introduced regionally and extended across the nation as a whole.
6b. Coach Priority.
Good coach speeds require some coach priority to rescue this efficient form of travel from some of the congestion cars create. The purpose is to guarantee a certain level of journey security to passengers in terms of speed and reliability in the face of congestion. Here is an important ethical principle. If you choose a road-space saving coach, then road space should be available to you with some priority. The aim is to move traffic into the space-saving form and substantially, but fairly, transform the market in road use. Since it also benefits car users, it is a case which should be acceptable to most thinking drivers.
The detailed priorities are matters for the experts, but there are a number of possibilities. 1. Coaches use the hard shoulder at 30-40 mph when the motorway is blocked. 2. Triggered traffic lights give coaches priority at intersections and roundabouts. 3. Coach lanes can emerge(when the utilisation levels are high enough). 4. Channelled lanes can give coaches priority using overhead motorway signals in slower moving traffic. The aim is to keep coaches moving at decent speeds in all conditions to give passengers security in their journey times. Option 1 seems an immediate, costless possibility, especially because coaches leave at most major junctions on the slip road.
With a 60-70mph cruising speed coaches should begin to nearly match car journey times especially during the rush hour and on the busy orbitals, encouraging demand yet more.
6c. The system requires a fleet of about 10,000 coaches. A step change is needed in the level of coach service. Given a minimum system speed of 30mph, a fleet of some 10,000 coaches could service this network at the different level of frequency required, say, every five minutes. The present National Express fleet is under 1000. This level of passenger provision reduces car use on the system by about 5%, a substantial cut in congestion. Such a fleet would cost, say, £3-5bn, which would immediately be working capital. A 20,000 fleet and a 10% reduction should be an entirely realistic medium term ambition.
The coaches should be comfortable, run quietly, have tables, wi-fi, drinks, food, media centres and good leg room as the ORBIT study suggested a decade ago. They can be single/double decker, be linked, open both sides with several doors, have lounge areas, have flat entry and exit through platform level access, and cruise at 60-70mph. High levels of use would later possibly generate faster linked coach trains. Modern coaches are already good, but this move offers a design jump to another level. Designing and building the fleet would be a strategic investment, perhaps for one of the car manufacturers.
6d. The Gathering Systems.
For many people it is the first few hundred yards of their journeys which are the most important. It is the journey to and from coach interchange points which need to be easy and fluent. This is helped by the fact that often these journeys are short. Bike, taxi, walking, drop off and other links become easy because they are a mile or two. Gathering systems need to emerge to allow the mass transit system to work. They include:
1.Local park and rides to the Coachway.
2.Cycleways and bike parks.
3. Drop off and pick up facilities.
4. Area taxi services.
5. Local route hitch-hiking points.
6. Disabled routes.
7. Links with rail and underground. On the M25 these can be done with a 1-3 mile shuttle at almost all junctions.
8. Estate gathering buses.
9. Walkways. People often enjoy walking a mile or two off-road.
This business of gathering journeys, often a strong community activity, is an important part of the overall change. When people know what their journey will be through an intermodal journey planner, they can co-ordinate with others.
6e. They are linked through some 90-150 Coachway Transfer Stations. A key decision is to avoid the Park and Ride model, which would encourage car congestion near the Coachway stations and slow the operation of the whole system. The only present UK example is the Milton Keynes Coachway. It has a rather weak design where coaches reverse away from the pick-up place. Actually, there are a range of other designs which could be used, depending on location, junction lay out, types of access and the populations likely to use them. They should at least be the quality of a modern railway station, with platform level coach entry and easy transfers, capable of handling several hundred coach and bus movements an hour. They can have newspapers, information, food, donate-and-collect libraries, a screen choir area, art, busking and warm areas and be good pleasant communal places. The priority in the system is the fast movement of the coaches on their dominant route. For that reason they should be on or close to the motorway junctions, say in central roundabouts, near the slip roads or even a platform style transfer directly at the side of the motorway. They should be safe, have shops and facilities and be pleasantly designed especially for wheelchair users.
There are a number of possible models. The Roundabout End Model uses either end of a Motorway Junction roundabout to merge buses and coaches, linked by a walkway. Platform models can be used if doors are on both sides of the bus or coach. Illustrated is my Carousel design, located in one corner of a motorway roundabout with the slip road upper left, capable of six/twelve or eight/sixteen concurrent coach/bus arrivals, or a hundred and fifty plus an hour.Another design uses L shaped platforms at corners of the slip road with shuttle links around the intersection. Another offsets the interchange to an area where route mingling and bridges are easier. Another model has an inside coach flow and an outside bus flow linked by a horseshoe platform. Often, suitable areas are available because of their closeness to the motorway makes residence or other uses for the land difficult. Clearly, there are local major design issues, but the task is easier given the non-urban location of the Coachway interchanges.
6f. The cloverleaf or desegregation problem.
One problem is that cloverleaf and other major junctions designed to keep the traffic flows separate thwart the integration of coach and bus routes. We could call this the cloverleaf or desegregation problem because of the difficulty of mingling the separated flows of traffic. There seems no obvious safe way in which a transfer point could be built into one of these interchanges. Actually, it can be addressed in a variety of ways – through linking separate platform interchanges with underpasses, through the use of offset bridges, through new road links and shuttle transport. For example the M1/M25 junction can be displaced half a mile east to the SE corner of Junction 21A, provided two feed lanes travelling in the same direction are merged north and south of the M25. Nevertheless, some junctions, like the M25/M4 interchange are very difficult without major engineering. Another technique is an earlier transfer to coaches that go left or right, as, for example, at the M40/M42 interchange SE of Birmingham. It can be done.
6g. Development costs.
The overall cost of the Coachways is difficult to assess. The Milton Keynes Coachway cost only £2.6 million in 2010. Although that is real and low, we have to give a more speculative costing to this development. There are likely to be variations and greater costs to the major junction interchanges. If we assume 120 Coachways will cost £20 million each, with a further ten costing £100 million each, the overall capital costs may be some £4bn. Information and administrative systems may cost £2bn. The coaches, operating capital, cost £3-5bn. This does not seem a difficult development to get underway. The private coach companies will be keen to co-operate, given the new infrastructure, and a rough guesstimate of £10-20bn does not look unrealistic, even generous.
Chapter Seven. The M25 and other Orbitals.
6a. Key to much of this study is orbital movement. In contemporary cities there are very large orbital traffic movements to work and other destinations by cars, lorries and commercial vehicles. Here a lot of congestion occurs – West on the M25 towards Heathrow in the morning and East in the evening. If conurbation orbital passengers can be moved efficiently by coaches in large numbers, many of the worst congestion problems in the UK can be eased and even solved. Orbital movements begin and end either inside or outside the orbital motorway in a range of different short, medium and long-distance movements. Some of them will be long-distance and others commuting, local, shopping, leisure and work related. We focus on the M25, but Bristol, Southampton, Cambridge, Peterborough, Ipswich, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Leicester, Norwich, Stoke, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Doncaster, York, Hull, Middlesborough, Sunderland and Newcastle are open to the same kinds of solutions. The aim is to move a high proportion of the orbital passenger movements from cars to coaches.
6b. The M25 Orbital Necklace.
Clearly the M25 orbital requires a set of major interchanges. They form a necklace of coach to coach and bus to coach transfers allowing passengers to move round London, or the other cities, smoothly and without waits or interruptions.
THE M25 Necklace of Coachway Transfers.
The M25 offers a necklace of transfer points offering strategic links to cities and anywhere in the London area. Here are the most likely links and areas of access.
Table 5. The Possible M25 transfer stations.
Junction Motorway/Road Access to
2 A2 Dartford,Bexley, Gravesend, Canterbury, Margate
3 M20 Swanley, Maidstone, Folkestone, Dover, Channel Tunnel
5 M26 Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells, Hastings
7/8 M23 Redhill, Crawley, Gatwick, Brighton
10 A3 Guildford, Chobham, Portsmouth
12 M3 Camberley, Staines, Winchester, Southampton
14/15 M4 Slough, Heathrow, Reading, Swindon, Bristol, Exeter
16 M40 Uxbridge, Oxford, Leamington,Birmingham
20 A41 Watford, Aylesbury, Bicester
21 M1 St Albans, Luton, MK, Northampton, Nottingham, Leeds
23 A1(M) Welwyn, Peterborough, Doncaster, Newcastle, Edinburgh
24 A111 Potters Bar, Barnet, Hatfield, Welwyn
25 A10 Enfield, Cambridge, King’s Lynn
27 M11 Woodford, Gatwick, Cambridge, Norwich
28 M12 Romford, Brentford, Colchester, Ipswich, Harwich
30 A13 Grays, Basildon, Southend
All of these places can be reached by express coach from any other with two coach changes of less than five minutes. These radial coach links offer access to the whole of Britain. As they are already strategic, so they can be strategic for more people by coach.
Another local move is possible. There are already a series of bridges over the M25 which can offer rapid contact to local populations who would face a several mile journey to one of the big transfer stations. At either side of these bridges bus and car put down facilities linked to a layby stop on the M25 for some coaches could provide dozens of points around the orbital for direct access. An example is Byfleet, close to the M25 but two miles away by road. It has a population of 7000 and perhaps 4000 cars. A link at the Rectory Road bridge would mean these people have an immediate walking access to a national coach network. Further along the same is true for Chobham at the Stoke D’Abernon Bridge. These stopping coaches could link with the major Coachway stations on their way round.
6c. The Inward Radial System.
Each radial motorway has a trajectory into the city. Here the Transmilenio commuting pattern of offering a fast coach lane route towards the centre of London or the other major cities can open up. For example, the A/M40 Western avenue, as well as bringing in the present 15,000 daily Oxford-London passengers coach passenger towards the centre into Paddington could pick up a similar number from the M25 orbital and make a space saving dedicated coach lane, possibly a tidal one, viable. So in London, as elsewhere, the deep, daily congestion problems within the city could be solved from the outside as the passenger movements are concentrated in efficient, relentless, frequent space-saving coaches. Each of these moves can be repeated across all the orbitals.
Chapter Eight: The Overall Strategy.
8a. This is the Required Policy Now.
A national coach system seems the required response to global warming and the growth in road congestion. The energy economies make coaches the only real option, and this study suggests its infrastructure. Detailed costing is difficult, but at, say, well less than £20bn it could provide benefits of more than twice that amount in decongestion, economic movement, car ownership and use reduction, pollution and safety benefits. The capital cost to the Exchequer with a reasonable public-private mix is really quite small. This is a practical, immediate, option.
Moreover, it can be done quickly. A year of planning and four years of preparing the Coachway Stations, supply of coaches, logistics and support system could see most of the national system in place in five years, because the infrastructure needs are so limited. Moreover, it should produce is robust income stream out of the £100bn spent on cars annually as return on capital. Because each coach is easily capable of a million passenger miles a year return on the capital is not difficult.
8b. A Strategic Authority and Public Policy
The policy seems to need a new Strategic Authority. It cannot be left to the present private operators, both because the systemic integration must be great and precise, and also because private coach companies have previously operated with a much reduced vision. My original proposal was centred on the M25 and suggested that a Strategic Authority be set up to run this orbital coach plan. ORBIT recommended the same. This Strategic Authority must explain and implement the vision and strategy with Government backing. A two stage plan looking to a 5%and then 10% replacement of cars could be in place over a decade timescale.
Further, this policy requires good governmental support based on sound economic principles to establish the right pricing, often co-ordinated across modes. If cars cause pollution, congestion and other costs which coaches prevent, then tax –subsidy levels need to reflect it. It might be possible to aim at a public price of 10-15p a mile. A sophisticated intermodal pricing system could make it easy to use and attractive across most journeys. Subsidised pricing to the young, often without cars anyway, could convert a generation to move through life being far less wedded to cars than their forebears and both fitter and richer as a result.
8c. The technologies and a new industry
The coach industry cannot but grow in the coming decades. An order for ten and then another ten thousand coaches kickstarts this industry in the UK. Yet again, this development offers a range of possible technological advances in coach travel including real time demand response through phones, integrated transfers, coach trains and coupling, double-sided door systems, flexible coach priority motorway systems, grouped small container luggage movement, full information systems and other innovations. Coaches can easily move up to 200 passengers.
8d. The opposition and the culture of cars.
Of course, there are reasons why this policy has not opened up. The car lobby is dominant and opposes policies which cut its demand. The idea that we could manage with far fewer cars carrying 1.6 people is unthinkable to a demand-seeking industry. Moreover, there is a tacit prejudice against coaches among much of the establishment – the civil service, the politicians and the plush and ordinary car owners who probably do not travel much by coach. Most people are so subconsciously car wedded that this move is unthinkable. The basic level of thinking seems absent in Parliament. In 2010 two colleagues and I arranged a Coach Seminar in the Grand Committee Room of the Commons backed by two Parliamentary Committees. About two dozen transport economists turned up and one MP, and he was chairing it Generating political awareness of this policy has been slow, and opposition will be strong. Much of it is unthinking, or interest-based, and whether public debate and scrutiny can open this strategy up is an open question.
8e. Let’s do it.
Yet, on this assessment the policy is both necessary and good for all. With a little, really quite simple, thought its justification becomes clear. Perhaps, the traffic jammed car users, the poor, the planet and the car-less deserve the policy commended here. Let’s place it in Milton’s marketplace and get it adopted.
1. Wealth and Poverty.
2. Overseas Indebtedness.
3. Housing and Mortgage Debt.
4. Personal Debt and Consumption.
5. Banking and Credit Contraction.
6. UK Government Debt and Austerity.
7. The Work Crisis.
8. Corporate Savings.
9. Failing Consumerism.
10. The Bank of England is stuck.
11. Europe and Brexit.
12. The Crisis – addressing it or full judgment?
This paper suggests the United Kingdom will have an economic recession beginning this autumn with a downturn in effective demand. It will become serious when the self-interested rich begin to move money around precipitating a fall in the £ and a collapse of the housing market in the South East and will then extend into the banking international and public sectors in 2018. Its underlying causes are the inequalities in income and wealth, the indebtedness of the poor and young, the banks dependence on credit expansion and UK international debt. This paper sets out how most of the important UK sectors have structural problems which have been growing since the time of Thatcher. Government policy since 2010 of continued support for banking-led credit and austerity for the poor has made the pattern worse. This crisis will dominate Brexit and shape necessary government policy and politics for a decade or more. It will require a new radical Government in 2018 if it is to be addressed.
1. The Wealth and Poverty Crisis.
As people are now realising, there is a crisis of poverty and wealth. For decades “wealth creation” has been preached as a justification for controlling national and international economic activity. Actually, of course, there has been no such thing, but a polarisation of wealth and poverty, financial and other windfalls to the South East, and a concentration of benefits to one class and age group, creating an underlying problem in the concentration of wealth. The top 10% in wealth in the UK own as much as the bottom 80%. This inequality is destroying the economy.
First, it is leading to stagnation and under-consumption. The poor are often in debt with tight budgets and have almost no room to take economic hits or adjust their household budgets; so their consumption is low and under acute pressure. They just cannot afford to buy much. Many others are constrained by housing costs and low wages; they have been functioning on debt and credit with low savings, but now cutting consumption is becoming inevitable. On the other hand, the rich have too much to spend. They save a lot of it and therefore under-consume in relation to their income. Over the coming months demand will fall on this bipolar pressure. Unequal societies are structured towards this inflexible under-consumption, and we are approaching this situation now.
At the same time, a lot of strategic decisions are in the hands of a few rich people in these unstable times, and they act on an immediate mercenary basis. Many of these rich hold their assets off-shore, move them about internationally, and escape tax. They will move fast out of falling markets and precipitate crises in housing, international assets, the stock exchange and other sectors. With a Conservative economic policy dominating public policy, the crisis will not be addressed and a recession will set in. The present Government has no intention of correcting the fundamental imbalances in the economy, although Labour, the Greens and other parties have seen the inequality problem, they have not yet thought through the business of addressing this recession and crisis.
2. Overseas Indebtedness.
The United Kingdom is running a deficit in its international trade. It is sometimes called the “hidden deficit”, is usually measured by the Current Account and is running at some £80-100 billion a year, or about 4-5% of GDP. This is big money. Each household is spending £2k a year more on goods, services, holidays and companies from abroad than we are earning from abroad. Although these patterns can go on for a long while, they also have a habit of being called to account. It is not unreasonable to say that every household, to pay its way, should expect a fall in income of £2k sometime in the near or medium future, a point all parties have ignored.
But the bigger issue is not the immediate deficit, but the accumulated external debt from repeated current account deficits. First, we need to be aware that we do not know how big this is. The problem is the banking sector which borrows from abroad and then holds assets, often from abroad. The quoted amount for Gross External Debt is some £6 trillion, but that is largely the banking sector which has some £4 trillion of external liabilities and we presume similar assets. But we do not know. It is a black hole of knowledge. There are no Net External Debt figures for the UK, unlike other EU countries. The best we can do is guess. The current account deficit has been going on for three decades, ever since North Sea oil and a high £ in the Thatcher era hit our exports. We have overspent an average of, say, at least 2% of GDP for thirty years, or a total of some £1 trillion or 60% plus of GDP over the whole period.
How has this been absorbed? Some of this money has been used to buy shares in British companies. This was welcomed by Thatcher and the Conservatives since then, as good international business. With oil, our external debts did not seem to matter, but now they have grown big. At the end of 2014 foreign investors owned 54% of UK domiciled companies, putting some £930bn, nearly £1trillion, into UK shares. Other have bought property; Private Eye identified £170bn of such property in 2015. The Government is at present considering forming a register of foreigners owning UK property to address money laundering and international crime; so again we do not know the net position on international ownership. Partly to invite informed knowledge we guess that some £0.5 trillion net is owed abroad on property. So, something like £1-1.5 trillion of UK assets are owned abroad by people who would be quite willing to move their money if they saw falls in their assets coming. It is ironic, given the rhetoric of Brexit, that most UK companies and much UK property is already owned abroad. These are two important triggers for falls in the Stock Market and the Housing and Property Markets, centred largely on London, and the guns are loaded on the desk.
They will go off. Though the trade position is important, far more significant is the view of international money on where they should put their funds. The precipitant is likely to be a downturn in the property market in the South East. This fall in the £ will be structural as analysts put together the underlying weakness of the currency, the housing market, share prices and the ability to earn returns in Britain. The lower £ will increase exports in the longer term, but increase the cost of imports in the shorter, leading to a further outflow of funds, making the downturn substantial. The effect of this outflow is masked by other factors, but it is a substantial depression to the domestic economy.
3. Housing and Mortgage Debt.
The UK housing market has a long-term shape – a failure to build the houses needed by new generations. In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher initiated the selling of council houses, but the money so raised was not ploughed back into local authorities for more house building, but syphoned off for other Government expenditure and lower taxes. Whereas the level of new builds was over 300,000 in the seventies, since then it has averaged well under 200,000. This is against a background where immigration is strong requiring more dwellings, households have shrunk in size, there has been a strong gathering of jobs and income in London and overseas demand for luxury property has increased. House prices have risen in surges throughout the period and now stand at about £230,000 in England and approaching £500,000 in London. A traditional way of looking at these figures is to say that a house is 8-10 times the average wage and more in London. It used to be about 3.5 the average wage. Only about 2% of the housing stock can be built in any year, and so supply is inelastic. We are short of houses. If this is so, how can the housing market collapse? The suggestion is that falling foreign demand, a lower supply of mortgages, tougher terms for landlords and profit-taking by speculators will bring it about. House prices in the South East could fall 5-10% or more quite quickly.
Behind this is the level to which mortgages fund the purchase of houses. At present some £1.3 trillion is held in mortgages. This, of course, was the main market which went awry in 2007-8 when banks and building societies suffered defaults. Since then the terms for a mortgage have been stiffened to prevent the same kind of collapse. Now the borrower is required to have a bigger cushion against negative equity. Mortgages now need a bigger deposit – something like £30,000 on a £100,000 loan and they are often for shorter periods.
They seem safer for the banks and building societies, even though the levels of debt are higher. First, let us look at mortgages, and correct the average figures. First, not everyone has mortgages because a lot of people do not live in (part) owner occupied houses. We take the average household debt (minus consumer debt) to give mortgage levels of about £50,000. The owner-occupied housing stock is about 18 million, and the council housing, housing association and privately rented stock about 7 million. They will not be paying mortgages. This pushes the average for those paying mortgages up over £69,000. But, of course, this average is also misleading because some have big mortgages and some small; so there are many with mortgages pushing up and beyond £100,000.
The banks and building societies seem safer, but does this strategy of pushing the risk of default onto the mortgage holder work? The Bank of England’s Financial Stability Report in June, 2017 noted that the average mortgage debt to income ratio is now up at 101%, close to the level in 2006. How secure are the households who hold this debt? They could not cope with a rise in interest rates, as the Bank of England well knows. They therefore fix the Bank of England without its most normal policy instrument of changing interests rates; it must not raise rates, except very slowly. Now households who cannot pay their mortgages will be forced by the banks to sell their houses, a move they will desperately resist, but when it arrives, it will be another tidal wave of downward pressure on house prices; the lenders’ security depends on further depressing the housing market. Households are vulnerable to a recession, loss of jobs, and poverty and many will fail. If a lot of houses have to be sold off, house prices will further decline and the threat of negative equity still emerges. Indeed, the process may now be underway as mortgages decline so that the banks are more secure. The downward pressure on house and property prices is already there. If mortgages fail, the financial institutions which have lent to them will be threatened. The transfer of risk does not really work.
4. Personal Debt and Consumption.
Personal credit, (or more accurately personal debt) has been a strong driver of economic activity for a number of years. The public sector, exports, wages and company expenditure and investment have been relatively muted, but domestic demand has held up backed by consumer credit. Average unsecured debts have climbed to £13-15,000 per household over the last few years, but, of course, the average figure does not tell us much since many do not have debt and others have more. It is also a shadowy figure, because there is a penumbra of loan sharks and other forms of debt, and immediate credit card payments are not debt. Debt is both a stock, a cumulative amount, and also a flow, as new credit is given or withdrawn. The flow looks bad. People are moving to living in credit in areas of their lives. A key one is cars. Over the last decade we have moved from one in five to four in five having a Personal Contract Purchase where cars are leased on a monthly payment. We used to own cars, but now we borrow them. In many families not being able to pay and losing the car would be a family crisis. Mark Carney and Alex Brazier at the Bank of England have both issued warnings about these levels of personal debt. The banks are being asked to tighten up by the Bank of England. But the tightening is not easy and may even be dangerous.
Those with large levels of credit amount to millions of people and many have few resources. Some five million or so have no savings. Three million have rent arrears. Six million are financially vulnerable. We tend to ignore the significance of these households because they are small economic units, but actually many are teetering on the edge of financial collapse. In the first three months of this year, 2017, savings out of disposable income were the lowest since the 1960s, when records began, at 1.7%. Households without reserves could fail in large numbers; then there could be another rise in bad debts for the banks calling on their reserves. Again, the banks are lending to a lot of people, directly and through intermediaries in the loan shark end of the market, who are up to their necks in debt on the understanding, or vague hope, that they will not go under. But people floundering do go under. The high returns on this kind of debt shortens the risk that clients will default. We are talking about several hundred billion unsecured debt. Cutting personal debt when people are on the edge of insolvency will generate bankruptcies on a large scale. Again the market is fragile.
5. Banking and Credit Contraction.
We have become used to credit creation for several decades, but it is still not properly understood and there is a danger which has not been recognised – a credit contraction multiplier effect in the banks. As banks expand credit, they give themselves newly created electronic money through a kind of seigniorage process. When the Bank of England printed money it got a windfall of most of the value of the paper money. Banks create electronic money by extending credit, not directly for themselves, but disseminated through the banking system. For all the money finishes up redeposited in one bank or another. This process has given the banking system a windfall of £20-30bn a year. Their profits expand, not through their competence, but through this windfall, allowing exorbitant bonuses and spreading affluence in the London area. This explains the growth of the banking sector to over 10% of the economy over the last few decades. The broad calculation of the money supply M3 expanded from about £0.8 trillion in 1998 to about £2 trillion in 2008. It was this which allowed the loose banking of the crisis of 2007-8 in the UK and US, in which the banks showed their incompetence in the area they were supposed to understand, namely lending money. The same pattern has picked up since then, increasing more steeply over the last two years than at any time outside the crisis response in 2010. This money has kept the expenditure relatively buoyant in the middle of this decade.
But there is a downside to this pattern, aside the dangers of massive levels of debt. When credit falls, the money supply undergoes a multiple contraction through a reverse effect. When A is given credit, their funds are moved to banks X, Y and Z, but when credit is withdrawn, so money disappears from these banks irrespective of their own transactions. Mervyn King understood this process. A contraction of credit is fraught with danger by reducing the money the banks have beyond their own accounting by a multiplier effect according to the leverage they have built up. It can only happen properly through a steady required contraction of credit, which has been absent since 2010.
This process the Bank of England has now set in train in order to reduce the exposure of the banks to debt. The Governor of the Bank of England is requiring higher reserves from the banks and building societies – some £5bn now and another £5bn in November. It will curtail the levels of mortgage and personal debt – a sound move in principle – but it will involve a sharp contraction in the money supply this autumn and Christmas. It may actually contribute to the crisis through this multiplier effect, both too big and too late.
6. UK Government Debt and Austerity.
The UK government has had a deficit in its budget for some time. The deficit is an annual calculation of government expenditure minus tax income, and it accumulates into the National Debt or Sovereign Debt as a total. The phrase, “National Debt” is often used in an alarmist way, but it is really money owed by the State mainly to British people and institutions on a long-term basis because it has not taxed the rich enough and has fought too many wars. The accumulated total is now about £1.7 trillion, about 90% of a year’s GDP. It would take a long time to repay and the debt interest has been used in the past to fund pensions and give returns to savings.
In the 2010 election the Conservatives claimed that the 2007-8 crisis was caused by Government overspending by the New Labour Party, and that a period of “austerity” was required. It was largely an inaccurate charge, first, because rescuing the banks had pushed up government debt, second because the tax deficit was largely caused by failing to tax the rich; companies and individuals were moving into tax havens to avoid taxes, and third, because the banking sector was almost entirely untaxed and had grown to some 10% of the economy through windfall profits. There was some loose expenditure in the Blair-Brown era, but the problem was misdiagnosed, deliberately and through ignorance, by the Conservatives. The deficit was not the problem. Rather, it reflected money owed to the rich by the State because the rich have been under-taxed for nearly four decades. More than this, the extra borrowing needed mainly to address the financial crisis has cost little because interest rates were so low. The Conservatives, in favour of banking deregulation for three decades and even more in favour of supporting and subsidising the banking system, were dishonest in the way they cast the problem. They stated the answer was to eliminate the deficit by 2015 through cuts in Government expenditure mainly in public services and benefits. Osborne’s ministrations as Chancellor failed to have that effect. That date has now changed to 2025. Most commentators reckon that more government expenditure and a more dynamic economy would have increased tax revenue enough to produce results similar to those we now have. The main consequence of this situation is that the Bank of England cannot raise interest rates without increasing substantially the interest it must pay on this debt of £1.7 trillion, which now run at about £60bn annually.
The Conservative “Austerity” policy of 2010-20 was a cut in expenditure in public services and benefits, substantially falling on the poor. Austerity for the rich was absent. The main kinds of tax are: Income Tax (27%), National Insurance – employment (19%), taxes on bought goods and services (29%), Capital Taxes (4%), Company taxes (11%), Council Tax (5%), Other (5%). The impact of these taxes together is rarely recognised. It hits the poor proportionately more than the rich. For several decades the overall tax system has been regressive; the bottom 20% by earnings pay proportionately more than the top 20%, increasing disparities between the rich and poor. The Conservatives have tended to cut taxes on high income groups. So, it is a tax system which tends towards inequality. But this is less than the full story, because a lot of rich people and companies from the UK and overseas have used tax havens and off shore companies to avoid taxes on a massive scale. The cost of this to the tax system are estimated to be somewhere between £40-100bn. So, the rich are evading taxes and that is the main reason why the Exchequer is awry. The cuts were the wrong policy for the wrong problem.
The present system has also destroyed a number of income stabilisation methods. It reflects a pre-Keynesian lack of awareness of income analysis in the Treasury. People used to be given good levels of unemployment pay without being hounded. This cushioned the economy against an unemployment recession. Now they are not. The amount is desultory, and falls in employment mean a multiplier effect follows. Quite a few areas are already experiencing this. Other benefit cuts have a similar effect, holding up income and consumption in poor areas. Most of these are gone. More than this the long-term loss of public assets (rail, electricity, water, telephone, post office, steel, coach, gas, council houses, libraries, schools, hospitals, land, manufacturing) to the value of perhaps £1 trillion, extracts more from household budgets than used to be the case in the 50s and 60s, and costs the Exchequer vast amounts more in Private Finance Initiatives, School and Hospital budgets and other subsidies. These buffers against recession have been lost by Conservative policy in their great privatisation con and the lessons of Keynesian economics have been lost. The recession, when it comes, will build.
Finally, the policy of the Government and the Treasury does not address recessions and cannot address them. The obvious well-tried mechanism is public works regenerating local economies, but this was demonised in 2010 and thrown out of the tool-kit. And U turns, although the Treasury makes them behind the scenes, are not easy for a Conservative Government which has so loudly condemned Labour’s tendency to overspend. So the present Government cannot address the crisis. It has tied its own hands.
7. The Work Crisis.
Let us look at a conundrum. There are more people working in paid employment than ever before in the UK. In 1971 there were 25 million people over 16 working and now there are 32 million. If we think about this for a moment, it is rather strange. Over that period we have lost maybe 5 million jobs to automation in higher technology manufacturing and service provision; you will hardly remember telephone operators. If the computer and electronic revolutions are taken into account, the figure is probably closer to ten million. A similar level of job transfer has taken place in manufacturing. The making of chairs, computers, bikes, tools, and hundreds of other goods now happens in China, India or many other countries with cheaper labour, better technology or more abundant resources. Let us say some 15 million jobs have been lost as a result of these two factors. Between five and six million people born outside the UK are now working here, more than three million from outside the EU and more than two million from inside the EU. In all we are, and this is very rough, “doing”, or absorbing, perhaps 21 million more jobs now than we were in the early 70s. We are now doing twice as much work as a nation compared with the early 70s. This is astonishing. Why? Of course, the normal answer is that we are working to produce a more affluent lifestyle now. But that is not fully the case. We do not have enough houses. We do not have time for many of our children or old people, and many of us are not rich, but in debt.
The real reason for this large number of employed is that there has been intense pressure to generate jobs, partly through poor unemployment pay and a requirement that they register each day as looking for work, and partly by the creation of a lot of poorly paid self-employed people with little capital. Many of these jobs do work which produces some income but has little longer-term rationale or structure. Often employers try to use “self-employed” people, so that they can get rid of them quickly. When the economy starts a recession, the shedding of these kinds of jobs could be severe. It is another process whereby the down-turn can gather momentum. Jobs can evaporate as quickly as they have come.
8. Corporate Savings.
Of course, if UK companies were investing strongly, this too could add to effective demand and result in a growing GDP. Yet something strange is happening in companies. They are saving on an unprecedented scale. In the era of international capitalism we must look at the big picture, not just British firms. Corporate excess saving of companies in the US amounts to perhaps $1.7 trillion and €1 trillion in the EU. The companies have made the money in profits, but they are holding them in a complex mix of off-shore tax havens, buying up their own shares, and lending to government and other banking operations. Perhaps there is just so much capital investment that it is difficult to do more. Perhaps the structure of companies requires this hoarding of funds. Perhaps there is a fear of a coming downturn, or perhaps a few of the major shareholders are concentrating their assets in non risk-taking assets and avoiding tax by the way they hold their assets. Perhaps the difficulty of repatriating profits keeps them stored. Whatever is going on, these companies are emphatically not going to invest during a recession, but more money will stack up in accounts off-shore and in the domestic economy. Again, a sector has a policy which is inherently recessionary.
Perhaps profits-driven companies have fewer options. All the routes to quick profits – exploiting resources – poor workers, new products, establishing state-wide monopolies, capturing addicted or psychologically dependent consumers, picking up windfall profits, buying cheap assets or companies, bribing governments, buying land, obtaining technological monopolies, infiltrating health, care, military, transport, energy and other markets – and others, have been exploited, and the pickings are now more meagre. China and other non-western countries stand as a competent alternative to western capitalism to which the West is already in debt. In this situation, the perceived options for profit driven investment are small. Looking to this sector to turn around a recession is not fruitful. Come a downturn, it will hoard and wait.
9. Failing Consumerism.
We have had decades of advertisement led consumerism, pushing products and services into every area of our lives. We can have our toe-nails polished or our hair coloured, our holidays in the Arctic or the Caribbean, our films horror or humour, our cars pink or magenta. The future beckons; it is one where millions of drivers sit in driverless cars emoting their responses as the vehicle takes from them the one area of competence where they still feel in control. Or we can all walk with our mobile phones in front of us guiding us through life. Of course, the possibilities to buy and want are limitless, especially when pushed by addictive, manipulative advertising, but there are limits which arise when we actually think about what is good for us. Consumers become aware that overeating is bad, that roads are congested and cars often move at 10mph, that product promises do not work, that the rich are often miserable, that broken families in a mansion rattle, that drinking holidays involve hangovers, that the rich die, and stuff around the house is a nuisance. The downside of consumerism is also a big part of the public psyche. The cosmetics of promise do not cover the face of reality, and really the face without cosmetics is quite nice anyway.
Another way of approaching consumption is to identify goods, bads, remedials and indifferents. The goods are often simple – enough food, water, warmth and being at peace with people. The bads include too much food and alcohol, smoking, traffic jams, many drugs, weapons, clothes we don’t need and will not wear, stuff in the garage and attic, instant disposables, adult toys and many other things that mess up our lives. There are bad quality films, books, magazines, pictures, garden furniture, computer games, cars, holidays, hairdressers and many other goods and services. There are thousands of ways in which we can be defrauded. These bads may be 20% or 40% of many people’s consumption, so that buying less is better, especially if the effort of earning the money in the first place is taken into account. Then there are things to address other things that have gone wrong, and consumption that is remedial. We have locks, bolts, security systems for money, cars and houses to prevent theft, diet and fitness aids, ways of relaxing from stress, doctors, dentists, car repair people and many others. Often, these would not be needed if we lived more wisely. Finally, there are a lot of things to which we are really indifferent a week or two after we have bought them – the empty picture frame, the lamp that has no-where to go, the expensive meal we did not need. So, the consumption drive has its downside. It could cease to be the treadmill of the economy, especially if money is tight. This change could become significant in a month, a year or ten years, but it will become stronger, aside global warming, the biggest aside of all in our need to consume less. Consumption can, and probably will, fall sometime because it does not work on the scale we now have.
Of course, when the sun comes out people buy summer clothes, ice cream and go to the beach and Christmas rescues retail outlets. But the Centre for Retail Research in Norwich forecasts retail sales to grow 1.2% in 2018, not very promising.
10. The Bank of England is Stuck.
The crisis of 2007-8 was mainly a banking crisis in the US and the UK. Banks and Building Societies had lent money carelessly and their bad debts accumulated on such a vast scale that they had to be rescued in packages amounting to $2.5 trillion. This stabilised most of the banks involved or allowed them to be taken over at favourable rates by other banks. The process of assessing the assets bundled up after these failures is still going on among the merchant banks. The effects are still being understood and assessed by economists, but include a subsidy to the banking sector of perhaps £100-200 billion. That is in addition to the windfalls of £20-30billion the banking sector received before that period through the creation of credit and electronic money. So the banks have been vastly subsidised and not contracted their levels of lending.
Because housing debt is so large, the Bank cannot use interest rate rises as a tool of policy; too many people would default on higher payments. They also cannot raise rates because of a policy called Quantitative Easing (QE). When the Banking Crisis broke, in order to make the balance sheets of the banks easier, the Bank of England started buying its bonds. Normally, it sells bonds to the banks for money to meet its debts and pays interest on the bonds. The more bonds it sells, increasing the supply of bonds to the market, the lower the price and the higher the rate of interest. When it does the opposite, buying its bonds, it pushes the price up and lowers interest rates. It also transfers money out to the banks who are able to increase the liquidity of their balance sheets and are not likely to run out of money. In 2009 the Bank of England bought some £350 billion of loans, mainly its own bonds, and made sure that the banks could weather the storm. It bought another £60 billion in 2016 to stabilise any perturbations around Brexit. An easy way to think of QE is that it is the same as if the Government had paid for its debt by printing money in the first place.
The obvious question in relation to QE is, “Will it cause inflation?” Economic orthodoxy used to be that more money, especially on this scale, meant higher prices almost on a proportional basis. Why has it not happened over the last decade? It is not clear. In part, the money is not in the pockets of ordinary people, except as credit, so they do not bid up prices. Second, goods often come from abroad and so their prices do not rise, but probably the most important is that Conservative policies prevent wages from going up by keeping a competitive, low wage class, fearing unemployment. Somehow, apart from concentrating in areas of London and other places of affluence, where it does cause inflation, the money does not generate demand inflation and does not generate much demand except in certain areas like luxury housing. All of this is by way of suggesting that the Bank of England does not have much ability to stimulate the economy, even by using QE.
11. Europe and Brexit.
We have not really mentioned Brexit, although many feared negotiations and a likely decrease in European trade would lead to a recession. That prediction was always suspect, given the long negotiations, but it is possible that the process or substance of the exit. Perhaps there could be market reactions made more sensitive by the Brexit negotiations or political crises. Yet, this paper suggests the domestic sclerosis of the sectors presented here is a far bigger problem than the presenting one of leaving the EU, and the present Brexit obsession is a displacement from the real issues.
12. The Crisis, addressing it or full judgement.
It seems the structural problems perceived in the various sectors of the economy will interact and lead this autumn to a slowdown in growth to stagnation. The car and housebuilding markets will be sluggish especially as the banks lower the credit they offer. There will be a rise in the level of unemployment, and the housing market in the South-east will fall in price quite markedly. As the banks cut credit, so the money supply will contract. Definitive will be the time when the international finance in the property market begins to withdraw, say, late August-November. Then the momentum of the crisis will be underway. The value of the £ will fall putting further pressure on international money to withdraw. The Chancellor will wrestle with the difficulties, but given the ideology of the Conservative Party, without the policies to address them properly, though the Autumn Budget statement will be the last chance. There are policies which would avoid an acute crisis. One, for example, would be for the State to offer to buy a proportion of houses where households face mortgage default allowing reduced mortgages and State ownership of part of houses. There are some issues about valuating and requiring building societies and banks to redraw mortgage contracts, but it can be done. Taxes on wealth, banks and high income can make Government expenditure on benefits and public works available fairly quickly. So there is an opportunity to respond, but it will recede.
Christmas will probably be well below normal for the retail trade, credit default and family poverty will be acute, together with hospital and other public sector problems through underfunding. Stagnation in demand, especially in the South-east, unemployment, higher prices of imports and low benefits will produce a recession and the need for quite drastic action. The crisis will reflect judgment on the last forty years of concentration of wealth and the neglect of poverty and will feed again into the banking sector.
By the Spring it is likely to bring down the Government, and then perhaps some quite basic reforms to the economy can be undertaken, including a wealth tax, the closing down of tax evasion, offshore and within the UK banking system, the proper funding of public services, the transfer of taxation from the poor and young to the rich and old, and the proper taxing of the banking sector for the common good. Then, perhaps, we will learn that economies are not run by bogus wealth creation, but through loving your neighbour as yourself, fair trade and markets, public service and making sure that all have the proper means of livelihood. We will see the magic money tree of the bankers does not exist, and it is better to love God and your neighbour than run an economy on greed and self interest.
This letter is more personal than my previous ones. Then we were concerned about rockets and you sorting the world, but I have a problem and need your help. Were you not such a superb President you could have been a fine counsellor. I would be grateful if the person reading this letter could go away and you could read it yourself and pay attention throughout. Remember, I am your ally and we have held hands.
I know you are the most popular President ever and millions came to your inauguration, spellbound by your words, and now you are popular around the world, except in North Korea, where they wonder about being nuked. Yet, still in most countries there are some people who do not like you. You have seen them in the distance and on TV. I want to know how you cope when people do not like you. It must hurt inside.
Of course, most of the people who do not praise you have been set up by Hilary, and it is spite just because she lost. There is another group of obsessives. They are against things like climate change, poverty, aggression and famine and have lost all sense of balance. We have some who do not like you here, though the Queen does. She likes everyone the Government invites. I understand why you are not coming until you are more popular. They do not like me either, and I have to stay here. You take it all so calmly; it does not seem to affect you. Even though you must be hurting inside, you rise above it, and I want to know how you do it.
Lots of people do not like me. Some are called Corbynites. They hated their leader and liked me, but now they hate me and like him. And lots of people in Europe do not like me just because I said we would leave and get the best deal for ourselves. They often refuse to speak in English and talk their own mumbo jumbo. But the worst are people in my own party. My Chancellor seems to resent the fact that I was going to get rid of him, and Boris, the Foreign Secretary wants me out, but then he does not like foreigners anyway. It is the whispering that gets to me. They always seem to be wanting me to leave the room.
I feel I need a song, like your “Hail to the Chief”. I must admit I was slightly jealous when I heard the music. It is so simple and plonky, but then I read the words. Do you know them?
Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfilment of a great, noble call.
Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that’s our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!
Those are lovely encouraging words about you. They must have a great effect on you, helping you to believe in yourself when that is difficult and quell your doubts. It must help you move away from ambivalences and the complexities of policy modification and be resolute when you need to nuke. But it is not just the anthem. You must have inner spiritual discipline, an eradication of ego, a humility which helps you through when you are attacked. It’s true you said some hard things about Hilary and others, but that was not retaliation, but to open the agenda. Perhaps you pray, meditate, confess and abase yourself, thinking about the importance of others.
So, could you tell me what helps you to be strong and stable? Sometimes, since the election, I feel weak and a bit unstable. The fate of the world depends on your inner life, the spiritual resources you have gathered. Then America will be great again, Great USA, GUSA, because your ego does not matter. I would like to be strong and stable like you, so that our two nations can go forward together being grander, and GUSA and GB can be great under their strong and stable leaders. I hope you can help. By the way, what size of adoring crowd would help you decide to come to Great Britain?
Most people want to know in a broad sense whether the Gospels are true or not. Immediately there is a lot to take on before one would give assent including miraculous healings and the raising from death of four people, three raised by Jesus and Jesus’ resurrection itself. More broadly, there is the scholarship based on manuscripts which puts the writing of the Gospels two or three decades after the events, the so-called synoptic problem which sees the differences between John and the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as a difficulty, and the problems of redaction criticism which tries to find the prior sources out of which the Gospels were formed. These are all real problems and need addressing and answering for Nonchristians and Christians alike.
Of course they need addressing at different levels. Those who do not believe in God will have acute trouble believing in the resurrection, while those who believe that God created the universe and the two billion genetic code in each cell of their body, will not find the odd resurrection a problem. This study does not address these questions, but merely whether and to what extent the events, teaching and person of Jesus are accurately represented in the Gospels – whether they are “true” to what happened or did not happen.
There is one Christian approach which is not helpful. It says, “Of course, the Gospels are true. They are God breathed and God does not lie. More than this they must be inerrant, and so anyone who questions them is not only automatically wrong, but is in some sense culpable.” This kind of dogmatism is not accepted here; it closes the issue down, and we want to discuss it.
This kind of question is dramatically addressed in the Gospel of John in an incident after the Resurrection (if the account is true) recorded in John 20. The text says that Jesus appeared to the disciples Sunday evening after the Resurrection with the doors locked, admittedly a very unlikely event. “He said, “Peace be with you” twice and showed them his hands and side with evidence of the crucifixion wounds he had received on Friday. This poses our issue. Either you believe it or you don’t, or you gawp in suspended belief. Let’s go for suspended belief, even quite negative syspended belief. The account goes on to say, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Well, they would be, wouldn’t they? That is plausible, if the event happened. But then occurs the account of the event which addresses our issue. Thomas, the twin, was not there on the first occasion, and declared his disbelief. Even though the dozen or so disciples said they had seen Jesus, he disbelieved them. People do not rise from the dead. No evidence. I won’t accept it unless I am convinced. They had told him of the wounds Jesus had shown them, but he said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe it.” Then a week later they were in the same room with the doors again locked through fear and Jesus came, again said, “Peace be with you.” and addressed Thomas inviting him to fulfil his statement so that he could stop doubting and believe. Thomas, not surprisingly, (if you believe the text) did not start poking Jesus and was happy to accept Jesus as “My Lord and my God” seeing that the resurrection had big implications. Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We note that Thomas is not upbraided for not believing. He is allowed his unbelief and verification. Yet others are told they can believe without direct sight of Jesus and be blessed. And, of course, the truth of events, and people, goes way beyond visual verification. So this Gospel incident, if it is an accurate account, allows scepticism as a response, but does not require it. We can well ask how much scepticism is justifiable and still question this account.
The New Testament Studies Eyewitnesses Debate.
Actually, there is a debate going on in New Testament Studies which relates to this. In 2006 Richard Bauckham published Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. (Eerdmans) It raises the issue we are considering fairly straight on. The long tradition of linguistic approaches to the New Testament begin with the manuscripts and focus on the literary construction that seems to take place. This textual work pores over interesting texts and fragments of text which go to make up the Gospels we now have, and clearly it is an important genre of study in this area. But the fragments we have date to the late first century leaving a gap of perhaps seventy years in our information. Bauckham takes a different approach. He looks at the textual evidence and asks, “Where could this information have come from?” So Bauckham looks at the eyewitness theme and the way it plays out. Clearly, this is a game changer. Eyewitnesses one, five, ten or twenty years away from an event are a lot closer than the seventy year plus gap of redaction criticism. Suddenly, scholarship is a lot closer to the events of the Gospel through no other change than the method of approach the scholars are using. The question is, does Bauckham’s approach stand up? Is there the evidence that we have the eyewitness accounts which are the focus of his study? Bauckham’s book is some 500 pages with a range of angles on the issue and swathes of evidence, and it could not be adequately précised here. But the issue is stark. Do we take the manuscript and fragment route, which is mainly linguistic, dwelling on Greek, Aramaic and the other languages of the ancient world, or do we go the route of the eyewitness contributions? Even if we are interested in the latter, there are still some big problems. Eyewitnesses can lie, shape stories, wrongly explain things, forget, be biassed, exaggerate heroes and all kinds of other things. So merely being an eyewitness is not enough. Frequently on television eyewitnesses are questioned with justifiable suspicion by detectives, and the scepticism of a Foyle or Marple seems a virtue. Indeed, we could well seek the detached disbelief of witnesses shown by Foyle and others. So even if we accept eyewitnesses, are the eyewitnesses accurate and true?
Newspapers and the Gospels.
At the same time as Richard was developing the eyewitness theme and publishing it, I was working on a similar question in relation to Jesus and Politics. This is explored in Appendix A “Reporting and Hermeneutics” of Jesus and Politics (Baker Academic, 2005) There are a large number of political events in the Gospels and the question all the time is how you understand them. It brought to the fore an issue of which I have been long aware as a sociologist. Sociologists are made aware of how accounts are constructed – the culture, personal interactions, areas of conflict, power relationships, shared beliefs, body language, conventions, status, dominant narrative themes, seeming incidentals, social distance, social psychology and other things that surround ordinary social interactions. We are actually very complicated.
One of these themes is the temporal distance from events and how they are remembered. So, for example, a few hours ago I learned that poodles need a haircut every six or so weeks and the cut costs about £40 a go. Had I not written that down and told you, it would have gone from my mind, as details often do, and my recall of that conversation would be far more general and filtered than it now is. Distance from events changes the reporting, but events shared stay alive. I, and you, will perhaps never forget that a poodle haircut costs £40, even when it no longer does. So distance from events changes the historical accounts, for a variety of reasons and at a variety of levels.
Crudely put, many of the narratives in the Gospels seemed to me to have more of the character of the reports in yesterday’s Guardian, or the paper of your choice, than of a distant history book, or even a monthly journal. They were full of details of body language, situation, specificity, and location that they seem close to events. Let us look at the example above. Thomas doubts. He has been given the evidence of Jesus hand and side wounds (if the account is true) and his response is “and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side” . This response is specific. Nail wounds are smaller and Roman spear wounds are bigger; he seems to reflect this in his precise words. It has an odd specificity, an echo of authenticity. Now, of course, this does not make them correct. Newspapers get things wrong, as the Guardian’s corrections show. The Grauniad errata can be seen. But newspaper stories, seen as reporting, are often what could be called close history. They contain details that cannot easily be later fabricated, especially by people who were far less media sophisticated than we are. Fabricating pseudo local and immediate historical elaborations, especially in the era when history, novels, reporting and novels were in their infancy, is a big ask for first century, uneducated people. We can legitimately question a whole range of detailed content of the Gospel narratives in terms of their distance from or closeness to events and their authenticity in relation to those events.
Reading Several Newspapers.
There is a second sociological insight we need to heed. Sociologists know that one person’s narrative of events and people is limited. One of the most interesting historical debates surrounds Churchill and History. Churchill insisted on writing his version of the two World Wars and they have become amazingly orthodox and widely accepted. The wily old bird knew what he was about and he emerges as hero. Now a range of historians, notably David Reynolds here at Cambridge, have shown that Churchill’s construction is substantially that. Whereas actually the USSR bore the brunt of the Second World War, losing 25 million dead, while the USA and UK lost half a million each, in Churchill’s account the West won the War and the role of the USSR is partly downplayed. As Churchill hated the USSR that slant is not surprising. But this shows that multiple accounts of events and people are useful. In my slightly simplistic way this is what the Gospels purvey. Whereas the manuscript people have a synoptic problem, I have a synoptic bonus. The multiple accounts (accepting the commonalities in the Synoptic Gospels) give us a more rounded and better account of Jesus’ life and teaching.
In part, the newspaper variations matter. There are some newspapers scarcely worth reading, some biased, some reflecting a particular class, some which are establishment or anti-establishment. But they usually contribute more together than just one paper. They reflect different reporters, different perceptions, different backgrounds and much more. Of course, reading the Gospels is not quite like reading four daily newspapers, but that characteristics of multiple reporting, long discussed anyway by New Testament readers, are an interesting part of the sociology of the Gospels. Doctor Luke has long been noted. The differences of John have always needed explaining. Mark is short and Matthew spends quite a lot of time on taxation. But there is more to it and this, and we will discuss the “Synoptic Bonus” in a range of ways. But do the several accounts add up? There is already a vast literature on this subject, but we might add to it with a bit of sociological background.
Peter Trudgill: spoken and written language.
At school, the CNS in Norwich, Peter Trudgill sat behind me in alphabetical order and Colin Wills sat on the back row at the end of the alphabet with the lockers, unlocked, all alongside us. These and other classroom relationships were important. Colin and I did two hitch-hiking tours down through Europe soaking up the culture and art in which he mainly hunted up the things we should see for which I am ever grateful. Peter was better than me at languages, provided an interesting commentary in my ear when a lesson lagged, I enjoyed his father who worked at Jarrolds in colour publishing, and he became a linguist, an expert on the Norfolk dialect, a dialectologist and sociolinguist who has held six chairs throughout Europe. One of his more simple points is very incisive. It occurs in his book, Dialect Matters: Respecting Vernacular Language (CUP, 2016) and elsewhere. He points out that spoken language has been completely or mainly dominant throughout most of human history and those who give written grammar authority over the spoken word are being linguistic Fascists. I will clear that description with him before this book goes out. Peter in a more restrained way calls it “prescriptivism”. The spoken word is actually more expressive, full of content and ranges of meaning than a grammatical transition of it can convey. The spoken language of ordinary people is not to be demeaned, but is often actually richer. Dialects are OK and deserve respect, and understanding the vernacular is closer to the centre of culture than elites think. This perspective actually changes much of our thinking and understanding of communication whether ordinary or academic.
The point has actually a lot to teach New Testament Studies. The dominant orthodoxy in Biblical Studies and also in many pulpits is that only those who can speak Greek and study the texts in the original can properly understand the Gospels. This is quite tyrannical. The Gospels were not in Greek, but mainly spoken in Aramaic, with some Hebrew and other dialects in the picture. So the Greek text is already conveying a vernacular. This probably does not matter too much because the authors, and oral contributors, were close to their subject, but it does not allow a purist view of the greek text. More than this, the Gospel texts are amazing oral. They are full of conversations, public stories, social engagements and Jesus’ words are far more robust than translation errors. When he says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet and then turn and tear you to pieces” the point is not easily going to be lost in translation. Mainly, we are studying what Jesus said, if that is what he said.
But the deeper point, following Peter Trudgill’s respect for the vernacular, is that we must hear the oral richness of the Gospels going into people’s lives. We must hear it. The vernacular is fully as truthful, potentially, as the university text. Indeed, the latter may have restrictions imposed by its own constructed linguistic framework. But the point is actually bigger than this in the Gospels themselves, because humility before God is more important to truth than anything else. Time and again Christ butchers the self important, those who elevate their own knowledge and understanding. Truths and insights are hidden from the so-called wise and given to babes and the humble. And the point stands. The best educated nation of the 1930s elected Hitler and the best educated nation of this generation elected the self-important idiot, Trump. Wisdom is more complicated than formal education and the written word. Perhaps we have to unread and unthink a lot of New Testament so-called explanatory and theological literature and rediscover the vernacular Christ, if we can have any confidence that he is available to us.
Einstein and his students.
Jesus has every claim to being the world’s greatest teacher studied one way and another by two billion or more students. But actually, as we shall see, he seems to be a very odd teacher. Often he is cryptic, not understood, deliberately obscure, talks to different audiences at one, deliberately teaches ahead of events, evoking “Oh, that’s what he means” and covers vast terrains of subject matter about God, himself, the world, people, politics, salvation, sin and history. It is not easy stuff. I have spent ten years on the one pithy sentence, “Those who take the sword, perish by the sword.” He leaves gaps, is allusive through parables and takes a lot of careful study. I went to Cambridge, have a doctorate and other degrees and am no slouch educationally, but I have studied Jesus teaching for a lifetime and am still going, with questions, new insights, confirmation of what he says and new self-knowledge from his words, and I am one of millions more. He is the teacher; we are the students. There are great teachers and they have students, and we could briefly look at the relation between great teachers and students. Students, usually, know less, are scrambling to keep up with their teacher, have to study round their lectures and grow into the kind of understanding their professor has. This difference is magnified two ways among Jesus disciples. We remember Rabbi equals teacher and disciples equals students; the Gospels are a three year education course, perhaps the world’s best degree programme.
Jesus is teacher, Rabbi. We think of Einstein’s lectures, good, but in a certain sense one greater than Einstein is here. We think of Wittgenstein. You go to his lectures and he teaches you to think, but Jesus teaches you to think in spades. You engage with Socrates, and fortunately through Plato we can, but Jesus is light years ahead of Socrates, great man though he was. In this case the teacher is way out there. He is giving us a God’s eye view turning most of the dominant perspectives upside down.
Meanwhile, without being disparaging, his students are pretty poor – manual workers, illiterate, with unconsidered views of race, power, law and many other things. They have an annoying tendency to take Jesus literally when he is making a wider point. Jesus says, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” and they think he is talking about bread. Even the Pharisees scarcely shine as educated people and there is obvious resentment in the Gospels that this man is so much more intelligent that all the other educated people of Jerusalem and elsewhere.
All this is by way of overturning another convention of Gospel scholarship. Often scholars focus on John’s or Luke’s interpretation of Jesus implying that they are the main formers of the Gospels. But it seems to be it is not like this at all. If we met Einstein’s students, we would ask, what did Einstein say? What were his theories? Insights? What did he say about E=MC²? We would not ask, “What is your interpretation of Einstein”” or “What words did you feel you needed to put in Einstein’s mouth?” How much more with Jesus. The disciples were scrabbling to get it down, to record what they did not understand. They were educated by Jesus into what he taught. This dynamic of the education process in the Gospels is different from the wooden four authorial formulation so common in the textual approach, and it perhaps opens up what is happening in the Gospels far more fully.
Weighing the Truth of the Gospels.
The truth of the Gospels matters a great deal, really to almost all of us. Before their truth are issues like evidence, witness, accuracy, myth, the construction of narratives and all kinds of question about what we read there. This study, like Richard Bauckham’s, questions whether we are not much closer to the Gospels and their narratives than is conveyed especially by the tradition of textual and linguistic research. Of course, it is not finally either/or, but a difference of approach. And it is also true that historical and archeological evidence plays into our understanding. And after all, we cannot be final arbiters, but merely seek to know. But this study seeks to weigh the truth of the Gospels with five tools.
• First, is the sociology which sets out the social scene of many Gospel events. Many have done this before. William Barclay was one great exponent, but there is far more to mine which shows what was going on.
• Second is the eyewitness theme, looking for immediate context which locates and authenticates what is going on, if it so does, for this is no presumption.
• Third, is the significance of the multiple authorship, beyond the four Gospel authors into other contributors.
• Fourth is the oral/written interaction and Peter Trudgill’s contribution underlining the respect and awareness of the vernacular.
• Fifth is the teacher-student dynamic, the pedagogic milieu of the Gospels and how that shapes the formation and content of the Gospels.
With these a range of perceptions might emerge which throw light on the truthfulness, or otherwise, of the Gospels. So let us go and mine the Gospel accounts.