“I resolved to work tirelessly” (Bill Peters, 1983)
William (Bill) Peters CMG CVO MBE, distinguished diplomat and debt campaigner extraordinary, died peacefully in the early hours of Saturday 29th March, aged 90, and was buried on Friday 11th April. We offer our prayers and deep condolences to the family of Bill Peters.
Writing in the year 2000, Bill wrote that “I became aware of the debt crisis in Malawi in 1983… I resolved to work tirelessly to bring world wide awakening to the sheer injustice and error involved.” That was a resolution he kept – with a vengeance!
Bill Peters was born on 28th September 1923, in Morpeth, Northumberland, the son of a cabinet maker and a light opera singer. He attended King Edward IV Grammar School, before going up to Oxford at the tender age of 17. The war intervened and he saw active service in Burma with the Ghurkhas and met a number of Tibetans, and this was the beginning of a lifelong association with both.
With the close of the war, Bill completed his studies and entered the Diplomatic Service. His many postings included one in Ghana, where on one occasion he spoke to school children and encouraged them to aim high in their lives. Among those inspired was a young Kofi Annan, who later as Secretary General of the U.N. told Bill he still remembered hearing him! Bill proved to be an outstanding diplomat, eventually becoming Ambassador to Uruguay (where he exposed himself to danger by visiting political prisoners) and High Commissioner to Malawi.
The latter position was to lead to the supreme achievements of his life, since for many years after he retired in 1983, “he campaigned almost single-handedly among distinguished people for debt remission, traversing the world several times in pursuit of his mission… Bill had a very special role as a pillar of the Jubilee organisation in financial, administrative, and policy matters. He has an amazing capacity to use the experience of his diplomatic life, and the obvious respect in which he is held, to make contacts with people who carry weight in decision-making, and to put the cause of poorer nations before them.“ (Lambeth Degree Citation, 2001)
During the early 1990s, Bill linked up with Martin Dent OBE, who was to become his close friend and colleague, and who had formed a “Jubilee 2000” group at Keele University in 1990. Their association with Isobel Carter (of Tearfund), Ann Pettifor, the coordinator of the Debt Crisis Network, and others – a ‘group of nobodies’, according to Isabel (!) – led to the launch of Jubilee 2000 as a national and international campaign in April 1996. Then, on 13th October 1997, this blossomed into the ‘Jubilee Debt Coalition’, a wide and powerful grouping, with members which included Churches and other faith groups, many aid agencies, the BMA and the TUC, and supporters which included newspapers such as The Guardian.
Bill and Martin were the coalition’s Vice-Presidents, but were most generous in their attitude to the rest of us: “Jubilee’s true heroes are not the originators nor the controllers, but the marvellous army of men and women who carry on the battle in local committees and gatherings.” But whether leaders or supporters, we all shared Bill’s conviction that, “It is intolerable that we should go into the next millennium in a situation where the poorest quarter of the human family owes totally unpayable debt to creditors in the richest quarter.” (Lambeth Degree Citation, 2001)
Grassroots activists were committed to the continuation of the debt campaign after 2000, fearing that the promises made by politicians and creditors would be forgotten or diluted, without a vociferous body of campaigners to ‘keep their feet to the fire’. We’d had plenty of experience of their perfidy! Furthermore, we believed that the actual delivery of debt relief would bring manifest benefits to the poor and that these would provide valuable ammunition with which to ‘ask for more’, including the fulfilment of the Jubilee 2000 petition demand that Governments “take effective steps to prevent such high levels of debt building up again! We were greatly buoyed up by Bill’s and Martin’s support – indeed, the structure of the Jubilee Debt Campaign which re-launched in 2001, with its representation on the Board of Trustees of local and regional groups, was strongly supported by Bill and Martin who became founding board members.
In the same year, Bill Peters and three other Co-Founders of Jubilee 2000 (Martin Dent, Isabel Carter and Ann Pettifor) were awarded ‘Lambeth Degrees’ (i.e., the degree of Master of Letters) by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bill also received the Gandhi International Peace Award for his contribution to the campaign, which “made possible the provision of basic education and health-care to thousands [now millions] of people”.
Moving a motion at the Annual Assembly of the university lecturers’ union in 1999, David Golding described Jubilee as “one of the noblest concepts ever to grace the mind of man” and it has undoubtedly been one of the most effective movements for the relief of poverty and oppression in history, which directly or indirectly has transformed the lives and prospects of hundreds of millions of people. Before Jubilee 2000’s 80,000-strong ‘human chain’ in Birmingham in 1998, the plight of the billions in severe poverty had never featured prominently on the agenda of the G8, the world’s richest nations; since that time, it has never been absent. Kofi Annan said that, “A flame of hope has been kindled in the poorest countries of the world…. On behalf of the United Nations, I extend my deep gratitude to you all for your indefatigable efforts… millions of people are indebted to you.” These words were addressed to Jubilee 2000, but could rightly be applied to Bill Peters.
But the fight goes on, as Bill wished it should, and in his and Martin’s own words, “May God grant victory for the campaign, through the achievement of a true liberation from the burden of unpayable debt.”
Bill was predeceased by his first wife, Catherine (“Kit”), whom he had married in 1944 and who died in 1998. In 2004, Bill married his second wife, Gillian Casebourne, and is survived by Gill and her two daughters, as well as by his nieces and nephews. No flowers but donations to Jubilee Debt Campaign or The Tibet Foundation are suggested.
Dr David Golding CBE, founding board member, Jubilee Debt Campaign (and pictured with Bill Peters above).
Roger Chisnall, founding board member and Co-Chair, Jubilee Debt Campaign
Some edits may follow and I hope to add a photograph shortly.
Edited to add photograph understood to have been taken on David Golding’s camera and with his permission – from The Journal article on Bill Peters
November 8th 2013, was the day that Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) struck the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people, and damaging an already poor country. The response from ordinary people in the UK was as impressive as it always is in these situations, with over £90 million being given by UK citizens, almost doubling the amount that our Government pledged to donate.
Churches in the UK were in the forefront of the response, donating cash, equipment and personnel, and channeling more funds through the aid agencies. But is showing love and compassion enough?
As the relief efforts after Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) continue, the Philippines is still sending $22 million out of the country, every single day, in debt payments. It sounds crazy, and it is. The richest countries continue to demand that the Philippines continues to pay on it’s debt’s, and the World Bank and others have offered $1 billion in new loans to the Philippines as “typhoon aid.” Yet far from being ‘aid’, these loans will deepen the debt crisis that leaves the Philippines unable to cope with the urgent need for relief and reconstruction.
A little before 7am yesterday morning, a milestone for the Philippines was passed. It was the day when the amount of debt repayments made by the Philippines to rich creditor nations since the Typhoon, passed the $2,000,000,000 (Two Billion Dollars) mark. Putting that into context, the UK has either donated or pledged $131,000,000 (One Hundred and Thirty One Million), towards the $8 Billion needed for re-construction. Put another way, that freewill offering of love and compassion towards the desperate plight of the people in the Philippines, is overcome in just 6 days, by the repayments going out of the country, to service the desires of the rich and the corrupt.
The United Nations launched an international aid appeal in December for $788 million to finance the humanitarian effort for this year (2014). UN Philippines disaster agency spokesman Russell Geekie said at the time of writing this blog, that the appeal was about 45 percent funded. President Benigno Aquino III has said that the rebuilding effort will take at least four years and require more than $8 billion in funding. Surely the people of the Philippines will not have to continue to make payments on these debts?
Jubilee Debt Campaign – Interactive Debt Map
DEC £90 million donated
UK Aid £50 million pledged
Total to dated £131 million, no citation
I have been largely absent from the internet for a couple of months. There has been no blogging and few tweets or posts on facebook from me.
Why? Although normally I like to prioritise a little internet engagement, this has been a time when I have been occupied with other things and found myself too busy to post. I have encountered one of life’s milestones. I have also found a need for things basic, physical, real, relationships, family and the things in life that you can touch and feel, as well as the spiritual, and the virtual world has just felt less of a priority to me over this period.
At around Christmas time, I noticed on a visit from my father, that he wasn’t his normal self. He seemed pre-occupied and I could see he was in pain. I asked him about it and he confessed that his back was giving him a lot of trouble. (He was separated from my Mum and had been going into/working in the loft of the house of the people he was staying with on the Isle of Wight at the time – quite why they even allowed a 76 year old man to climb into their loft is beyond me, but allow it they did, and he fell compressing four vertebrae and trapping a few of the nerves). Ever since then he has been managing the pain, operations to repair the damage being impossible.
I also asked him about his cancer check-ups, and he was evasive, so I gently questioned him, and he said he was due another check-up, but all was well. I wasn’t sure whether this was right and I offered that we would visit him next time. Then during April, my brother had a call from my fathers friends to say that he had taken a turn for the worse, had become delirious, and we should come and say goodbye to him. My brother, sister and myself obviously dropped everything, and rushed over to see him in hospital on the Isle of Wight. We found him in good spirits, and had a pleasant if poignant visit with him. This was the start of a number of visits down to him, over a six week period, ending sadly on June 2nd, when he passed away.
I had been with him the day before and had said my goodbyes, and fortunately I had been able to drop things to put his care first, so have no guilt or regret in the way that I behaved. I feel deeply for my friends who have been unable to get to see their parents in the final days, separated by distance, other commitments or just misunderstanding the end was coming.
As it came to planning his funeral, I was asked by the church pastor leading the service, if I wanted to carry his coffin with my brother, this being (apparently) a mark of respect. I was not sure at first whether I wanted to do this, but was won around by wanting to respect his passing and to ‘do the right thing’, and I am so pleased that I did.
There was something very normal, very human, very mortal, about the physical act of the two sons of the father lifting his coffin onto our shoulders, and carrying him into the church, that helped my own grieving. (The funeral directors also very respectfully offered my sister the choice of walking in before or the first person after the coffin. She choose to follow in behind us.
I had over the previous days passed through the struggle of denying his death, to then accepting it, and then to mourning his loss. The physical weight of his body in the coffin at that moment was very real, and as we lowered him and rested the coffin, my grief was very tangible, very real. I remember very clearly looking down at the dust on the right shoulder of my black suit, sawdust presumably from the making of the coffin, and brushing if off from my shoulder with distinct sweeps. The physical connected with the spiritual, and tears flowed freely down my face as I sat down. The family laid the father to rest.
My father was a devout Christian. He made mistakes, as I do and we all do, and yet within all of us is the spirit that I believe God puts within us, with huge capacity for forgiveness. That day there was mourning, there was grieving, but there was also forgiveness and a coming together. It was more beautiful than I could have imagined.
I had suggested to my family that we could have ‘Amazing Grace’ as the opening music to accompany the procession of his coffin. I always wonder at the sense of forgiveness that we can have for the things that we do wrong, and this hymn written by the captain of a slave ship, John Newton, no doubt responsible for the inhuman treatment of thousands and the deaths of hundreds of innocent lives, is a poignant reminder of that. I found a version by the Soweto Gospel choir, the descendants of so many who knew first hand the families taken into slavery. Here it is.
I have since his funeral, (aside from desperately trying to catch up with all the things my business clients are expecting of me, and I have been grateful for so many kind words and understanding from them, as I have failed to keep up with what I should have done), have found myself enjoying very physical things, rubbing down the wood of my front door and varnishing it to a high gloss finish. I have also made a new house door number plate, from the branch of a tree I had cut down.
I have much now that I want to write about, but out of respect to my father and those who read this blog from time to time, I first wanted to offer some explanation of my absence over recent months. I think the message of forgiveness, which has come across again to me so clearly through this period, is something that we can all join in with and experience, and through forgiving and being forgiven, enrich both our lives and others lives around us.
I allowed a respectful 24 hours after Margaret Thatcher’s death, for the sake of those who loved her, before I made any comment, and initially that was just on Facebook to friends. Many on both sides of the national debate, did not wait. The rich and powerful, who seemed keen to use the death of an old woman to re-write history for their political ends, did not wait. The media began one-sided eulogies, seemingly in an effort to cleanse the memory of the nation, within hours of her death. Alternately, those wanting to celebrate her death also did not wait, and we saw people openly celebrating, up and down the country. I cannot align myself with either. Yet as someone who knew the reality of the effect of Margaret Thatcher’s policies on the poor and the oppressed, neither can I be silent as Margaret Thatcher and Thatcherism, are somehow disingenuously cleaned up and sanctified by a willing media.
There were positives. For women everywhere who fought for the right to vote, the election of a female as prime minister was a huge achievement. (Whether she did anything to further women’s issues, is a topic of debate). After this, I struggle to remain positive. I campaigned in my teens to end apartheid, which Margaret Thatcher supported, for peace when she preferred war, for society and community, when she said there was none, for sharing and equality, while she praised selfishness and greed, and for the poor while she preferred the rich. We were diametrically opposed, and I often struggled to know how to pray for her.
Praising her for ‘strong’ and ‘decisive’ leadership gives me as great difficulty with Thatcher as it did with Blair, and his ‘strong convictions’ about ‘WMD being pointed at us and striking within minutes.’ Legacy is not about party politics and left and right, but about the spiritual and moral heath of our nation. I ask, what use is it to have strength, decisiveness and conviction when you are not prepared to listen, and when innocent people die?
This brings me to asking when is the appropriate time to question the career and legacy of divisive public figures? I feel propelled into asking this, faced with the barrage of misplaced etiquette and one-sided sycophantic eulogising of the TV news. (Even the military and Buckingham Palace are concerned that the funeral has been badly mis-judged). As someone who lived under her leadership, I have to say that much of what is being portrayed on TV about her, is unbalanced and deceptive. Why should we pretend that she was a good person in death, she never cared what we thought when she was alive?
But what are ordinary decent people to do? We cannot celebrate the death of even an enemy, and yet also we cannot stand idly by while this grand mis-representation goes on. We must make a stand for truth, for decency, and stand with, not against, the thousands of people, hurting and damaged by the legacy of Margaret Thatcher and her policies. Some of those people may be acting in ways of which we do not approve, but we must take time to understand why so many in our society are still bitter and hurting, when after all Margaret Thatcher left politics over 20 years ago. We could easily be mis-footed here, and find ourselves on the side of the rich and powerful, instead of standing with the poor and oppressed. (There are some wonderful initiatives springing up such as ‘Don’t Hate, Donate.’ )
Is it OK if I run my theories past you? Over the next 24 hours the powerful public relations machine of the elite will step up a gear. The hope will no doubt be to sanctify Margaret Thatcher, and in so doing cement into our national consciousness, that there is no alternative to the damaging policies of Thatcherism and austerity. We will watch scenes of “awful, ghoulish people” celebrating her death, interspersed with scenes of the Thatcher children, who have now arrived back in the UK, aimed at driving a wedge between us ordinary respectable people, and those celebrating.
The plan, as it’s normally the same plan, will be to divide and conquer. A society divided against itself, will be too busy looking inwards and blaming each other, to effectively challenge powerful vested interests. If we can be made to feel that we should distance ourselves from the protestors, to find ourselves either on the side of those re-writing Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, or at least confused enough to be silent and therefore by not speaking out, we have been neutralised. Our silence will then be taken as tacit support.
As we reflect over how we are to respond over coming days, I hope that we can find ways of channeling our energies in ways that are counter-cultural to the legacy we consider. That we can listen and be generous, compassionate, understanding, peaceful and loving.
There is a saying “Before you judge somebody, walk a mile in their shoes.” Can we be slow to judge those partying? Can we take time to understand their anger and bitterness, and maybe ourselves become more listening and more loving?
“Walk a mile in my shoes, just walk a mile in my shoes, Before you abuse, criticize and accuse. Then walk a mile in my shoes.” Joe South.
Joe South – Walk a mile in my shoes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoznjbKVnmw
I prefer the original, but for the Elvis fans http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lblipfOwkDY
And finally, a link which may help explain why the party is being held in Trafalgar Square.
13/4/2013 Updated to include photo of ‘Saint Margaret’ with thanks Anonymous ART of Revolution
To the Churches of Cyprus
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I weep as I see the devastation that the banks and the politicians have caused, to your country and to many others around Europe and the poorest countries around the world.
I was in Greece last month, meeting with Churches and social movements, to understand what the debt crisis means to them, and seeing how they are struggling to care for each other through food banks, soup kitchens, voluntary clinics and sharing scarce resources. One Church I visited had converted their vestry into a huge kitchen and was preparing 250 meals for people struggling to feed themselves in Athens.
Our banks have much to answer for. We trusted them as a safe refuge for our savings and for loans to help ordinary people with housing and businesses, and they have let us down by recklessly gambling with our money. Our politicians looked the other way and both politicians and the super-rich profited from the reckless era of ‘Casino banking.’ The bubble has now burst, and the super-rich should be learning the lesson from gambling money on a horse-race; that “sometimes, when you bet on the horses, you lose.” They are making huge losses, and facing the costs of their foolish business decisions, blinded by their own greed.
However, the super-rich are smart, that is why they are rich. All around the world they are at work, persuading Governments and ordinary people that their banks should not have to pay the price for their reckless greed. They say that the banks are “too big to fail” and that someone else should pay for their recklessness, the people. How wrong this is! All across Europe, private bank debts are becoming public debts. Policies of austerity are being forced on countries, and we watch as the same economic policies implemented by the IMF across Africa and failed for decades, being brought to Europe.
As someone who in a stumbling way tries to follow Christ, I am looking at my own Government and those across Europe and asking whether they are being “Good news for the poor?” On balance, most Governments seem to be moving away from democracy and serving the people , and instead serving and bailing out the lenders. I ask as Africa has asked many times, what would happen if the lenders were not paid? Would they die? Not, but by forcing austerity on the people, ordinary people will die through cuts in healthcare and services on which they depend.
I urge you to re-consider your plan to mortgage your Church’s assets to help bail out the banks and the super-rich. By all means, bail-out the poor, indeed it is part of the Church’s calling and mission. By all means, sell all that you have an give it to the poor as Christ commanded one rich man. But but I plead with you, don’t sell all that you have and give it away to the rich, for they have no need of your generosity.
Co-Chair Jubilee Debt Campaign (UK)
The above letter is in response to news from Cyprus (Thanks to Jonathan Sugarman for alert) – Churches consider selling their assets.
Cyprus should learn from Icelandic approach to bust banks – JDC Press Release by Tim Jones
Follow on Twitter for Cyprus & Greece – @dropthedebt @ICANetwork_ @rogerchisnall #WeAreCyprus #RBSNews @teacherdude
I have been watching what has been going on in Greece closely for something over 5 years now. Having campaigned on debt in the poorest countries for over 20 years now, to see the IMF using the same flawed arguments and same failed polices that have so badly damaged Africa on a European nation, is something that I find truly shocking. It confirms for me a theory that there has been a marked shift in the manner in which our world is exploited by those unable to limit their own greed.
I went with Jonathan from Jubilee Debt Campaign to show ‘Debtocracy’ to the Occupiers in Tent City University outside St Pauls OLSX in November 2011, and have been following the likes of @teacherdude on twitter for as long, as well as keeping up with news and documentaries. Of particular note is ‘Children of The Riots’ on the shooting of 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by Greek police in 2008.
I have wanted to see for myself what the IMF and ECB are doing to the country, and since meeting members of the Greek Debt Audit Campaign (ELE) November last year, have been keen for the newly formed European Debt Network (ICAN) to visit in solidarity. I’m just back from Athens from the conference and delegation, and will be telling of my findings and the stories of real people over coming days.
On my last night in Athens, we had a meeting with debt activists, and afterwards I jumped into a taxi and headed back to my hosts apartment. I got into conversation Jorgos my taxi driver. I have been talking about “#TheGreeceExperiment” and suggesting the richest most powerful people, the Oligarchs, are getting together and planning the financial raids, and how Greece is the experiment. I decided to test out his thoughts that the rich and the powerful are using Greece as some kind of sick experiment in exploitation. Jorgos, stopped me in my tracks. We were having a discussion about Casino banking, but such is the passion of the Greek people over what is being done, that he was enraged at the wrecking of his country. “This is not an experiment” he shouted while wagging his finger at me. “The Troika know exactly what they are doing. It is not a Greek Experiment, it is the carefully made plans of the rich.”
Call it Democracy by Bruce Cockburn
Edited 27/8/2013 to increase border on photograph and add tag/category.
I am shocked with the news today, that Hector Sant’s, the former head of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has been nominated for a Knighthood in the New Years honours. I have set-up an online petition to have his name removed from the honours list, and ban anyone involved in the financial crisis from being nominated for a period of 10 years. I hope that you will join me? You can sign my petition online here.
Sant’s was interviewed by MP’s at the start of the financial crisis, as it was his job as Head of the FSA to regulate the banks on behalf of the Government. Northern Rock & RBS crashed, together with Lloyds and others, on Sant’s watch. He was (along with hundreds of others of course) accused by MP’s of being “asleep at the wheel” and many hold him at least in part responsible for the financial crisis that ordinary people are having to pay for.
The financial crisis is clearly not one persons doing, far from it, the whole system that we have developed over the past 30 years, is rotten to the core. We have been let down by our leaders, the politicians, bankers and regulators who have failed to regulate properly over a period of three decades, and this has resulted in the longest, deepest recession in living memory. Worse, they have been systematically undoing the Regulations that kept our banks and our economy strong and safe, and swapping our stability for a new era of casino banking, risk-taking, and we were told, growth and prosperity. The system we now have is designed by the super-rich, to benefit them. Our elected leaders have failed to police them. It was our political leaders who allowed the growth of off-shoring through tax-havens, the de-regulation of banking under Margaret Thatcher, the lack of response to Jubilee 2000 call for reform and the issues of reckless lending and ‘Third World’ Debt, or any MP since then, complicit by their inaction and not stopping the rot.
The experiment in removing Regulation and allowing the financiers and the ‘Capitalist fundamentalists’ to run things, has been a fabulous success for them, and a disaster for the rest of us. In the US according to the University of California, the financially wealthiest 1% of the population now has 34% of the wealth, while the lowest 80% has 7%, and Chief Executives pay has increased by around 300% between 1990 & 2005, compared to 4.3% for the average person. In the UK around 160,000 families own 70% of our land, and in income terms 31% goes to the top 10% (up 3% since the start of the recession) while 1.3% goes to the poorest 10%. We need to return to some things we know worked, because they have for hundreds of years. We need a return to good stable values, of justice, fairness and integrity.
Fundamental changes to our financial systems are needed, to make them work again for us, for the ordinary people. I have some immediate suggestions on this particular nomination:
1. We stop the nomination of Hector Sant’s and in doing so send a message to our political and business leaders that we will not tolerate awards for failure.
2. We reform the systems to prevent rewards for those who fail the people, and ensure that anyone responsible for contributing to the financial crisis, is barred from nomination for honours for a period of at least 10 years.
We need to fix our broken economy and our broken democracy, to provide for us and our children, and future generations. (And we also need to look at the announcement that Sant’s is to be taking up a position at Barclays Bank!) If you would like to do something today, please sign the petition.
17/2/13 Edited to add tags (HectorSants and FSA) and correct typo’s ‘Sant’s’ and ‘The.’