Editor-At-Large: That's a bit rich – the church going on about wealth

Click to follow
The Independent Online

How should we spend Christmas – make do and mend, or spend and be damned? The church and the state slugged it out last week, with the Archbishop of Canterbury claiming the moral high ground. Rowan Williams poured scorn on the Government's financial strategy, claiming that spending our way out of a crisis was "like an addict returning to the drug". Gordon Brown fought back, plundering the Bible story of the Good Samaritan to retort, "It is our duty to act and we should not walk on by on the other side when people are facing problems."

The PM was raised in a religious household, so it must have been galling to be lectured about the morality of his policies by a high-ranking churchman. But does either man truly understand the financial predicament of ordinary people? Talking about spiralling debt and attacking wealth that is not earned through real work, the archbishop sounded eerily like David Cameron. The Tory leader made a speech to the CBI this month in which he attacked the Labour policies which have led us into the highest levels of personal debt in the world – each of us now owes, on average, £10,000, and that's on top of our mortgages.

When the leader of the Church of England starts commenting on what drives our economy, it's not necessarily a bad thing. He's right to criticise the cult of producing wealth (via hedge funds and tactical investments) by gambling. It's an issue most Christians would agree with. He is only doing his job when he questions wealth as a measure of well-being. Dr Williams thinks the country has been going in the wrong direction for decades – by generating quick profits rather than "making things". In short, he seems to think we're having a "reality check" and need to start living within our means, spending only to fulfil real needs.

All very sensible, but is Dr Williams the right man to say it? To me, the leader of a church with huge assets – billions of pounds invested in property, oil, and currencies all over the world – is not above criticism himself, just as the hollow words of Eton-educated David Cameron claiming to understand the plight of ordinary taxpayers can never ring true, no matter how many times he's photographed at the local supermarket.

Ekklesia, an Anglican think tank, has been highly critical of the church's investment programme and published a report claiming the Church of England's accounts show investments of £13m in the Man Group hedge fund, revealing a mortgage portfolio of £135m was sold in the year 2006/7. In other words, the church sold debt for profit – hardly the message of the Bible. The church also trades in currency, selling sterling short in 2006/7 in order to shore up investments.

Of course, the church encourages ethical investment, credit unions and co-operatives, but it is a huge property speculator. In criticising consumer spending, the fuel that drives capitalism, the archbishop hits on an obvious target. It might be better to lead by example, and stop shoring up his assets through the same capitalism he so roundly criticises.

Gordon Brown may not be entitled to claim he's got his finger on the pulse of the common man either – for his mantra that shopping can be our salvation is just as flawed as the archbishop's plea for simple living. The PM implies spending is our patriotic duty. He can spend all he likes, as long as it's not our money he uses to solve the Government's financial problems.

Open-air cinema: Now you can't move for film crews

I live in an old part of London, a haven of relative calm amid the roar of traffic and whine of police sirens. With sheltered housing for elderly locals on one side and architects on the other, it looked like a peaceful backwater.

Now, I'm not sure. It's gradually morphing into a film set, with burly men waffling into walkie talkies and trailers dishing out location catering on a weekly basis. It started a few summers ago: I went out for a meal and, when I came home, my street was covered in fake snow. I thought I was on drugs, but they were filming winter scenes with Hugh Grant in 'About a Boy'.

Last January Terry Gilliam arrived and Heath Ledger did his final day's work in the pub on the corner, starring in 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' – popping into the newsagent's in a clown's outfit and chatting to residents, before catching the plane home to New York and tragically ending his life two days later.

Over this summer crews arrived thick and fast, including the 'Ashes to Ashes' team, and, last week, Guy Ritchie spent five days and nights shooting 'Sherlock Holmes' in a former dungeon 10 yards from my front door. Starring Jude Law as Dr Watson and Robert Downey Jr as Holmes, the film is a big step up for Ritchie after his rough-and-ready gangster flicks.

I tried hanging out of the bathroom window at 6am, but I still couldn't see Mr Downey, and when I returned from shopping one afternoon a posse of paparazzi had the area staked out. This is one film I wouldn't mind being an extra on.

Stuff the turkey. I fancy a goose

I'm dreaming of a turkey-free Christmas. By the end of last week "How to roast a turkey" became the most over-used expression in the English language after "credit crunch". Open any paper and you're told where to buy, how to bone and what to stuff the birds with, alongside complicated charts telling us how long to cook them. Then we are told what to do with the leftovers – recipes from curry to pies to mince (ugh). In desperation, I slumped in front of the telly, hoping for some undemanding pre-Christmas viewing, something soothing like 'Midsomer Murders'. Instead it was wall-to-wall celebrity chefs banging on about bloody turkeys. Hugh and Jamie on one channel, Nigella on another. I'm eating goose, and a friend will be cooking it. Heston Blumenthal could use all his magic and I still wouldn't be interested. Turkey is bland, boring and banned at our house.

Firing up a deadly obsession

If you want to know why the kids from Croxteth who were jailed last week for the murder of Rhys Jones are obsessed with guns, look no further than a series being broadcast on Bravo, called 'Danny Dyer's Deadliest Men'.

Danny is a decent actor who's even appeared in Pinter plays, but this enterprise is shameful. Talking to former bank robbers and gangsters, he might as well be asking them for their gardening tips: "So how many [armed robberies] did you do in a day?" Answer – three.

When the interviewee boasted of using ammonia – "You could be blinded for a day or maybe a week" – does Danny sound shocked? Of course not. And the whole mess is laced with unnecessary shots of guns pointing directly at the camera. Why Ofcom doesn't act, I don't know. I don't care if it's after 9pm; it's aimed directly at young men.