It has been quite a good week for the Justin Welby, the 106th Archbishop of Canterbury. Quite unexpectedly and out of the blue, he launched his attack on so called “pay day loan” companies, such as “Wonga” with a call to arms to the Church and its followers to help put them out of business, not by fire, torture and imprisonment as might have been the case on days of yore, but by the simple expedient of allowing the Church of England, its premises and where possible the expertise of its congregation to help expand the network of local credit unions to make them redundant.
It was interesting and gratifying to note that this resulted in, if not a tsunami, then a groundswell of popular support and commendation. The fact that the Church’s multi billion pound investment fund happened to have made an indirect investment in Wonga was a bit of an embarrassment, but Welby took that on the chin, is not his fault and shouldn’t detract from a serious and important step. Payday loan companies feast on the unfortunate, those struggling on edge of getting by, sometimes of their own fault, but just as often not. Whatever George Osborne may say, we are not all in this together. There are very many who for perfectly good reason struggle in credit crunch Britain, and without a silver spoon in their cradle or perhaps the benefit of a financially acute mind, struggle.
He is an interesting chap, this Archbishop. He talks all posh and proper, he had a very good education, and he looks a bit of a chinless wonder. But look a little closer and one finds the alcoholic and absent father, the hand to mouth childhood under the care of his mother, making moonlight flits to evade creditors, and of course the years as an exec in the tough oil industry. These not only gave him greater hands on experience of a “proper” job and experience of real life far and away ahead of anything Osborne, Cameron, Balls and Miliband could ever hope to match. This included hostage negotiation in Nigeria in which, I understand, he put his own life at serious risk.
Welby, then, is a serious man, and a man to be reckoned with. In launching this campaign, he is fronting up to powerful interests and doing what a Church leader should so. This is muscular Christianity in its proper form, compassionate, aiming at real practical benefits in the here and now, and not drifting on about alleged bounty in the hereafter. And where necessary, tough. It is a line the present incumbent of the Papacy might usefully follow, and he may indeed do so
I was referred to a quote from or by Oscar Wilde today. It was as follows:
“There is one thing worse than injustice, and that is justice without her sword in her hand.”
Quite so. Platitudes and solace are no use to people trapped in debt by these companies. Practical help is needed.
The government, meanwhile seems reluctant to act. But then it is reported that Wonga’s owner and founder Adrian Beecroft is a significant donor to the Tory Party.
Many years ago, another able administrator called Thomas Becket was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by one of England’s greatest, and also most foul tempered Kings, Henry II. Henry thought he would be his tame man in the post. Becket was having none of that, and began to display an independent and disconcertingly pious approach to the job. The resultant rift was to end with Becket’s brains smeared across the Cathedral floor. One hopes that nothing quite so dramatic and lethal befalls the good Justin. But it is to be hoped he continues such campaigns, and makes the Established Church an institution which can, when necessary, put noses out of joint.