The church speaks about moral issues
The Church of England has been wading into all sorts of issues recently that seem to be a little outside what might be considered their area of expertise. I’ve been puzzled by that, and I’m very privileged and deeply honoured to have been granted an interview with George Parr, spokesman for Justin Welby, on the subject of these recent political and moral pronouncements.
NB: This may not actually be true. No guarantee is given that the person I spoke to has anything to do with the Church of England, is called George, or even exists at all. If you’re unfamiliar with the works of George Parr, it might help if you imagine his contributions in the voice of John Fortune.
Recovering Agnostic: George Parr, you are a spokesman for the Church of England.
George Parr: Yes, I am.
RA: May I start by asking about the church’s involvement in the debate on fracking? Is this something the church should be getting involved in?
GP: I want to be clear that we aren’t saying that fracking is a good or bad thing, just that it’s important to remember how much it might help to keep the cost of fuel down, which will be good for poor people.
RA: That sounds like a good thing when you put it like that.
GP: It does, doesn’t it?
RA: But you’re not saying it’s good or bad…
GP: No, no. At least, not explicitly. Some people, for example, might think that anything that helps poor people would be a very bad thing indeed. Just encouraging them, and so on. It just happens that we think this particular thing, which happens to favour fracking, has been forgotten in the public debate. So we helpfully pointed it out.
RA: And helpfully compared the anti-fracking arguments to MMR scaremongering.
RA: And what do you say to those people who would say that rising fuel costs are the only plausible way of keeping consumption down and limiting the human contribution to climate change which is leading to environmental catastrophes, and causing many poor people to not just struggle with their household budgets, but actually die?
GP: Well, obviously, we don’t want people to die, but on the other hand, they’ll be with Jesus that bit sooner, won’t they? In a very real way.
RA: I think a lot of them might not actually be Christians.
GP: Oh well, in that case, fuck ‘em.
RA: Some cynics have made a connection between the church’s enthusiastic support for fracking…
GP: …Attempt to restore balance to the debate…
RA: …Sorry, the church’s enthusiastic attempt to restore balance – and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s former career as an oilman. Do you think that’s a concern?
GP: No, no. Fracking is about gas as well, you see.
RA: Yes, I see. So there’s no possible conflict of interest…
GP: None at all.
RA: While we’re on the subject of the church’s recent involvement in public debate, I’d like to ask you about Wonga. There’s been a bit of a fuss about the Church of England having money invested in Wonga, and the Archbishop seems to be a bit down on them.
GP: Yes, because they make their money offering poor people loans.
RA: And that’s bad because people are being encouraged to get into debt, and spend money they don’t have?
GP: No, it’s bad because they’re charging too much. It’s completely extortionate.
RA: Ah I see, I thought maybe this was a crusade on a matter of principle.
GP: (laughs) Oh goodness, no.
RA: So if Wonga charge more than other lenders, why don’t people borrow from those other lenders?
GP: Because those other lenders won’t lend money to people who might not pay it back.
RA: And people who borrow from Wonga aren’t likely to pay it back?
GP: Not very likely, no. If they could get a loan anywhere else, they wouldn’t be talking to Wonga.
RA: Does that mean that Wonga are the only company prepared to make sub-prime loans to the people who are in the greatest need?
GP: No, no. There are a few others. And there’s still plenty of pawn shops and loan sharks. Wonga are just the highest profile, and the cheapest.
RA: They’re the cheapest?
GP: Yes, pretty much.
RA: So why are you campaigning against them?
GP: Because their whole line of business is sordid, tacky, and they’re getting in the way of our own lending business.
RA: Ah yes, the Archbishop said the church was going to compete directly with Wonga, and presumably also those pawn shops and loan sharks, and provide ethical sub-prime loans, in an attempt to put them out of business.
GP: Yes, that’s right.
RA: And how will you approach that? Is the Church Bank going to be a profit-making business, a charitable venture, or what?
RA: Which one?
GP: All of them.
RA: I see. Let me put it another way. Do you anticipate that this bank will set any criteria for who they lend to, or will you give money to anyone, no questions asked?
RA: And how will you set interest rates? How will you deal with bad debtors? Will you write the debts off and become a soft touch, or does the church really want to get involved in vigorously pursuing people for their last few pounds?
GP: Um, yes, these are all very good questions! I would imagine we would probably look at some existing examples of success in that market sector. See what the normal practice looks like, how the market leaders are making it work, give it a few minor tweaks and I think we’re there.
RA: Did you have any specific market leaders in mind?
GP: Well, Wonga are doing awfully well.
RA: George Parr, thank you very much.
GP: Thank you.