The Archbishop, the Money Lenders and the Firing Squad

Whether you agree with him or not, Guido Fawkes writes an entertaining blog. His analysis of the Leveson inquiry into the press followed the theme of the circular firing squad, every bullet fired by a politician, press baron or celebrity had the effect of creating a Newtonian equal and opposite reaction that caused them collateral damage.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, should have been aware of this before he launched his attack on money lender, Wonga, in which he said he would encourage credit unions to force Wonga out of business. This apparently followed a discussion with Wonga’s ebullient boss Errol Damelin. The Archbishop’s attack was undermined when it “emerged” that the Church of England was an investor in Accel Partners, one of Wonga’s backers.

Much ink and pixels have been devoted to this debate already but let’s put a few points about how the publicity is handled:

·         Wonga is such an easy target. It has set itself up as a new type of payday lender and has courted publicity. It knows that this will not all be good but is clearly happy with this high risk strategy. Provident Financial, which operated in a similar space, takes quite the opposite tack, remaining low profile. When you attack Wonga it’s like wrestling a pig – you get covered in mud and it loves it;

·         The Archbishop does nothing for his credibility but launching an attack on Wonga without checking his facts. It is a fundamental rule of PR that you ensure you are watertight before floating an idea. He didn’t;

·         The Financial Times is full of very good journalists who will no doubt find things out for themselves. However if it emerges that someone close to Wonga leaked the Church’s investment in Accel, then I imagine Accel will not be particularly pleased, especially if it mean it will lose investment cash;

·         The credit union sector no doubt loved the publicity the Archbishop gave them, but less so when his strategy was rubbished by a number of leading commentators as unrealistic.

The net effect of this incident is that it hasn’t been good for the Archbishop – who as a member of the Banking Commission looks more and more like a loose cannon (no pun intended). It may also be bad for Wonga if it ends up with an unhappy investor and more attention on its business practices.

Which is why the circular firing squad analogy is increasingly apt.

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