Simon Read: 'Never mind Virgin Money, there are better ways to be a plastic punk'

Virgin Money has launched a Sex Pistols credit card with the claim that it "celebrates Virgin's heritage and difference"

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The Independent Online

In 1978 The Clash's Joe Strummer presciently sang: "Ha, you think it's funny, turning rebellion into money."

Almost all the old punks have now been, to use a hated modern word, monetised. Until this week, that has mainly involved record companies continually repackaging their back catalogue to squeeze another few pounds out of the tunes, or retailers flogging Ramones t-shirts through high street chains such as TopShop.

Now we have the Sex Pistols credit card launched by Virgin Money with the claim that the launch "celebrates Virgin's heritage and difference". The cards feature artwork from the Never Mind the Bollocks album or the "Anarchy in the UK" single.

It would be churlish to point out that the "Anarchy" single was actually issued by EMI, long before Virgin came sniffing round the young punks after it spotted a great money-making opportunity.

Its commercial sense was sound back then in 1977 and helped it increase its profits through a series of singles by the original band followed up by a series of cash-in records by various members of the bank after the split, even blatantly entitling one Flogging A Dead Horse in an attempt to be seen as ironical rather than simply greedy.

Almost 40 years later Richard Branson's global company – which runs trains and planes as well as a high street bank – is still sniffing out commercial opportunities from the Sex Pistols, clearly hoping that its new plastic cards will persuade today's middle-age punks to switch.

While the cards are, on the one hand, just a bit of fun, putting purchases on credit can be a serious business, especially if you end up in unaffordable debt. And that can easily happen if you choose the wrong plastic.

Virgin's leading 36-month interest-free balance transfer card, for instance, has a 2.5 per cent fee and ends up charging an expensive rate of 18.9 per cent. They're not selling an "alternative", they're flogging mainstream finance.

If you really want an alternative you should seek out a more ethical card, maybe one that helps fight world hunger, helps people imprisoned unjustly, or fights to improve the lives of children, or , rather than one that panders to youthful memories of pogoing and spitting.

The Co-op, for instance, offers cards which support Amnesty, Oxfam, Save the Children or Tearfund, which fights poverty. If you really want to make a statement with your plastic, you're more likely to attract admiring glances with one of these than a Never Mind The Bollocks card.

At the original Pistols' last-ever gig in January 1978, Johnny Rotten snarled: "Ever got the feeling you've been cheated?" If you fall for the Sex Pistols credit card scam, you certainly have.

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