Who will rid us of turbulent PR man George Pitcher?

Tory MPs and many Church insiders will be glad to see the back of the Archbishop's spin doctor. Jerome Taylor on a fall from grace

For a man who wrote a seminal book on the shadowy nature of public relations entitled The Death of Spin, there is something rather ironic about the fact that George Pitcher – the Archbishop of Canterbury's public affairs secretary – has been dismissed for what appears to have been a spin too far.

Mr Pitcher, a former industrial correspondent turned Anglican priest who styles himself as the vicar of Fleet Street, is to leave his post as Rowan Williams' chief spin doctor after just nine months in the job.

The official reason given by Lambeth Palace is the termination of what was only ever a year-long contract. But sources within the Church of England and Westminster say Mr Pitcher's departure was the endgame of a political fallout that began with Archbishop Williams' damning critique of the Government's cuts and ended with an offhand joke about canapés.

Relations between Downing Street and Lambeth Palace took a turn for the worse last month when the Archbishop of Canterbury tore strips off the Government's cuts programme in a guest editorial for the New Statesman magazine.

"With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted," the Archbishop wrote. "At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context."

As Downing Street tried to defuse the situation with platitudes about the Archbishop being "entitled to his own opinion", behind the scenes Tory MPs were furious that the leader of the Anglican Communion had dared to make such an openly critical foray into politics.

Whatever happened to the separation of church and state, they fumed (conveniently forgetting, it seems, that 26 unelected bishops have seats in the House of Lords and that the Church of England is Britain's official church).

Within Tory circles, knives were out for Mr Pitcher, who played an instrumental role in setting up the Archbishop's guest editorship of the New Statesman, encouraging his boss – who has often been criticised for being inaccessible to the public – to embrace such an opportunity.

Sources close to Lambeth Palace say that despite the backlash from Tory MPs, Archbishop Williams was in fact pleased with the edition of the New Statesman, which he thought had forced Downing Street to address the Church's concerns about the scale and speed of the cuts. But some of Williams' aides were concerned that his spin doctor's swashbuckling style was overly confrontational and created the wrong sort of headlines.

An off-the-cuff comment by Mr Pitcher at a party soon gave his enemies on both sides of the Thames the perfect opportunity to strike. In a diary piece published last month in The Telegraph, he was reported to have joked that Archbishop Williams had taken the religious commentator Cristina Odone "roughly over the canapés" when she met him and criticised his New Statesman editorial.

Sources say Mr Pitcher offered his resignation when the diary item first appeared, but it was only accepted last week once the Archbishop had returned from a trip to Kenya and the Congo. He will stay on until his contract expires on 30 September but it will not be renewed.

"When it comes to something as important as public relations, the last thing you needed was the Archbishop's spin doctor going around saying stupid things," said one church official familiar with the affair.

Mr Pitcher yesterday declined to comment on whether he had been pushed from his position. But he did say he was now intending to stay away from the dark arts of public relations and return to writing. "The culture in the Church is predominantly bureaucratic and I'm more of a street fighter so it's probably better that I head back to Fleet Street," he said.

His departure will leave Lambeth Palace bereft of a charismatic operator who was keen to see the Church engage with the public on key political issues. In a recent piece for the Sunday Express, he wrote: "The middle classes and MPs are keen to tell bishops to butt out of politics when they've something to say about health or education or treatment of our elderly. But our Church isn't outside politics, only party politics."

Others say Rowan Williams will now need to find a replacement for Mr Pitcher who will do more to protect him, rather than promote him. "Rowan needs advice, he really does," said one Westminster lobbyist at a prominent Anglican group.

"His background is thoughtful academia and he doesn't really spend enough time working out how his words will be perceived in the mainstream press. But at the same time his press team should be encouraging him to get out there and talk about issues, not duck behind safe headlines."

The journalist turned PR

With his tousled grey locks, sharp wit and dog-collar, Mr Pitcher has effortlessly segued back and forth between journalism, PR and the Church. As The Observer's industrial editor during the 1980s, he won awards for his coverage of Margaret Thatcher's privatisation drive, before setting up the highly lucrative Luther Pendragon PR agency with BBC reporter Charles Stewart-Smith.

He also joined the Anglican Church, becoming a working curate at St Bride's, the London church that traditionally caters for Fleet Street journalists. He returned to the press in the mid-2000s, becoming The Telegraph's religious editor before being fired in the aftermath of Will Lewis's departure. Last September he was hired by Lambeth Palace to be the Archbishop of Canterbury's spin doctor.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Marketing Manger,Mill Hill,London

To £55kpa (12 Month Contract): Charter Selection: Major household name charity...

Project Co-ordinator/Administrator - Central London

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Linux Systems Administrator - UNIX, Linux, Shell, Bash

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Linux Systems Administrator - UNI...

UNIX Systems Administrator - Oracle DBA, UNIX, Scripting

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Systems Administrator - Orac...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil