Action man: Give Justin Welby an issue and he will speak out

He fights the wrongdoings of the payday loaners and now the Big Six – what next?

Share

News broke this weekend that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duchess of Cornwall have held a meeting to discuss poverty. Both have expressed their concerns about the behaviour of payday loan firms, and have supported the idea of local credit unions. They also share a belief in a pragmatic approach to contemporary problems: Justin Welby has suggested that the Church of England might set up shop as a moneylender while the duchess joined the London Mutual Credit Union in Peckham, where she is not a resident.

All this is something of a break with the recent past. Imagine a similar meeting but between the duchess’s husband, Prince Charles, and the last Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams: the agonising over terms of reference, the anguished beard-tugging over what exactly constituted poverty, the reference to St Thomas Aquinas and Laurens van der Post, the ever-thickening fog of well-meaning abstraction.

The idea of a dynamic former oil executive taking over as head of the Anglican Church has, admittedly, taken some getting used to. Like many non-believers, I rather liked the gentle, beardy Dr Williams, with his tentative, non-prescriptive faith. I sensed that his God and my good were vague enough to be rather similar.

The new action-man Archbishop seems to have no time for windy theorising. His progress has been that of a businessman with a meeting to get through, rather than an academic wrestling with an abstruse intellectual problem.

Apart from his payday initiative with the Duchess of Cornwall, he has recently attacked energy companies for maximising profit, spoken out against the pursuit of economic growth, expressed views about same-sex marriage, regretted the influence of the colonial past in the running of the Church, welcomed tax changes for married couples, and supported the building of affordable houses.

He is, in other words, a thoroughly modern public figure, who sounds off confidently and unambiguously about the issues of the day. A glance at the nice old duffers who have preceded him – Coggan, Runcie, Carey, Williams – is enough to reveal how far he has already taken the church away from the old, grey establishment of which it was once part.

It is probably a sensible move. The words of politicians have become increasingly woolly and meaningless (last week, for example, we learned that coalition government means that the Liberal Democrats can simultaneously support and oppose free schools), and the public is looking for guidance elsewhere.

Archbishop Welby is moving towards the real shadow cabinet, the small group of public figures who speak out and influence opinion on the issues of the day. In this unofficial opposition, he could take on the role of Home Secretary, while Jamie Oliver is in charge of Health, Stephen Fry speaks on culture, and Chris Packham covers the environment. Among the junior shadow ministers can be found young thrusters like Russell Brand, Charlotte Church, Louise Mensch and Joey Barton.

In their own individual ways, these people – celebrities with attitude – have more sway over the way people think and the topics that matter than any number of the Gregs and Nicks who are in government.

They now include the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A few more telling soundbites, and he will be on The Graham Norton Show, telling twinkly anecdotes on Desert Island Discs or contributing to a “What Turns Me On” lifestyle column in one of the Sunday newspapers.

For those who like the Anglican Church to be a solid, slightly dull presence in our national life, the Welby way will no doubt be distressing – he is hardly, in the words of the hymn, a still, small voice of calm. But at a time when politicians are trying to please everyone, the press is widely distrusted, and the BBC has lost its way, perhaps it is not such a terrible thing that the Church of England has found itself a confident, slightly bumptious new voice.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick
 

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing