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Press: Archbishop’s magazine-selling not a big issue

25 June 2021


The Archbishop of Canterbury sells a copy of The Big Issue

The Archbishop of Canterbury sells a copy of The Big Issue

ANOTHER week in which to feel sorry for Justin Welby, or at least to acknowledge the impossibilities of his job. You can see what he wants to do from the interview with The Big Issue, which got nowhere much with the mainstream press: the I paper and the Mail Online. Both of them mentioned that he’d sold only five papers, though the Mail, as you’d expect, punched harder by leaving it to the fourth paragraph, just when the reader would be thinking what an uplifting little tale it had been.

Then there was space for a quite gratuitous attack from the editor of The Conservative Woman, a site given to frothing conspiracy theories taken from the United States. (To quote from one recent article, more or less at random: “We are living under tyranny. The novelty of our situation has made its essence difficult to grasp, while the comforts that we still enjoy (for now) are concealing this reality for many, but the direction of travel is clear. The British government, and other governments, are operating through propaganda, censorship, deception, whisper networks, diktats, smear campaigns, political corruption and political repression to disseminate a pseudo-scientific narrative and ideology intended to entrench their power.”).

But it is edited by a vicar’s daughter, which enabled to the Mail to say: “Archbishop Welby’s appearance on the magazine vendor’s pitch during a six-week period of study leave in Cambridge drew criticism from some churchgoers.

“Vicar’s daughter Kathy Gyngell, co-editor of The Conservative Woman website, said: ‘It’s the most outrageous example of an establishment figure pretending to slum it in 15 years, since a Lord Chief Justice put on blue overalls, picked up a shovel and had himself pictured with a convict work gang in an unsuccessful attempt to show how tough community punishments were.

“’He didn’t do much to help the homeless and the vulnerable when he shut the doors of all the churches during lockdown.’”


AND then there was the continuing fallout from Dr Joanna Penberthy’s silly tweets (News, Press, 11 June). They are nothing to do with Archbishop Welby organisationally, of course. I suppose he could disinvite her from the Lambeth Conference, if that’s a punishment; but otherwise he can only take the blame for her. As part of that, he had to apologise for her, and this was, of course, leaked to the Telegraph: “The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted his ‘deep embarrassment’ for the ‘absolutely unacceptable’ behaviour of a bishop who told her congregants to ‘never trust a Tory’.

“In a letter to the Government, the Most Rev Justin Welby said he was ‘truly sorry’ for the behaviour of Dr Joanna Penberthy, the Bishop of St Davids.

“He said it was ‘intolerable’ to ‘be trolled in this way’.

“The letter, seen by The Telegraph, will heap further pressure on the bishop to quit.”


THE GUARDIAN, which would not dissent from the Archbishop on homelessness, nor from Dr Penberthy on the Tories, had no comfort to offer this week for either. The collapsing finances of York Minster got a long story, and they make sobering reading. Fifty-five people sacked is a distressing figure, and the closing of the prep school is also saddening. Few cathedrals can be quite so dependent on tourism as York Minster, but there will be 15 or 20 similar stories as the summer wears on and the sums are done.

Even in Cambridge, about one job in ten was in the tourism industry before the virus struck, and many will have disappeared since then: Archbishop Welby was selling The Big Issue in a city where homelessness is a rising problem — but not so immense that no one can afford to buy the magazine.


BUT there never was a golden age. The publication of the inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator whose partner worked closely with the News of the World, is a salutary reminder of the lengths to which the Murdoch press (and its rivals) went to get stories in the golden age of phone-hacking.

Morgan was murdered in 1987; within a month, the police had arrested six people, three of them serving detectives, on suspicion of his murder. None was ever convicted, and some, ultimately, won damages for wrongful imprisonment.

The story itself is one of baroque complication, partly because it is almost impossible to find out what criminals are up to without gaining a little of their trust, and that can be done only by co-operating with them in some ways, often by giving them money. So, the police bribed the criminals, and the journalists bribed the police, and somehow, quite often, the truth would emerge as a sort of by-product.

Since everyone in the network broke the rules, all were vulnerable to exposure, and all shunned it. The report of the inquiry into Morgan’s death should have been a huge story. But it is extremely long. The police and the press come out of it very badly; so everyone will pretend that nothing like that could possibly happen today — and that Martin Bashir was an egregiously amoral journalist.

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