The Revd Paul Flowers ticked all the right 'progressive' boxes — that's why he could get away with anything

Sustainability. Tick! Inclusivity. Tick! Fairtrade. Tick! All that mattered to Labour was the Crystal Methodist's show of liberal piety

23 November 2013

9:00 AM

23 November 2013

9:00 AM

Listen to Melanie Phillips and Jesse Norman discuss Paul Flowers:
[audioboo url=”https://audioboo.fm/boos/1746120-melanie-phillips-vs-jesse-norman-on-revd-paul-flowers”/]

Yet again, one particular question has formed on lips up and down the land. How in heaven’s name could so many people have failed to spot such a spectacular abuse of a public position?

We heard it first in the Jimmy Savile scandal, when the posthumous discovery of half a century of predation left people incredulous that so many had known about but done nothing to stop his serial depravities. Now a similar question needs to be asked about the Revd Paul Flowers, the disgraced Methodist minister and former chairman of the Co-op Bank who was filmed apparently handing over £300 to buy a stash of cocaine and crystal meth and also boasted of using ketamine, cannabis and a club drug, GHB.

The real scandal, though, is not just that he was a staggeringly incompetent bank chief who knew next to nothing about banking and presided over a bank that somehow fell into a £1.5 billion black hole. It is not even his predilection for cocaine, crystal meth and the occasional ‘two-day, drug-fuelled gay orgy’ (to use his words). The scandal is that no one spotted that he was spectacularly unsuited to the jobs he was given — or if they did, they chose to do nothing about it. Yet again, a public figure with his ethics pinned to his sleeve somehow existed beyond proper scrutiny.

In the frame alongside the deeply un-fragrant Flowers are various institutions which now have questions to answer. The Co-op Bank, which elected him chairman. The Labour party, which banked his donations. Ed Miliband, who dined with him and appointed him to Labour’s financial and industrial advisory board. And the Methodist Church, which appointed him a ‘superintendent’ minister and designated him a trustee for its investment funds and property — even though he had next to no expertise in business.

Oh — and he has also been a member of the Advertising Standards Authority, vice-chairman of the National Association of Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and chairman of Manchester Camerata, the city’s chamber orchestra, not to mention chairman of the drug abuse charity Lifeline and the Terrence Higgins Trust. He is an icon of our time.

So how come none of these bodies ever spotted his spectacular unsuitability to be a member of the Great and the Good?

His striking unfitness to advise anyone on economic matters was demonstrated at the Treasury select committee earlier this month. Asked to state the Co-op Bank’s total assets, he guessed £3 billion; it was actually £47 billion. His performance may well have caused onlookers to scratch their heads and ask themselves: just what exotic substances is he on?

It turns out that he was indeed on drugs, even if not on that precise occasion. But it has become increasingly clear that the rise of the Revd Paul Flowers was not due to any banking expertise — which comprised a mere four years’ employment at NatWest, which he had joined at the tender age of 19.

No, his rise was due to his political connections. He was appointed chairman by the Co-op Bank’s Remuneration and Appointments Committee, which is composed largely of former Labour politicians and Co-op veterans. Jobs for the boys, in other words — or, as Flowers put it, the Co-op ‘had a practice of appointing a democrat from within its own numbers as the chair of that board’. From which we may infer that fitness for office was a synonym for mutual political back-scratching.

Indeed the Co-op Group, of which Flowers was a director, has underwritten the Labour party by some £34 million over the past two decades. The last £1.2 million loan was agreed in April, a month after Miliband met Flowers in the Commons. Even now, about 30 Labour MPs describe themselves as ‘Labour and Co-operative’ — including Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor.

The Co-op was hymned by Eds Miliband and Balls for its qualities of stewardship and responsibility, and proclaimed an ‘ethical’ bank — as opposed to all those other supposedly predatory casino banks. This seemed to give rise to the belief that the sole criteria for management was being holier-than-thou about money. But piety is no substitute for financial competence — as was demonstrated during the Co-op’s calamitous acquisition of the Britannia Building Society.

We knew that deal was a disaster which was to force the Co-op to seek a bailout. What we did not know, until Flowers admitted it to the Treasury select committee this month, was that the bank was egged on to do the deal by Ed Balls when he was part of Gordon Brown’s government, and that he was ‘very supportive of the whole process’. That support turned out to be mutual: Flowers later oversaw a £50,000 donation of Co-op Group money to Balls’s private office in March last year. ‘We believe in supporting political friends,’ he said later.

It’s amazing how far such friendships can take you in certain circles. The Labour party stayed friendly with Flowers even after his abrupt departure from Bradford Council (‘inappropriate but not illegal adult content’ had been found on his computer). Friendships seem to have elevated the laughably unqualified Flowers to the chairmanship of the Co-op Bank. The Financial Services Authority was supposed to watch out for all this mutual back-scratching — but instead it joined in. Graeme Hardie, one of the FSA’s ‘grey panthers’ who assessed Flowers’s fitness to chair the Co-op Bank, went on become a director at that bank.

The full extent of this seems to be beginning to dawn even on the Co-operative Group. Len Wardle, its chairman who oversaw Flowers’s recruitment, this week apologised and resigned — recognising the true nature of the scandal which, he said, ‘raised a number of serious questions for both the bank and the group’.

Now, surely, we are getting closer to the deeper reason why Flowers got away with it.  If people knew or suspected his inadequacies when promoting him, they didn’t care because he ticked all the right boxes of what has become the Unchallengeable Consensus of Virtue — even one that turns out to be rotten to the core. Competence and rigour come a poor second to being mates in a cosy cartel devoted to the cause. It’s all about striking an attitude which proclaims your goodness through a series of fashionable shibboleths. This makes you all but invulnerable, because anyone who challenges that attitude is inescapably portrayed as wicked, stupid or bonkers.

An article written by Flowers about the Co-op, entitled ‘Capturing the Ethical Opportunity’, read as if he had simply ticked off every such shibboleth he could think of. The Co-op ran ‘the UK’s most radical ethical operating plan’. Tick! It was against ‘ corporate greed and speculation’, promoting instead ‘sustainability’ based on an ‘inclusive and socially responsible approach to business’. Tick! Tick! ‘Green Schools’! ‘Healthy food’! ‘Fairtrade’! Tick! Tick! Tick! Thus Flowers created his own mythology, modestly describing himself on the Methodist Church’s website as ‘known for an objective rigour and for asking the questions others might avoid’.

So what about all those drugs and orgies? The behaviour which even his former rent boy described as ‘debauched’? How could a man with such predilections have got away with being a Methodist minister for 40 years? Flowers claims the pressures of his Co-op role and a family bereavement drove him to do things that were ‘stupid and wrong’. But it emerges that, back in 1981, he was fined for committing an act of gross indecency in a public toilet. The Methodist Church decided he could continue as a minister because he was ‘very contrite’.

In other words, it’s not that no one knew what he was up to. Some did indeed know — but chose to ignore it. That’s why a Labour MP who passed Flowers in the corridor apparently joked, ‘Have you got a touch of the old Colombian flu?’ It would seem that his drug-taking was a laughing matter amongst his ‘friends’. As for the Lifeline drugs charity he chaired, this takes such a liberal position that its literature effectively normalises drug use through manuals on how to use drugs ‘safely’.

And now people are shocked that the former chairman of Lifeline turns out to be a rampant drug abuser. Then the Methodists get all judgmental and suspend him for three weeks. Tough, huh? Especially when you consider what they say on their website about drug abusers, that ‘judgmental attitudes are wholly inappropriate’. Even the Methodists are in hock to liberal pieties.

Incompetence, recklessness, irresponsibility, criminality, decadence — these are all faults found in others, never in you and your cronies. Because you are inclusive, diverse, green, ethical, compassionate, progressive, devoted to equality and above all non-judgmental — except of course when it comes to the Tories, or anyone who wants to enforce the law against illegal drugs.

And so you are invulnerable. As long as you tick all the right ‘progressive’ boxes, you can get away with anything until someone comes along with a secret camera. And so we got the Revd Paul Flowers, Britain’s first crystal Methodist.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Melanie Phillips recently published an autobiography, Guardian Angel, through her new publishing venture, emBooks.


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Show comments
  • He uses drugs. So what? How many media hypocrites use drugs get pissed and all the rest..? Pots calling the kettle black. The media needs to grow up and stop sensationalizing. Humans will be human. Doesn’t matter what their position is. I’m pissed about the banking situation but drugs didn’t cause that. I occasionally drink; I don’t use other drugs through choice not regulation. People are so fickle and hypocritical.

    • Eddie

      Yes, true. Also, who says you can’t be a great businessman, politician etc whilst occasionally getting drunk or stoned. Look at Churchill! He’d never even get selected as an MP in our puritanical health fascist age.

      • sarah_13

        Unfortunately you are wrong, as any great businessman. Most people in charge of banks etc don’t do this, for every one rare genuine example of huge dishonesty and debauchery their are thousands who don’t do this and counter balance any danger from those few who do, if indeed there are genuine examples. Individuals attempting to defend their own behaviour by using inaccurate examples of those who they say do this, do miss the point entirely of this egregious example of irresponsibility, dishonesty and debauchery. Your example I believe is incorrect, Churchill wasn’t a business man, however he worked tirelessly often 18 hour days throughout his term of office, he didn’t have a predilection to orgies, crystal meth or industrial levels of any drugs, was honest and faithful in his relationship to his wife and others, was respected by those who knew him and more than any by those who worked closely with him, I could go on but attempted analogy isn’t really worth pursuing.

    • Knives_and_Faux

      Yes you would be correct if he weren’t a methodist minister using charity money he stole to buy crystal meth so his rent-boys that were also paid for with stolen charity money could maintain an erection for his gay sex.
      We are not talking about Russel Brand here.

      • sarah_13

        Quite, the odd drink after work, away from responsibility is certainly no issue. But to say ” don’t have a go at him because everyone takes drugs” is simply lazy and I tell excuse dishonesty. The fact is not everyone hoes take drugs at this level, not those who are really responsible. Because when they do the mess that is the coop be kp tends to happen.

    • sarah_13

      It wouldn’t matter if everyone did this, it is still unacceptable. As it happens not everyone, or anywhere near that number do this. Most people who run banks, and are actually responsible for others do not and are extremely competent individuals. He was running a bank and didn’t even know what assets the bank had! He was dismissed from one job for using the computers to watch porn! He was using idustrial quantities of crystal meth! It has further been discovered that he allegedly dishonest with expenses, customers and the banks money. Sir, you say so what! The man should not have been in a position to affect thousands of people’s lives, people who put their trust in him at the cooperative bank, people who worked there, others who suffered at the expense of his ridiculous ego and then to portray himself as a minister as a pious individual. It is not the drugs necessarily, it is the lack of esteem that leads someone to behave in the way he did, so ridiculously and pathetically in respect of his drug taking, but more than that the lies, the incompetence, the pretence, the dangerous elevations a position he had no right to occupy. That is the problem sir. The drugs a tiny part of a huge character problem, Although I would add that industrial levels of crystal meth and ketamine are no good for any being not even horses! The delusion of those who partake of this type of indulgence appears to the sober members of the community as a further symptom of that indulgence.

    • Charles J Simenoff

      media hypocrites may be on drugs but they are not chairing banks who have mislaid £1.5 billion quid

      • That is right! The media are cheering on a much larger and wider economy: the media has an army of consumer followers who have much more than £1.5 billion to spend or misspend.

    • My earlier outburst was a bit stronger than it ought to have been. The
      point I tried to make is that the media are responsible for leading the
      creation of people’s opinions. The media need to be more careful with
      their words (just as I need to be too).

      Love that we have a free media that reports facts; hate that those facts are often given in an emotionally manipulative context.

      At some point, we will all switch off to the news outlets because we will
      come to associate them with trolling and to mistrust their articles.

      What’s that phrase about casting the first stone…

    • Craig King

      I think you are wrong. To me a lot of our difficulties in politics and business and banking can be attributed to the reckless arrogance that cocaine produces in many powerful people.

      We need to carry out random drug testing at all levels of political activity and in every board room in the country. Cocaine can be an extremely destructive drug, especially for those who depend on business, banking and politics to get it right.

  • Eddie

    ‘The crystal Methodists’.
    Well, someone had to do it!

    • global city

      some journo did, days ago!

  • George_Arseborne

    What about George Osborne and Mark Hoban? Being in Government for more three years , yet were still doing business with Flower.

  • The PrangWizard

    And Common Purpose too.

  • Peter Stroud

    No doubt the BBC will move heaven and earth to put a positive spin on the matter: and get Miliband off the hook.

    • EnglandLaments

      They are doing just that:

      According to Ben Wright at the BBC, “Number 10 is ‘straining’ to tarnish Ed Miliband by association.”


      • James Strong

        But isn’t that exactly what No 10 is doing?
        Ed Miliband didn’t: take drugs, have porn on his work computer or use rent boys.

        • post_x_it

          No, and nobody is claiming that. But his relationship with Flowers and the Coop amounts to a lot more than just ‘association’.

        • Charles J Simenoff

          you lie with dogs, you get up with flease. you can judge a man by the company he keeps

          • Rockin Ron

            True. Some of Cameron’s friends are standing trial at this moment.

        • *Innocent Face*

          no, but none of this would have come to light had Flowers’ incompetence not lead to the Co-op bank going bust by losing £900m under his leadership.

          Labour’s now desperately attempting to disassociate itself from its sister organisation and financial sponsor

        • First L

          No, he simply borrowed millions and millions of pounds from a man who is date raping teenagers with crystal meth.

        • Zeus

          “Ed Miliband didn’t: take drugs, have porn on his work computer or use rent boys.”

          Perhaps he has just no been caught yet?

    • Her Indoors

      Cannot believe my TV licence is paying for labour propaganda. I wonder if the BBC bank with the Co-op as well.

      • Glyn Rutherford-Ainley

        theres a simple answer to that her indoors,just don`t pay for your tv license as it`s just a scam that cannot be upheld in a court of law.

      • First L

        The worst thing about the BBC is that despite being a public service newscaster, it allows zero public comment on its websites. That’s beyond shameful, and it’s because it cannot deal with the shame of being shown up time and time again.

    • Liberty

      Notice how much attention the Flowers story is given by the BBC compared to the ‘Insult To Miliband’s Father’ Saga..

  • Libertus

    Criteria is a plural noun.

  • Stafford_Lou

    The Methodist Church -boycott of Israeli goods TICK
    Co-operative Group -boycott of Israeli goods TICK

    Both of these ‘institutions’ would have done better to concern themselves with running their own affairs properly before condemning others. It is almost biblical justice.

    • La Fold

      Shame Flowers didnt want to Boycott the Medellin cartel or Los Zetas either. Could’ve saved himself a lot of hassle.

      • pgtipsster

        Indeed. Think of the air miles involved in transporting drugs from abroad. Far better to get it locally sourced. Make sure it’s organically grown too!

        • La Fold

          Surely its okay if your ching is Fair Trade though?

          • GUBU

            And if you make sure your rent boys adhere to the European Working Time Directive, then who can complain about that either?

            The Rev. Flowers may have dressed like George Carey, but he lived like George Michael…

      • Stafford_Lou

        most apposite!

    • Treebrain

      Stafford Lou,

      Perhaps, possibly, the issue of Paul Flowers is NOT about Israel t all?

      Both the Methodist Church and the Co-Operative Group boycott Israeli goods for genuine reasons.

      Flowers did not institute the boycott of Israeli goods and the policies will continue after his downfall.

      • Stafford_Lou

        I am not at all sure about that one. Anyway – good try Treebrain. I really felt that someone somewhere would have to down vote me. My point, of course, was that the Co-op spent too much time being PC and too little time watching their own backs.

  • Baron

    Melanie, absolutely spot on.

    What should trouble everyone is not so much what the guy was up to privately, and his total lack of knowledge of things financial, but the ease of approval by everyone supposed to watch over such appointments, and the backing of the Labour’s top brass. These are the heads that should roll, never will.

    • e2toe4

      Agree..this isn’t really JUST about Lab or any other political party ‘friends and family’ but about a whole rotted culture in a whole raft of areas.

      These areas share in common an assumption that once ‘in’ one becomes bombproof whatever the size of effects of any failure of competence, morality, ethics or even ability to obey the law.

      They overlap, as here where ‘Politics’ meets ‘finance’, and so reinforce each other…apart from just about as hapless a figure as Rev Flowers, bank non excs and exec Directors alike failed spectacularly, to the extent that the country almost ceased to be able to function, Banks have laundered hundreds of millions for Mexican Drug Cartels, and now, tonight, we hear they have driven decent small and medium businesses into bankruptcy like some bloated Bourbon Landlords in powdered wigs.

      I am not ignoring the aspect that as the revelations about Flowers keep coming the affair throws the light more and more upon Labour and the way the relationships worked..I am just saying that the cascade of these kind of things that started with Northern Rock’s destruction isn’t ‘JUST’ about each specific example..but highlights a kind of ethical and moral ennui if not vacuum at the top almost every great ‘estate’ in this country.

  • Harry Clark

    Never mind the CO-OP ticking all the boxes with Labour, I do recall when David Cameron was asked to explain how his “Big Society” flagship policy worked in a BBC television interview he responded it works just like the CO-OP ?, so from that one must assume it also ticked all the boxes with the Conservatives ?

    • James Lovelace

      Surely no-one is fool enough to think that David Cameron has any policy that he will stick to for more than 3 months? The man is nothing but sound-bites and focus groups.

  • Guy Falkenau

    Nobody seems to have noticed that a great deal of the Cooperative Bank’s problems stem from its attempt to ape the behaviour of what Melanie Phillips refers to as the ‘casino banks’. Instead of concentrating on its rather boring and steady function as a mutual institution, it sought to emulate its more commercial competitors through a process of mergers and acquisitions. This issue for those of us who want our bank back is whose hubris led to this state of affairs? Where was the due diligence before the Cooperative acquired the Britannia Building Society’s junk loan book? Who was promoting the expensive failure of the takeover of Lloyd’s Bank branches? And the result of all this? The same bunch of idiots will now be demanding that the Cooperative abandon the democratic structures which had served it well for generations in favour of a more commercial approach. God save us from capitalist whizz kids…..

    • The Laughing Cavalier

      It wasn’t capitalist whizz kids but the two socialist numbskulls, Brown & Balls

      • ButcombeMan

        It all started way before those two clowns. Arguably at “Big Bang”.

        The people who ran small mutuals suddenly thought they had the intellect and background to run major banks, borrowing on international markets.

        Since many of them got to the Boards only by local back scratching, Freemasonry, Rotary or whatever, many were plainly inadequate.

    • Rockin Ron

      I think you have misunderstood the term ‘casino bank’. This refers typically to the investment arm of a bank that is reckless in its acquistion and aggressive trading of risky products such as complex derivatives.

      The Co-op Bank does not have an investment arm. It does not have Stock Market based shareholders (or didn’t do until the recent bailout). It existed solely to maximise profits for its own shareholders – everyone who was a member of the Co-operative movement. It was because of these differences that I moved my account to the Co-Op Bank two years ago.

      • Guy Falkenau

        I meant casino bank in the broadest sense of the term. Your motives for joining the Cooperative Bank are precisely the same as led me to do so over 25 years ago. In common, I suspect with a large swathe of its depositors and Cooperative Society members, I look on with dismay at the bank’s attempt at emulating its competitors through a rapid expansion plan based upon acquisition and merger. The result is that a business model that had served it well for generations will now be replaced by a drive to make it even more like its competitors. The loss of yet another mutual, with its more democratic ethos, may be a victory for corporate stakeholders, but it will be a loss for those who support the ideals of cooperation and mutuality.

        • mdj

          Surely the irony is that had it been a true Coop, consulting all its members, their mass common sense would never have allowed such hubristic departures from their dull-but-decent model?

          • Guy Falkenau

            Quite so.

      • ButcombeMan

        “that I moved my account to the Co-Op Bank two years ago”

        You were not paying attention then, the writing has been on the wall for the Co-op since it took on Brittania.

    • mdj

      The Coop bank never had a democratic structure, beyond the sense of any other plc being owned by its shareholders, in this case a small number of large Coop groupings. One might call it a false description. It’s surprising to see how many people seem unaware of this. Only in the last year or so it was finally forced to admit that its ‘ethical’ policy never extended to its account holders – as some of us had worked out years before, and fled.

      • Guy Falkenau

        It was its positioning within the Coop Group that provided the measure of democratic accountability. It has been the efforts of senior managers within the bank to nudge it towards a more corporate form of governance which has contributed to the difficulties it now faces.

  • sarah_13

    Spot on. As long as you hate Tories anything goes apparently. Labour is simply not fit for government or any kind of responsibility, they turned the whole of the banking system into mush the last time they were in power god help us if they win the next election, and it looks unfortunately that they will. When that happens a quick call from a labour minister threatening litigation will prevent the public even hearing about this through the press. Hacked of, Tom Watson and the whole of the Labour Party should be ashamed of themselves. 100’s of years of free press chucked away by left wing hypocrites driven by dishonest self righteousness, all so they can continue their debauchery and dishonesty without us knowing.

  • JohannesHibernicus

    The origin of the problem is in a key shift which occurred in Western countries in the 1960s which Melanie has eloquently described as a world ‘turned upside down’. What was regarded as virtue (honesty, sexual chastity, responbility, self-sacrifice for others) became vice and what was regarded as vice (extra-marital sex, dishonesty, violence, etc.) is now regarded as ‘virtue’. This has been the constant them of movies, TV, books, chat shows, etc. since that period. Unfortunately, religious organizations such as the Methodists, much of the CoE, liberal Jews and Muslims and some Catholics (e.g. the Tablet) have bought into this farago of nonsense. Fortunately, the leadership of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches as well as orthodox Jews and Muslims maintain a proper system of ethics.

    • crosscop

      Muslims maintain a proper system of ethics? FGM? Forced marriage? Honour killings? Beating “rebellious women? Death threats or violence a knee jerk response to any criticism?

    • Rockin Ron

      Catholic Church – ethics? Where have you been over the last decade? Have you glossed over the numerous sex scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church?

    • Treebrain

      A foul slur upon the CoE, liberal Jews and Muslims, your comment is a disgrace!

    • jackscht

      That wonderful time of virtue before the 1960’s…..when millions of children and adults were being slaughtered and nuclear bombs were being dropped. What a freak.

      • Blazenka Hudson-trograncic

        Not in England they weren’t!
        Truly 1963 ( 50 years ago) was a notable milestone in the decline of England. Phillip Larkin and others noticed it.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Must have missed that. Whereabouts in England were these millions of children and adults slaughtered and nuclear bombs dropped then?

        Is that what the New Labour teachers taught you in the New Labour school?

        You are well named. You know jackscht.

    • e2toe4

      I’d have agreed if you had stopped half way along line 5… after that I think the wheels hit the wet grass and you start spinning.

      But up to line 5 you are spot on…we all got too smart to rely on simple stuff and since then it’s been getting worse and worse, not in the ‘big ways’ but a steady drip drip drip of special interest pleading dressed up as advancing a caring agenda.

      There have been enormous improvements in the positions of women, ethnic minorities, health, longevity and many other areas–but there is also an increasing hollowness becoming apparent in the public and social areas of this country, and a feeling of unease and disquiet among many people.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    There is also the small matter of his expenses while at Lifeline.

    • Charles J Simenoff

      Disgraced ex-Co-op chief’s sordid past revealed: Methodist minister resigned as Labour councillor after porn was found on laptop and was convicted of gross indency in public toilet in 1981

      Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2509803/Co-ops-Rev-Paul-Flowers-committed-gross-indecency-man-public-toilets-30-years-ago.html#ixzz2lIikGMfN
      Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

      • Blazenka Hudson-trograncic

        Did you hear about the man in Hackney who complained to a couple of passing policemen that men were ‘cottaging’ in the park WC, he was threatened with a ‘homophobic abuse’ arrest. Has Britain gone totally mad!

    • ButcombeMan

      Indeed there is.

      Was LifeLine doing the right thing when it failed to call the Police in?

      It is said it feared reputational damage but Lifeline gets lots of public funding. So if Flowers was stealing, he was stealing OUR money.

      Mt Ian Wardle is not off my hook.

      He behaved disgracefully. Did he know Flowers had gone off to run a bank?

      And can anyone explain to me why he has the same surname name as Len Wardle who has just resigned from the Co-op and who led the appointment of Flowers. Are they by any chance related?

      The two Wardles even look alike. (see Google images)

      It all has a very bad smell indeed.

      It smacks of back scratching and incestuous apointment of mates, regardless of talent.

      • cookie

        Will someone please clarify if Mr I Wardle is related to Mr L Wardle … we have not seen the usual (no relation) add on which leads me to assume they are……. so why has no one questioned that ? Either way I agree with you BucombeMan the whole lot has a very smelly whiff of “jobs for the boys” …….. across several organisations.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    Brown told the Chairman of Lloyds Bank to take on HBOS.

    Balls told the Chairman of the Co-op Bank to take on Britannia.

    Turned out well, didn’t it?

    • jackscht

      Osborne told the chairman of co-op to take over Lloyds Bank in over 40 meetings.

      • robertino12

        But by that time the chairman was too stoned to bother

    • e2toe4

      It did….I only say that because it turned out well for them (Lab or Cons, or Lib dems) and the rest of the people enjoying life at the top..their comfortable worlds teetered and tottered but didn’t come crashing down.. They engineered it so the rest of us have spent the last 5 or 6 years enjoying zero income growth (falls after inflation) to pay for it.

  • TRAV1S

    “So how come none of these bodies ever spotted his spectacular unsuitability to be a member of the Great and the Good?”

    Because they’re all like him.

  • Archie Mohan

    There is nothing wrong with having ethical and fair decent principles, Spectator. That’s the next stage of capitalism, and Hayek and Friedman have long called for it. The problem is that it was party of a corrupt quasi-capitalist, corporatist, socialist Labour Party.

  • Rockin Ron

    Can’t dispute much of what you have written, Melanie. However, please bear in mind that Flowers has been revealed as a comprehensive charlatan so trusting whatever he said or says now is not a good course of action.

    The Co-Operative movement is a much a victim of this man as the Methodist church and the other instituitions he represented. It seems he bolstered his standing by systematically playing on the naivety of important organisations. From that perspective, it is not difficult to understand why the Co-op would see him as competent if he was a respected Church minister. Yes, all the organisations including the Labour party have been cheated by this man, but please don’t damn those instituitions completely. They were naive and foolish but that has only emerged with hindsight. Flowers must have been a skilled deceiver, perfecting his deceptions over many years. In many ways, he ‘groomed’ those organisations to be receptive to him and was therefore able to get away with so much wrong doing.

    The lessons from this sorry episode are that independent checks and balances need to be rigourously enforced to minimise the chance of this sort of individual holding so much power again.

    Incidentally, there must have been people who suspected Flowers was a conman and incompetent, but I expect the ‘group think’ that most organisations get into prevented them from speaking up.

    Finally, there have been previous instances where the media were aware of wrong doing, but kept it to themselves. I’m thinking of Charles Kennedy’s alcoholism problems which were covered up, for example.

    • Cumberland

      The Co-oP movement………… was a victim of this man, perhaps the Catholic Church was one victim among others of the corrupt priests?

      • jackscht

        No the catholic ‘church’ is institutionally corrupt and always has been.

        • Cumberland

          For this reason the Catholic Church can never be a victim?

    • James Lovelace

      “The Co-Operative movement is a much a victim of this man as the Methodist church and the other instituitions he represented. It seems he bolstered his standing by systematically playing on the naivety of important organisations.”

      Just like the SWP was the victim of senior members who used the organisation to rape young women who joined?

      The point is this: people who wear their morality on their sleeve can easily fool others. Especially when political correctness is around to terrorise people into silence. It was bad enough just when Britain had the most draconian libel laws in the world. Put all this together, and you have a system where the corrupt and deceitful can mouth all the right platitudes, and even when they are discovered, people will keep silent rather than expose these people. And when some are brave enough to expose them (e.g. the whistle-blowers in hospitals, care-homes, etc.), the whistle-blower will never get another job in that industry, whilst the corrupt managers/directors never pay the price.

      • e2toe4

        Agree this…disagree with Rockin Ron.

        I suppose the individuals working inside the banks who now look as if they plotted to bust decent small businesses to get their hands on the assets are victims as well…?

        Britain has descended into a kind of moral and ethical ennui, glossed over with smart quips and soundbites under a layer of 21st century social networkery.

        Our country is starting to look like a kind of 21stC Austro-Hungarian empire ..a febrile glittering centre, fascinated with themselves and their friends with an ‘entitled class’ that is now almost disassociated at every level from the mass of the governed.

    • ButcombeMan

      “The Co-operative movement is a much a victim of this man as the Methodist church and the other instituitions he represented”.

      The “movement” is, but the people who ran it, surely are not. They failed to do basic due diligence. They were not upto the job. Presumably why Wardle (Len) has left.

      They are not alone of course, remember the LibDems and Michael Brown.

    • mdj

      A sex conviction, a drink-drive conviction, co-chairing Rochdale’s Social Services Committtee at the height of the satanic abuse hysteria (did he know Cyril Smith, incidentally?), an expenses scandal – and he’s still bullet-proof to continue up the ladder. Sounds more like a culture of protection than naivety. The only victims are the public who trusted the competence and probity of these organisations to exercise due diligence.

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Exactly the sort of pitiful excuse-making that allows these box-ticking, dodgy-handshaking, common purpose Labour luvvies to get away with all that they got away with from 1997. There were plenty of oversight bodies which should have deemed the man entirely unsuitable to be bank chairman and didn’t . Haul them all before an inquiry and jail the guilty. The country has lost its backbone to sickening political correctness and incessant equivocation.

      • Rockin Ron

        The quality of mercy, etc.

        • FrenchNewsonlin

          Mercy is what thousands of account holders at the Coop would doubtless welcome when it comes to rescuing their savings and dividends. Mercy would also surely be welcome to the millions ruined by banksters in general since 2007/8. Mercy for those responsible by omission and commission for enabling these worldwide financial atrocities, is just not on the cards.

  • BoiledCabbage

    Pure Tom Wolfe

  • Treebrain

    “The real scandal, though, is not just that he was a staggeringly incompetent bank chief who knew next to nothing about banking and presided over a bank that somehow fell into a £1.5 billion black hole.”

    Well, Melanie, he was hardly alone in that, was he?

    RBS, Lloyds, and countless other banks in Europe and the US were bailed out with taxpayer money due to reckless and incompetent management.

    The failure of the Co-Op Bank at £1.5 bn is very small beer compared to other banks.

    • Baron

      There has always been a difference between incompetence and bad judgement, google for a dictionary, educate yourself for once.

  • andylowings

    and we shouldn`t forget the many many small people in Co-op banks up and down the country utterly demoralized by the leadership of this man, and by his support by the establishment.

  • Latimer Alder

    It seems the Rev. Flowers has just been nicked for drug supply too. One would have to have a heart of stone not to ROFLMAO.


    This has everything. Religion, drugs, gay sex, lorra lorra money, politics. And complete incompetence.

    Are all our institutions run by such ‘flawed’ individuals?

    • jackscht

      ‘gay sex’? that’s an issue in the 21st century. Really?

      • James Lovelace

        Yes, when the story is a christian minister buying street drugs for a gay orgy and rent boys. If this is true, I can’t wait for the details of this glorious hypocrisy to come out.

        • Blazenka Hudson-trograncic

          Has there been a change in the law ? I thought sex between men was only legal for two men in private, that would make a ‘gay’ orgy illegal. Isn’t cottaging (Flowers 1981) still an offence? it should be.

          • James Lovelace

            “I thought sex between men was only legal for two men in private,”

            If orgies are legal for heterosexuals, then they should be legal for homosexuals. It’s the hypocrisy and irresponsibility of God’s banker that is newsworthy.

            Incidentally, the CPS gave up prosecuting cases about gay porn, orgies, etc. at least 15 years ago. Juries would not convict, so the CPS cannot waste public money bringing to trial things which juries refuse to consider criminal. For the same reason, the politically-motivated prosecutions of Nick Griffin stopped – simply because juries refused to find him guilty, even when directed to do so.

      • Latimer Alder

        The things that cause scandals haven’t changed much in centuries.

      • Alexandrovich


  • rtj1211

    I think the answer you are looking for is simple: it suits certain very powerful people to put those of imperfect track records into positions of responsibility, so then they can manipulate them, control them, blackmail them etc.

    If rich and powerful people can make more money with dodgy folks on board, that’s what’ll happen.

    They throw a few to the wolves every so often to show that ‘society is getting to grips with it’, but the reality probably is that just as many stay in positions of power.

    Perhaps you’d like to explain how Tony Blair was allowed to sign away all UK communications privacy to the Americans, other than now he’s getting £20m – £50m a year for having unlocked Pandora’s box for them, aligning his interests with the global rich in direct competition with the interests of UK’s Joe and Joanna Bloggs. A generation ago, that would have been called treason…..

    To say that behaviour wasn’t ‘compatible with being accepted into any faith, let alone personal audiences with the Pope is perhaps assuming that ‘moral’ organisations actually have some morals. Not sure I’ve seen too much evidence for that over the years……..

    Perhaps you’d iike to ask that ‘human rights lawyer’, Cherie Booth, just what she thinks about her husband’s behaviour and whether she’d like to take him to the cleaners in court on behalf of 50 million British citizens, eh??

    Think we’d find out within 5 minutes how much SHE cares about human rights, wouldn’t we??

  • jackscht

    So he takes drugs…big deal. Who filmed him and why did they film him? Have the tax avoiding Daily Mail been hacking?

    • David Booth.

      And what about the poor schmucks who lost their savings and jobs whilst Flowers was in charge of the Co-op Bank with his drug befuddled actions?

    • Alec

      His seller filmed him with, I assume, camera phone. He then went to the DM.

      No hacking involved, which you either knew or didn’t care about in your effort to deflect attention from this eye-watering bad affair.


  • James Lovelace

    Why is anyone surprised? This country (like many others) mouths meritocratic platitudes, but is run by a cabalistic elite, who jockey to get their friends/family/comrades into positions of power and money. I remember a documentary from the 1980s about the Midland Bank, and how it had been run into the ground by the old boy network from Eton, who appointed their friends to run the bank, even when they were clueless about banking and finance.

    All that’s happened is now the elite draws people from a larger circle of vested interests. http://globalsociology.com/2012/12/30/c-wright-mills-and-the-power-elite/

    The theories of the power elite are ignored by the media, because they don’t want the public to understand how things work. This despite political theorists from Pareto, to Michels, to Burnham, to Wright-Mills, and even modern “paleocons” writing about the way these groups work.

  • Margot

    All so reminiscent of HR in our dear NHS

  • Don Logan

    I usually disagree with most things Melanie Phillips writes, but in this case I applaud her for this splendid piece, she has hit the nail very, very firmly on the head.

  • NewImprovedPretendName

    Wow, that is quite a blasphemous picture. The point is well-made, though.

    • La Fold

      He was a fairly blasphemous minister!

      • NewImprovedPretendName

        Yes, quite!

  • Eddie

    Well, Flowers is well and truly plucked now, isn’t he?
    And the plods have got an easy peasy arrest to boost their stats (well, it’s better than doing any real policing and catching criminals out there…)

    • Theodoxia

      Are you suggesting that Flowers is probably not a criminal, or merely commenting that the police have had most of their work done for them by the Mail on Sunday?

      • Eddie

        The latter you mention is true. Whether Flowers is a ‘criminal’, I am not sure. If everyone who has ever bought drugs is a ‘criminal’ then probably about half the population is; and haven’t we all broken the law at some stage? Does that make us all criminals?
        I have long held the opinion that arresting and imprisoning those with drug and alcohol problems, and/or mental issues, is pointless and silly – but hey, it’s an easy way for the plods to boost their arrest figures – (that, and arresting anyone who writes anything rude in post on Twitter or Facebook or by email).
        Then they can claim to be fighting crime in a super-efficient way, despite muggers having a free hand to do what they want out there (much harder to catch real criminals like muggers than to arrest a druggie).

  • Her Indoors

    Whatever happened to vetting – his past criminal convictions would have been known. This man was able to have contact with some of the most vulnerable. His dodgy expenses at Lifeline was reported by them to the Charity Commission, who sat on their hands about it.
    Three brass monkeys come to mind – but when you have friends in high places you can more or less get away with anything especially if there are favours involved both ways.
    Mark my words, The labour and libdems will now try to argue the case for state funding of parties to make themselves look good. But, I think the way a party handles its own donations says a lot about their character – how can we trust them with our taxes when running the country if they cant trust themselves.

  • D Whiggery

    “not to mention chairman of the drug abuse charity Lifeline”

    You are yanking my chain.

  • Coleridge1

    The crack cocaine addict, rent boy lover and fraudster Flowers was also a distinguished supporter of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and forced through a Co-op boycott of democratic Israel.
    I hope this scumbag spends many years in the pokey.

  • Badjumbly

    “Incompetence, recklessness, irresponsibility, criminality, decadence — these are all faults found in others, never in you and your cronies. Because you are inclusive, diverse, green, ethical, compassionate, progressive, devoted to equality and above all non-judgmental …” It’s interesting that from the list of supposedly ingratiating qualities projected by Flowers, Phillips omits ‘religious’.

  • anyfool

    The Labour party stayed friendly with Flowers even after his abrupt departure from Bradford Council (‘inappropriate but not illegal adult content’ had been found on his computer).
    Melanie, if you believe that the Labour party would remove anyone for inappropriate behaviour of any kind shows an innocence not often found in top journalists.
    There is more to the council removal than meets the eye, it would be inconceivable that he would be forced to go because of this especially if the content was gay related, he would be out if it was page three type.

  • 3x4_34

    This piece of filth says he went away to get “wasted” with his friends after his grilling.
    Just who and where are these friends? Are some of them other Labour luvvies placed in high places?

  • agneau

    One point – the people closest to Savile were Thatcher and the Windsors.

    • Stigenace

      Bollocks! The people closest to Savile were his mother, colleagues at the BBC and in the entertainment industries, and those at Stoke Mandeville and the charities he worked for.

      Yes, he used whatever influence he could to get close to those in political and royal circles but that was primarily to do with his fund raising activities and his ego. Yes, he liked to boast of those connections but the closeness was of his own invention.

      Any effort on the part of Thatcher and the Royal Family to be associated with him was because of his charitable work, not to be friends with him.

      Any attempt to explain his charmed life has to be tempered with the knowledge that private briefings to Thatcher about Savile were about what was already in the public domain; nothing to do with the nefarious activities we’ve since become privy to, so she was no more aware of his depravity in the 1980s than most.

      You’re trying to suggest that double standards are at work, that Thatcher and the Royal Family have been spared the guilt by association with Savile that is being levelled at today’s Labour Party and its senior figures with regard to Flowers. The big difference is that, unlike the theme of this article, there was no mutuality, no back-scratching, no cosy cartel in Savile’s dealings with Thatcher and the Windsors.

      Anyway, your assertion that Thatcher and the Windsors were the people closest to Savile is a complete crock.

      • agneau

        The [mad] female author raised the Savile equivalence. Milliband/Balls didn’t have the Reverend around for family Xmas I don’t believe.

  • mikewaller

    I have long not been an admirer of Melanie Phillips, a polemicist who in my view is more a journalistic Exocet than someone whose expressed opinions should be given serious consideration. Take just one sentence from the above garbage: “As for the Lifeline drugs charity he chaired, this takes such a liberal position that its literature effectively normalises drug use through manuals on how to use drugs safely”. Phillips is either dangerously malign or very stupid as surely anybody who has given half a thought to the drug problems knows that it is a very smart idea to tell drug takers how to avoid infecting themselves not least because the close tie-up between drug taking and prostitution plus widespread promiscuity soon releases such infections into the wider population.

    “Dangerously malign or very stupid” also applies to the rest of the article. Of course the Co-op has got itself into a terrible mess as a result of a toxic combination of incompetence and naivity; however other than for Flowers himself and those who used him, rampant greed does not seem to have figured very highly. Sadly that was not true in the case of the commercial banks that came very close to ruining the much of the Western world’s entire banking system. Yet in Phillip’s tightly focused (aka self-servingly myopic) attack, none of this figures.

    All that said, I do have to extend my sympathy to Phillips for having experienced the kind of misfortune that can befall any hack for hire: appearing in the same publication as someone writing on the same topic who actually knows what he or she is talking about. Turn to page 37 and you will find a paragraph written by Martin Vander Weyer under the title “The naughty Methodist is a comic side show: it was professionals who ruined the Co-op” He is certainly not dishing out any plaudits to the bozos within the Co-op and its regulators who let this all happen; but what he does make clear that in his view the real sinners within the Co-op were the former CEO of the Britannia Building Society who took up that role after 21 years with Price Waterhouse during the course of which we must assume he acquired the very widespread “Mad Bankers Disease” and the successive chairs of the Co-op’s Risk Committee, Merlyn Lowther and Peter Harvey. The former had a long career in the Bank of England, the latter, Barclays. None of these, Ms Phillips please note, were exactly Rochdale Pioneers!

  • justejudexultionis

    ‘The Left’, ‘the Right’ —

    What are these strange phenomenon? Meanwhile, back in the real world where things are complex and simplistic labels prove to be of limited utility, people are getting on with their lives…

  • justejudexultionis

    Melanie Phillips is an intelligent person and often makes valid points but she spoils it all by her shrill tone and by pushing her arguments to illogical extremes, thereby decreasing the probability that anyone will take her seriously…

  • bengeo

    Ooooh Melanie – don’t read the comments!

  • Bruce Everiss

    Rev Flowers, Cyril Smith, Jimmy Savile, Harold Shipman, Thomas Hamilton.
    All freemasons. Explains a lot.