If anyone is still curious about
why people no longer have much faith in our governing institutions they should read
about the Paul Flowers scandal. It is
worth taking the time to do so, if only for its entertainment value.
The Rev. Paul Flowers is clearly
a man of minimal intellectual weight – which he more than makes up for in the
physical sense – but he has contrived to put his lack of discernible talent to
very good use in a remarkably broad range of public roles.
He has been a Methodist minister. He came to be elected, first to the board and
then as chairman of the Co-operative bank, an institution owned by its members. He has sat as a Labour member on Bradford’s City Council.
He has served as a school governor in that city. He has headed a rehabilitation charity called
Lifeline Project. And earlier this year the
opposition leader Ed Miliband appointed him to serve on the Labour Party’s banking
advisory board, apparently after they met once or twice at Downing
The good reverend is no longer
doing any of those things. He has fallen
from grace and favour, landing with a loud splash, but one from which there
will be few ripples.
His incompetence as a banker, having
finally been recognised as a result of the bank’s spectacular collapse – now
being investigated by a parliamentary committee – sees him ousted from his
His disgrace has now been
compounded, in spades, by the discovery of his incompetence as a villain. Last week, a hidden camera in the back of the
car recorded Flowers handing money to someone to buy him a supply of drugs. The drugs in question, in case you are
interested in the details, were crystal meth and cocaine.
Since that story broke, it has
emerged that he resigned from Bradford City Council after ‘inappropriate
material’ – that is, pornography – was found on his computer as it was being
serviced. He was forced to resign from
Lifeline Project when he was found to have spent over £100,000 on questionable
The Methodist Church
has now suspended him, or whatever it is that Methodists do to its errant
ministers. And he has been dismissed by
the school board, which had no inkling of his predilection for porn or his
alleged penchant for consorting with rent boys.
The Labour Party is now squirming to explain how Flowers was allowed to
inveigle his way into the enthusiastic sponsorship of Mr. Miliband, and presumably
others. Flowers himself almost certainly
faces criminal prosecution.
Flower’s sexuality – he is openly
gay – is not an issue. He is not the
first, nor will he be the last public figure to be outed by a prurient media,
or for that matter dismissed by outraged city councils. What we are all
wondering, rather, is how a man who knew nothing, literally nothing, about
banking could graduate to the chairmanship of an important banking institution. Or how Mr. Miliband could be duped into
thinking that Flowers might have something important to offer on a body engaged
in attempts to reform the industry. A
gift of the gab goes a long way, but where were the financial regulators while
this was going on? Why did no alarm
bells ring along any of the corridors of power in Westminster or the City? How do pathetic charlatans and hucksters like
Flowers survive the scrutiny of the review boards? Were there any review boards?
If these questions are examined
as they should be, Flowers himself becomes reduced to no more than a walk-on
part. Most scandals break as a result of some minor infringement of peripheral
interest – like the Profumo scandal in the 1970s. That was ultimately not about the Minister of
War sleeping with a call-girl, it was about how institutionally rotten and
self-serving the governing classes proved to be, and how inept and out of touch
the prime minister and the government were revealed to be. Scandals are like icebergs – only one eighth
visible above the waterline.
Profumo got his comeuppance.
Flowers will now disappear in disgrace.
Those who remain in authority will, in the enquiries that will now inevitably
follow, have to answer for their neglect. Sadly, if precedent means anything,
they will all run for cover in the hope that the scandal will fade away. It will, of course, destined to become
nothing more than a question in the end-of-year news quizzes.
We are careless and cynical
people, we citizens of democracy, and the idiots who get to govern us may be no
more than we deserve.
And so, we’ll sit back over the
next week, perusing the newspaper, and laugh our heads off at their
antics. But in the end, as hilarious as
they may be, we should feel demeaned.