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Gavin Haynes Sleepless Nights

The Crucifixion of Reverend Paul Flowers, God's Hapless Crack Smoker

Stress, thousands of pounds and an inferiority complex can do strange things to a man.

Image by Marta Parszeniew (via)

Reverend Paul Flowers used to be best known as chairman of the Co-operative Bank. But since Sunday, he is now best known as "Cystal meth shame of former Co-op bank Chief Paul Flowers" (© Mail On Sunday) and so everyone hates him. At the very least, he's not going to be able to go down his local pub without feeling the hot glare of all eyes on his neck for a very long time indeed.


Which is a pity, because taken in another light, Flowers' extraordinary tale of excess reads a bit like that Jenny Joseph poem. The one that starts: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple”. Man in his sixties, Methodist lay-preacher, goes through a personal crisis, and in doing so, recovers his sense of fun. Starts doing the things he only dreamed of doing during his life as a dull, dutiful servant of the corporate world. Discovers ketamine. Gets into grindr. Starts hanging out with 26-year-old twinks. If he belonged to an earlier generation, he probably would've done something a bit less extreme, like tour Britain on a motorcycle with his new man-child lover in the sidecar, frittering away his bank manager's pension on expensive snuff and good claret.

However, this being 2013, Reverend Flowers instead found himself sitting in a luxury motor, peeling off 300 quid in notes so that a man he had recently met could get him some coke and whatever else was going. "Any ket?" he asks. Nope, says the man – identified in the Mail On Sunday's sting only as "X" – they probably don't have any, Reverend. “Don't worry,” Flowers responds philosophically. “We will cope with what we've got” – which, at this point in time, turned out to be a full half-ounce of cocaine and rocks upon rocks of crack. Make do and mend. That is the drugs policy of the former chairman of the Co-operative Bank. Humble. Grounded.


By rights, we should be hymning him as a great example of British eccentricity and the power of rebirth. Only, Reverend Flowers finds himself in the midst of a tabloid sting operation, and to those people moral outrage is the only language available. If the papers did do a story on Jenny Joseph's purple-clad heroine, it would be about how “FRUMPY poetess Jenny steps out in eccentric PURPLE frock which does nothing to hide the years or the pounds”. So if you have recently presided over the collapse of a mutualised bank, and you are a vicar, and you are gay, and into the twinks, and you are boasting about orgies, and you buy some crack, and you are on the board of a drugs charity, inevitably you're made out to be the bad guy in the situation.

There's something satirically perfect about the scandal presently pissing all over Reverend Flowers's hopes of dignified retirement. Tom Sharpe couldn't have written a more vivid shitstorm of disgrace and moral bankruptcy. Just weeks ago, he testified in front of a Treasury Select Committee, about why the bank he'd been chairing had lost £700 million and – as a result – was forced into selling off 130 years of mutualised banking tradition to a few canivorous US hedge funds. During his crucifixion he told Committee chair Andrew Tyrie that his bank's assets are worth £3 billion. Tyrie then reminded him they were actually valued at £47 billion. At which point, Flowers had to admit that perhaps his brief stint as a bank teller 40 years ago didn't qualify him to lead a major high-street lender through a re-structuring phase.


In a way, you have to feel for Reverend Flowers. This story is such a bird-in-a-bird-in-a-bird of tabloid tropes that it feels conceived by Viz. In this morality tale, Flowers is not just the pervy stripper-vicar of Sunday redtop lore, he also plays the roles of the incompetent banker you can bash and the victim of a very modern drugs sting, one pulled off with the use of smartphones, that places Flowers in the same, weird boat as Tulisa N-Dubz and Frankie Cocozza. This is scandal with its comedy and tragedy in the right proportions, and a hate-figure who feels like he has earned his right to be hated. Rather than the drugs or the sex, it's the towering hypocrisy that's the real hook. Yet beneath it all, there's obviously a rather lonely, lost figure, a man who is as much a predator as he is at the mercy of the many forces preying upon him.

Promoted from within, Flowers was being paid "just" £130,000 a year to chair the Co-operative Bank. That is because the Co-operative is an "ethical" lender, one that doesn't invest in nasty things, like arms companies or tobacco. The idea is that it is effectively owned by the customers, so it is always trying to adhere to the Great British public's moral standards. In effect, this means that the Co-op is trying to operate like your average weepy X Factor mum in a tank full of sharks. It was never going to end well for Reverend Flowers.

Looking back now, it seems evident that you have to pay a lot more than a piffling £130,000-a-year to get a guy who can tell you what the value of his assets are. To memorise that, you've got to head up to Bob Diamond levels of recompense. Say what you like about Bob, to the best of anyone's knowledge, he never sent a man he recently met through a sex-dating app a text saying: “This ket is superb! Hot lots of it too – when do you want some?” No. Because Bob Diamond was always methodical enough to check his texts back to see whether he had spelt "got" properly. That's what you get for several million quid a year. Auto-correct override.


Stuart Davies, the 26-year-old who dobbed Flowers in to the Mail On Sunday, claims he decided to secretly record Flowers on his iPhone because he was "shocked by the hypocrisy" of Flowers' double life. They first met as recently as early October, by which point it already seemed that Flowers was becoming something of a fiend. He told Davies, that he was getting “charlie, ket and rocks of crystal”. He texted him just to say: “I'm on ket tonight.” In one text, Flowers wrote to Davies of how his party plans were “turning into a two day, drug-fuelled gay orgy!!!” The night before he was due to testify before the Treasury Select Committee, he told Davies he was: “Snorting some good stuff.”

And doesn't he just love to bang on about it? Above all, what we hear in Reverend Flowers' story is a craven need to be validated. A man who had been hopelessly over-promoted, then suffered a need to justify his position by acquiring all the trappings of the modern corporate financier. It seems like what we have here is a bad case of banker envy. There are the big guys, in the real city, who aren't owned by the Co-op. They see billions course through their accounts every day, and they can just skim off whatever they want to feed their coke habits and Spearmint Rhino jaunts. Whereas the Rev was always going to be manacled by the dowdy ethics of the Co-op model.

How Flowers must have dreamed of playing with the big-boys. So, off the field, he developed this charmingly demob-happy interest in hard drugs. And on it, he tried to turn the Co-op into a muscular modern banking organisation by buying-up 600 branches of Lloyds in an disastrous abortive deal. At both ends, it seems like the big boys were just laughing at him. While any number of execs at the Big Four banking companies must have kept their powder dabblings hidden for years, it was naïvely enthusiastic Flowers who ended up as a field day for the Sundays. And now, after all those chuckles, their final laugh at him is how his case has shown that "ethical" models and "moderate" salaries are just as prone to complete implosion as any Bourbon-addled pre-Crash regime.


But beyond the narrow confines of one man, perhaps the most lasting meaning of the sad story of Reverend Flowers could be that he's the tip of another iceberg. That he is actually the coalmine canary of the coming age of corporate crack addiction. First Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Now him. And after that…? Always the lowly footsoldier of the drugs world, it feels like crack is finally making it to the right sorts of parties. At long last, it's upwardly-mobile. No doubt the rich and the powerful will codify their consumption of crack in a way that makes sense to the tastes of the Club World classes, but however brainy they are, however crafty, not even senior execs can outrun the physiological gravity of crack addiction. And unlike your average rock-smoking Whitechapel dropout, it will take a lot longer for the money to run out when you've got £300k a year to burn. We are always taught to think of social mobility as people only going endlessly up. In fact, we ought to understand that it can also be as much about people being dragged forcibly downwards: to make way for those fresh faces we want to see at the top. Perhaps we should welcome this as a levelling force in our society.

In fact, if the Occupy movement really wanted to make progress in toppling the turbo-capitalists, rather than grumbling into their dreamcatchers in Paternoster Square, maybe they'd be better off taking a leaf out of Reagan's CIA, and find themselves a few more Mr Xs. After all, could the same secret service logic that was supposedly applied to the streets not also hold fast in the boardroom? Flood them with crack and soon enough, the invulnerable self-selecting elite they've been bitching about for years would be reduced to unshaven, piss-stinking paranoiacs. And then, all them bastards at the top would fall out of the tree like overripe figs. Splat, splat, splat.

As the good reverend knows: The Lord giveth lots of manna, but then sometimes The Lord also maketh you head down to Cash Converters so he can taketh away those last few off-white Bose speakers and ocean-blue Conran armchairs.

Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes

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