Flower power – downfall of a banking boss, his link to Coventry and Dave Nellist
By Roger Bannister (From the Socialist Newspaper)
If the much repeated cliché that the British Labour Party owes more to Methodism than to Marxism is true then it must have got more than it bargained for with the Reverend Paul Flowers.
The traditional image of the stern, moral, teetotal 19th century campaigner is far removed from this latter day Methodist, mired in scandals involving sex, illegal drugs and dubious expense claims.
Flowers’ story reminds us that the bankers who brought the UK economy to the brink of disaster have been allowed to carry on in post, and to continue to draw fat bonuses, effectively paid for from the public purse, and funded by working class people via the Con-Dem government’s austerity policies.
Given the latest allegations against RBS profiting from bankrupting small companies, the hypocrisy with which the capitalist press and the Tories have jumped on this story is incredible.
But because of the traditional links between the Cooperative movement and the Labour Party, Flowers is subjected to intense scrutiny and pilloried in the press. Who knows what dirt could be dug up on any other top banker if treated in a like manner?
However, the rise of a person like Flowers in both the Labour Party and the Cooperative movement is an indication of how far both organisations have moved from their working class roots.
The Cooperative movement is based on its retail and banking wings, from which is funded the Cooperative Party. By agreement with Labour, it stands 26 Labour/Cooperative candidates in each general election.
But the Cooperative movement today is little like the vision of its 19th century ‘pioneering’ founders who were anxious to break away from the grip of their bosses who employed them and owned the shops that sold them poor, adulterated products at high prices.
The 21st century Co-op bank’s attempt to ape corporate capitalism collapsed under £1.5 billion of debt, and resulted in its takeover this year by US hedge fund asset strippers. This shows the limits of the cooperative ideal within capitalist society.
Its cooperative structures have become increasingly weakened over the years, producing a massive, largely unaccountable, highly paid bureaucracy (Flowers received in excess of £130,000 a year as chair of the Co-op Bank).
It now benefits from the government’s privatisation programme, with agencies that advise local councils on how to “mutualise” public services, promoting this as the soft side of privatisation. Right-wing Labour councils are particularly keen on this approach, sacrificing services and workers’ jobs because they are unwilling to fight to defend them.
Flowers link to Coventry, Dave Nellist and the Socialist Party
Flowers was always a Labour Party right winger, even at university in Bristol in the early 1970s, when left-wing politics were common among students. He joined the university Labour Club, but did not attend meetings because of its left wing leadership, (run at the time by Andy Bevan, a supporter of the Militant Tendency, forerunner to the Socialist Party).
After university he combined his position as a Methodist minister with a steady climb through the Labour and Cooperative machineries, albeit not without its occasional setbacks. He 1987 he failed to secure the Labour Party nomination in Coventry by opposing Militant (The Socialist Party’s Predecessor organisation) supporting MP Dave Nellist. In the subsequent election Dave retained the seat.