How did the disgraced former Co-op Bank supremo Paul Flowers, with so little knowledge or experience of banking, ever become chairman of a UK bank with £50 billion of assets, £36 billion of customer deposits and 4.7 million customers?
How could this happen in the immediate wake of the banking crisis, when the role and qualifications of bank non-executive directors were under intense scrutiny? And how was he able to progress from post to post amid growing questions as to his character and probity?
Little wonder that there are now not one but three inquiries underway into this affair. Much has come to light since the publication of a video film at the weekend showing the Rev Flowers being seen to hand over £300 in a car, allegedly to buy cocaine. It has since emerged that he resigned as a Labour councillor in Bradford in 2011 after pornographic material was found on his computer and that he resigned from running the drugs charity Lifeline in 2004 after allegedly lodging false expenses claims.
All this leaves the most searching questions on the system of supervision within the bank and at the Financial Services Authority, which was the regulatory body at that time of his appointment in 2010. Given the performance of Flowers before a Parliamentary Select Committee in which he was shown to have little grasp of the basic facts about the bank’s assets and balance sheet, it beggars belief that his appointment as chairman met with no apparent objection.
Now the Labour leader Ed Miliband may well be right in his accusation that Prime Minister David Cameron is exploiting for party political purposes the links between the bank and loans and donations to the Labour Party: “cheap political points” is his charge. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls may also be correct in his denials that he knew a £50,000 donation from the Co-op had been authorised by Mr Flowers and that he ever had face-to-face meetings with him. But the fact of this donation puts the matter firmly in the public domain.
It may well have been that Flowers’ position as a Methodist lay preacher, his political connections to the government of the day, his age, his pinstripe suit and his silver-haired, avuncular demeanour placed him beyond further inquiry or discouraged questions as to his competence in banking. But previous incidents should at least have served to indicate that further scrutiny was necessary. Moreover, Flowers was appointed to be the head of a bank that not only prided itself on its mutuality but traded heavily on its claims to be an ethical bank and one which made much of its corporate governance credentials. This is the edifice that the Rev Flowers has brought crashing about his ears. Public trust has been broken on many levels. That is why this debacle has prompted immediate calls for investigation, and why these inquiries need to be unsparing and thorough.
Kennedy’s charisma lingers on
Fifty years on, the assassination of President John F Kennedy remains haunting and resonant. Each year brings further additions to the total of 40,000 books already published about his life and shocking death. That event came to define an era, and his presidency is now viewed as everything the 1960s stood for, not just a revolution in modern politics, but also in social attitudes and behaviour. Such is the power of the Kennedy charisma.
But what sort of world would we have found ourselves in now had it not been for the assassin’s bullet (or, as many still believe, assassins’ bullets)? There is no doubt a powerful legend and wistfulness has grown up around the Kennedy legacy – the first “pop” president whose image changed politics world-wide. Would that legacy have been nearly as potent had he survived to win a second term, only to find, as President Obama is now finding, that the public mood changes, that the oratory no longer commands as once it did, and that sense of specialness begins to fade?
Would the Kennedy charisma have withstood the questioning and scrutiny that come with a prolonged period in office? There were certainly questions during his life about his behaviour and his connections. Would he have pursued civil rights legislation with the vigour and tenacity shown by his successor, Lyndon Johnson? And could he have avoided increasing embroilment in the Vietnam war which was to blight the White House and Washington for so long? America may not have been spared that agony. And would a longer incumbency have spared America the presidency of Richard Nixon? The Kennedy mystique still