Bill Carmichael: A Co-op career based on cronyism

WHEN former Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers was asked by MPs on the Treasury Select Committee what was the total size of the Co-op’s assets, he clearly hadn’t the foggiest – despite being paid £132,000 a year to front up the organisation.

So he took a wild and embarrassing guess: “Three billion”, he said. The correct answer was £47bn.

Flowers’s knowledge of banking, and business generally, could be written on the back of a Co-op dividend stamp with plenty of room to spare.

So how to explain his rise through the Co-op movement, the Labour Party and even the Methodist Church, where he was a minister until he was suspended “indefinitely” this week in the light of allegations involving rent boys, pornography and the abuse of illegal drugs? Put briefly, the answer is that, as far as his left-wing chums were concerned, he was “one of us” and they were prepared to cover for him and turn a blind eye to his incredibly reckless behaviour.

Take for example Bradford Council, where Flowers was allowed to quit as a Labour councillor in 2011 with the high praise of the then council leader, Ian Greenwood, who described him as “tremendously gifted and committed”, ringing in his ears.

The official reason given for his departure was work and family commitments, but in reality he was caught with pornographic images on his publicly-funded laptop when he handed it into the council’s IT department for repair – a fact that until now had been kept from the city’s council taxpayers.

Similarly, Flowers was allowed to resign quietly from his position as the chairman of trustees of a Manchester-based drug charity after an investigation was launched into his expenses claims.

Such scandals would ruin most people, but Flowers was part of Labour’s gilded elite and was wafted effortlessly upwards, being appointed to Ed Miliband’s business advisory group and regularly attending meetings with senior party leaders.

It was, it seems, a cosy arrangement, with the Co-op in turn giving Labour millions of pounds in donations and soft loans, including a £50,000 donation to the office of Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.

Meanwhile, the poor old Co-op Bank, with Flowers at the wheel, was being driven off a cliff. The bank suffered £559m losses in the first half of this year and now has a £1.5bn hole in its balance sheet.

I speak as a Co-op Bank customer of more than 30 years standing when I say this is all terribly sad. But what is worse is that it represents the degradation of what was once a proud and thriving working class culture in this country.

The Co-op, the Labour Party and the Methodist Church were the pillars of this culture, respected and trusted because they promoted values such as hard work, self-discipline, thrift and fair dealing.

What an awful pity that, because of the actions of characters like Flowers, they are today more likely to be associated with cronyism, corruption and incompetence.

Star material

I’ve never seen the Harry Potter movies – or indeed read the books – but Daniel Radcliffe is my kind of actor.

This week he admitted he was lucky to land a starring role so early in his career, but now he is determined to prove himself as an actor by taking on tougher – and comparatively poorly paid – stage roles.

He said it would be “petulant” to complain about the fame acting has brought him and he criticised celebrities who publicise their every move on Twitter and then complain they have no privacy.

And he added it was ridiculous to suggest stardom had robbed him of his childhood. “Kids who are abused have their childhood taken from them,” he said.

A modest star with a sense of proportion. Give than man an Oscar!