Tom Hodgkinson: Who arrives at the door when the pig has been killed? The Methodist minister


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Around 10 years ago, I opened an account with the Co-operative Bank. I was attracted by its policy of not lending money at excessive rates of interest to the very poor and staying out of the way of arms deals and the like. It seemed by far the best of a bad bunch in the sense that it appeared to have morals. At around the same time, in a feeble anti-capitalist campaign, I joined the Phone Co-operative and an energy supplier called Ecotricity, which apparently supplies its power via windmills.

I thought that the co-operatives and wind-farm people would be cheaper than the big bastards. But they are identically expensive. That's been a disappointment.

And the Co-operative Bank. Well, that's also turned out to be a bust. First off, it failed. Somehow or other it got itself into hot water, started to lose money, and now a large stake in the bank has been acquired by a bunch of hedge funds, run by a social group not known for having many morals or much of a conscience. Commentators suspect that the bank's ethical principles will soon be sacrificed to the gods of Mammon.

Then we discovered that its former chairman, the holier-than-thou Methodist Paul Flowers, was allegedly partial to booking a hotel room and getting out the crack pipe with a few rent boys after a hard day at the cutting-edge of ethical banking.

While Powers' alleged misdemeanours have been broadcast far and wide by the media, he's certainly not the first Methodist to have been accused of hypocrisy. The 19th-century radical William Cobbett criticised Methodist preachers for pretending to help the poor when in fact they were sponging off them. Who suddenly arrives at the door seeking pork-based treats when the cottager has killed his pig? The Methodist minister, says Cobbett.

In his magazine, Cobbett's Weekly Political Register, a sort of Private Eye of its day, he reported on a similar scandal involving an Anglican bishop, Percy Jocelyn, which rocked 1820s London. "On Friday night it appears that he [the bishop] was detected in a back room of the White Lion public-house in St Alban's Place, St James's, in a situation with a private in the Foot Guards, to which we will not more minutely allude." Jocelyn later broke bail and went undercover, working as a butler.

Methodists and Anglicans are not the only hypocrites. Catholic priests and top social workers are routinely discovered to have been paedophiles when it's 40 years too late. And Boccaccio and Chaucer's works are full of tales of randy clergy, who mumble sanctimoniously by day and indulge in licentious behaviour with both genders by night. The common people are easily fooled by a cloak of saintliness.

Paul Flowers isn't the only high-ranking power-broker said to be partial to hedonistic excess, either. Crack has been the drug de jour of Toronto's mayor, conservative firebrand Rob Ford, who confessed last week to smoking it, saying: "Probably in one of my drunken stupors." And a few days later Montreal's mayor, Michael Applebaum, was arrested on corruption charges – though he maintains that the allegations against him are unfounded.

The businessman Felix Dennis spent many years smoking crack with ladies of loose repute. However, he didn't keep it a secret, so comes across as far more likeable than our depraved pulpit-cuffers. And Dennis doesn't say, "I made a mistake," or any of that baloney. "All narcotics are wonderful," he recently told an interviewer, and said he gave them up only for health reasons. He added that he got loads of work done as he didn't sleep for five years.

I suppose that sex, money and power are all intimately related, so these revelations should come as no surprise. The guy with the drugs suddenly acquires lots of friends. He has control. I've often seen evildoers at parties hand out drugs to guests in the hopes that one of them will go to bed with him at some point.

But why go for crack? I was once offered it in a room above a pub by the pop singer Pete Doherty, but declined. I did try it later though, once, in the council flat of a Doherty associate. It tasted of burnt plastic and made me feel a bit hyper for half-an-hour. I remember cleaning the bathroom with the burst of energy it had given me. I couldn't quite see the attraction. Even after very stressful days at the cutting-edge of educational retail, I have managed to resist its temptations, and find a dose of local ale is narcotic enough.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

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