The Rev Flowers’ excesses must not destroy the Co-op

Financial regulators must ensure that a man with no experience can never again be deemed suitable to run a bank

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The Independent Online

The list of the Rev Paul Flowers’ supposed transgressions is lengthening on an almost daily basis. Yesterday, the indefinitely suspended chairman of the Co-operative Bank was arrested in connection with a “drugs supply investigation” by West Yorkshire Police. Just the evening before, it emerged that he was forced to resign from the board of the Co-operative Group in June because of concerns over his lavish expenses. And the day before that, it was revealed that he was suspended from the board of trustees of Lifeline, in 2004, amid allegations of false expenses claims (only to quit before the charity’s investigation was completed).

Add to them the allegations about drug-fuelled orgies with prostitutes, even as the bank he was supposed to be running was on the brink of collapse – not to mention a chequered past replete with one conviction for gross indecency, another for drunk-driving, and a resignation from Bradford City Council over pornography on a laptop – and the furore over the Rev Flowers and the Co-op is not without cause.

Amid the wreckage, there are most certainly matters that need to be addressed. Financial regulators must ensure that a man with no experience can never again be deemed suitable to run a bank, mutual or otherwise. Politicians on both sides of the spectrum also need to consider the full-tilt rush for the Co-op’s expansion.

In the near-hysteria generated by the flood of colourful accusations, however, all perspective is in danger of being lost. The most serious risk is to the Co-operative Group. As the mud flies over how the Rev Flowers could have been allowed to rise so far beyond his apparent capabilities, no small amount is sticking to the parent group and its mutual structure. We must take care, though. Mutuals in general, and the Co-op in particular, have much to recommend them, and it would be a shame to waste the barrel for one bad apple.

The frenzied jostling for political advantage that has been unleashed by the scandal is no more constructive. Between the claims that George Osborne tried to bend the rules in Brussels, and the fevered talk of Labour “soft loans”, neither side escapes criticism. The Flowers debacle has raised very real questions about Britain’s financial sector. Let’s stick to those.