Songs / Dances / Calamities / regarding Bradford's, Reverend Paul Puff Daddy Flowers
Say it with Flowers: "the parish can go to pot"
From Methodism to meth
From Chartism to Charlie.
From pulpit to puff
Above: a Revved-up Paul Flowers in (a kind of) The World Turned Upside Down
You are doubtless aware of the scandal surrounding the Reverend Flowers. Well, having known the man, pray listen to what I have to say. Ever since I first got to know him, I was immediately aware this was no ordinary priest, and that the flame of Christianity's radical past still just to say burnt within him. It dates back to the moment many years ago when I heard that he refused to preach from the pulpit and would come down to mingle with the congregation. Here was an echo of the communitarian hedge preachers of the puritan revolution and that, particularly in England, would turn into the world turned upside down during the English Revolution of the 1640s, the country enjoying an unequalled few years of freedom of expression and social innovation that even the upheavals, including the birth of Romanticism, following the French Revolution, could not match.
The rest of the country, though especially the south, tend to automatically think of Bradford as a lost cause that should either be wiped off the map or, more kindly, provided with a rescue package as wide-ranging as that granted to ailing banks following the 2007 crash. With a reputation bordering on the odious, is it to be wondered the city has attracted a number of offbeat liberation theologians more at home here than in Latin America, its abandoned neo psychogeographic territories as full of potential and variable as that of its patch work of accumulating multi ethnicity? In this rapidly failing city, these oddball theologians become their own personal NGO and often at odds with a city administration that is increasingly coming to resemble a crack pot Latin American style junta of former times. Adept at sticking two fingers up to liberal bourgeois democracy, in the same breath this tyrannical administration will, with bared chest, impudently proclaim its democratic, consultative openness to a complicit local press. A foul air of threadbare manipulation combined with a disallowed feeling of impending catastrophe issues from the corridors of power and pervades the city, images from the past a simile of the future.......
Above left: Bradford plagues of yore. Above Right: Bradford Beck bursting onto Canal St in the city centre in 1968 and the year another world was turned upside down.......
The very irreverend Reverend Paul Flowers, though larger than life, was an opportunist through and through - and which raises the wide open question what happens to a person, like himself, debarred from ever holding the reins of power again? By no means simply an average bureaucrat, with this lopped sided, rather than many sided man, it now could come down to a stark matter of suicide or revolution. And he was very approachable, the fact that he was gay in a profession where deviation from heterosexuality and gender bending can still be regarded as a mortal sin, predisposed him to be tolerant in other respects. He could kinda let it all hang out, because that is the way he lived, the boundaries between private and public something of an open secret, his skeletons in the cupboard on parade for all to see were they minded to take a closer look.
Though he could not match Arthur Scargill, former boss of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as a comic turn, mention the Reverend Flowers to the largely non church going people of Great Horton in Bradford and you could always expect a wry, though appreciative, smile in return. In fact Scargill was the best stand-up comedian going - precisely because he wasn't one, his humour and power of mimicry just one weapon in an arsenal that never was put to proper use because of his bureaucratic position, which he inevitably became a prisoner of. And for sure the Reverend Flowers will not end up exhibiting himself in a barrel on Blackpool sea front to then die after being attacked by a circus lion he was cavorting with, as did the Rector of Stiffkey in the 1930s. The Rector, who styled himself "the prostitutes' padre", and who was also a victim of "inappropriate behaviour", would eventually be disrobed by the Anglican Church after being convicted of immorality. His tale would help leaven the gloom caused by the onset of the 1930s depression, and, though he castigated the church hierarchy, producing his own J'Accuse with its echoes of Zola's renowned pamphlet supporting Dreyfus, no broader issues were involved despite the case having a left leaning slant. Not so with the Reverend Flowers, his case the evanescing instant of a much bigger bubble yet to burst, namely capitalism's inability to reproduce itself. Notwithstanding the 'broader issues', The Crystal Methodist's Tale is, however, a modern, made for the tabloids, Canterbury Tale effortlessly outclassing the usual genre of naughty clergymen, red-top revelations. And it is in complete contrast to the sickening accounts of child abuse by the Catholic clergy. The Reverend Flowers is already a hilarious, off-stage tragi-comedy act that will be milked endlessly by opportunist, satirical dramatists, seeing here a golden opportunity that will catapult them from fringe theatre to prime time TV.
Typically the populist right wing Daily Mail would have it Methodism's founder in chief the archly puritanical John Wesley (there were others but none with his weather-beaten, hellfire charisma) must be turning in his grave. What bollocks! He would not have approved of the Reverend Flowers but he sure would have recognised the type, the Methodist 'movement' (for indeed that is what it was) in the critical years following the French revolution and the beginnings of the industrial revolution was in a continual running battle with gone-man-gone millenarian sects (that clearly hark back to the English revolution of the 1640s) as wild eyed preachers with flowing beards and women 'divines' imagined they were about to give birth to Shiloh, god's new chosen son. The "magic Methodists" even took to the woods where, it can be inferred, they would snack on fly agaric and magic mushroom. All very Blakean and the opposite of Methodism's winding sheet dress code, remembering that a good engraver friend of Blake's, was a Jacobin and a follower of Joanna Southcott. Remember too that Joanna Southcott was also a thorn in Wesley's side, because the libidinal components of her rantings were so much more nakedly in evidence at her mass meetings.
In fact Wesley did not like the free flowing atmosphere of the field meeting (which the Chartists would much later adopt) and wanted to get his flock in doors ASAP. Thus he would do his best to see to it that chapels were built on an industrial scale and in-step with the rapid spread of mills and factories, the architectural chloroform of isle, altar and orderly galleries of pews also a suppressant of revolutionary tendencies. Only by acknowledging the power of attraction social chiliasm exercised could Wesley possibly hope to deal with it. And he did this by damning it up, the polymorphous perversity of the "human form divine" becoming a matrix of twisted symbolism, the wound in Christ's side also a womb, a vagina, and the redness, the awful glow cast by the fires of hell, or, the flowing, blood red warmth of god's love. Hazlitt would describe Methodists as a "collection of religious invalids", because barely able to walk naturally. Sex and death would become as one, death the only guilt free desire, Leigh Hunt, the radical publisher of Shelley and jail bird, noting death among Methodists "was often anticipated in the language of the bride and bridegroom impatient for the wedding night".
And so the centrality of sex was admitted only on condition it was denied. Where else but in Methodism would an advertised 'love-feast' mean the very opposite, a repudiation of sexuality - especially by young girls - but with the ever present danger it would become a 'love-in'. (On a personal note, as children we knew a Miss Nettleton and her daughter Ruth, who, it turned out, was illegitimate, her very prim and proper, though exceedingly warm hearted mother, having been banged-up by the local Methodist minister). But it was the male, rather than female, sexual organ that Methodist religious terrorists would chiefly target, women becoming lustful only because of it, this a form of largely male sponsored, desexualized vagina tape that, much later, hair-shirt feminists would unwittingly pay obeisance to, especially in Yorkshire and Lancashire. To die-hard Methodists, sex was a necessary evil, the need to procreate its only justification, and wanking to be condemned along with all other non procreative forms of sexuality, despite Methodism's afflatus of repressed messianism having been well described by EP Thompson as "psychic masturbation".
And as for revolutionary violence, there can be little doubt the violence that broke at Wesley's gatherings was a misdirected, fucked-up, form of revolutionary violence, Wesley recording people at his meetings "rushing upon each other with the utmost violence, the benches broken into pieces", some of them using "improper, yea, indecent expressions in prayer", though, not surprisingly, omitting to say that Ranters and others in the 1640s believed down home swearing was god-like (one of their favourite slogans was "to swear and whore and rant and roar"). Worse still this violence would be turned against self with unremitting savagery, Methodists becoming ticking time bombs of repression, primed to explode into inane violence, chiefly when in church and, more than ever, face to face with their sinful selves. Emily Bronte's Methodist minister in Wuthering Heights would solemnize just such an unholy brawl that broke out after having given something like a statistical breakdown rather than a sermon "divided into 490 parts...and each discussing a separate sin", the uninhibited love of Cathy and Heathcliff, beyond good and evil, a nonetheless doomed riposte to an all embracing "though shalt not" - doomed as all passionate love under capitalism then was - and doubly so now. The back of the Great Horton Methodist church where Flowers was top preacher man looks out across the valley onto Haworth Moors and from the chapel roof it should be possible to see Top Withins, the lonely moorland farmhouse that became Wuthering Heights. A few years ago we happened to chance upon the chapel's grounds man, he complaining about the number of hypodermic needles he had to pick up. Had word got round this ecclesiastical needle park was safe to shoot-up in, and though almost directly opposite a chemist (now a Salafist bookshop), it was by then well known our rev rev Reverend Flowers not only espoused an enlightened attitude to drug taking, but believed in a drugs free for all with a social conscience? For damn sure there was something more at stake here than acceptable Xmas backsliding amongst otherwise Methodist teetotallers, a bottle of sherry regularly appearing on the table alongside the homemade, non-alcoholic, ginger wine.
This then is the historical background, the priapic un-chaste Reverend Flowers and the Janus face of contemporary Methodism. And what a snappy dresser the man is! Now John Wesley would definitely not have approved of this and, if possible, been even more down on the contents of the Reverend's wardrobe than his leftist attitudes and sexual shenanigans. Wesley deplored the first, faint sign of mass consumerism, fearing working people having improved their lot through the work diligence he was such a staunch advocate of, would then be tempted by the "desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye and the pride of life". For the sake of their souls, Wesley wanted the working poor to remain poor, a decent wage one that put food on the table and little besides, a view that obviously chimed with those of the industrial capitalist, in the protracted epoch prior to the time when the purchasing power of the working class would become crucial to capitalism. By realising that forever out-of-reach, pie-in-the- sky promised by religion, the rise of post war consumerism would accelerate the decline of religion, Methodism obliged to ditch the mortifying asceticism that accorded with industrial capitalism's early days. Now dressed forever and a day in its stiflingly petite bourgeois Sunday best, modern Methodism would embrace a consumerist, sensible hedonism the Reverend Flowers would chafe against, shooting off a recent text "I would like to apologize to anyone I have not offended. Please be patient, I will get to you". And how! - the Reverend Flowers brand of let-it-all-hang out, over-the-top hedonistic Methodism as extreme as anything lived out by the early Wesleyans but in the opposite perspective, comes at another watershed moment, the slow death of capitalism's essential driver, mass consumerism and easy credit. Opposed to the privatised pleasures of neo liberalism, he had wanted everybody to experience the godlike pleasures of the flesh, the party to be thrown open to all and not an invitation only do. However after 2007, it became even less of a free party. And so, acting more like a drugs godfather than man of god, the Reverend would flaunt his wares in a neighbourhood that is overwhelmingly strapped for cash and getting more so by the day - and with drugs the only "new currency" (and not even that) rather than gold, silver and bit coin. And there is now no industry to speak of, in fact nothing to speak of, nothing upon nothing, nothing begetting nothing, just nothing at all other than endless shit. An ideal terrain for a social conflagration to be sure, but the anomie is such that it is also fertile grounds for demagogues to attempt create their own "communions of the damned " - just as at the birth of Methodism which also spawned "Irregular Methodism".
Above left: Rev Flowers in a continuing stream of small scale acts was always desecrating the church and Christianity in general as the above montage on his mobile testifies. Indeed the man was initially on a clean-cut mission to prise the Methodist church open and let in the air of modernity, so that a truer church might arise. The mission would go awry and the reverend all at sea on a drunken boat, the underground antinomian heritage in this country overtaking him and carrying him off unawares. He has become, by default, part of a honourable tradition stretching back well over 400 years and which would include Blake, the above disrespectful, witty digital montage in the same vein as Blake's much more conscious, antinomian Everlasting Gospel from 1818 which begins "The vision of Christ that thou dost see / is my visions greatest enemy". In this perspective, to be of the "devil's party" was essential to the building of heaven on earth and all forms of sacrilegious behaviour to be encouraged. So, come on, who is actually the more profane, Flowers or the 'god'-debauched vandals, who angrily smashed off the arms of the cross (and no doubt also joking as they did so) that still stands [above right] on defiant display at the entrance to Bradford's consumer emporium, the Arndale Centre. General Fairfax, the most notable general in Cromwell's New Model Army, would also came from an area now claimed by Bradford, as did the pop group of the same name, the New Model Army of the music biz, photographed against the back drop of the Canterbury Estate in Horton and which was once open fields on which Chartists would congregate. Having blundered one step on from Blake, the Reverend Flowers irregular chapel now become a brothel in all but name, there seems little point in him pinning to its door Blake's Proverbs of Hell: Prisons are built with stones of law, Brothels with bricks of religion".
Above: Stills from Luis Bunuel's L'Age D'Or, a film about the hypocritical sexual mores of bourgeois society preventing the realisation of love at every turn: Left, the Marquis de Sade's, Duc de Blongis looking like Christ after an orgy with teenage girls. Right: the skeletal corpses of 4 archbishops on rocks. French Catholics rioted the night the film opened on November 28th 1930. Provocative coverage in the media in the highly developed world is less likely to result in a riot today but the moralising censure is just as insufferable and narrow, and on an incomparably greater scale. A mate thought that Flowers entertaining fuck up in real life was having a much greater impact than the merely cinematic imagery of L'Age D'Or
But Irregular Methodism had other sides too as partially morphing it flirted with a primitive communism not merely regarding the overthrow of the marriage vows (Blake's "marriage hearse"), proclaiming communal sexuality but also proclaiming a communal looking after each other and the overthrow of private property (down with enclosure!) Not for nothing did the violent, insurrectionary disposition of Great and Little Horton's "physical force" Chartism find developing foci on the pulpits of the lay preachers (ex hedge priest types) in the local primitive Methodist chapels. As their voices grew angrier and more confident as worn out, 16 hours a day slaving, exploited people flocked to hear them, so did the fervent rhetoric of the "preacher men" follow suit. In no time guns were openly paraded throughout the local streets and local shops were taxed by – mainly – weavers' militias to help pay for firearms. And a little distance away, Low Moor steel works was commandeered and taken over for the making of canon which the swelling ranks of a rag tag insurgent army hoped to carry with them as they headed on down south to London to off-load their gear via direct hits on Parliament.
Above: Well, after all the Luddites three decades previously had also threatened to descend on London in their droves as the King Mob poster in 1969 celebrated... with the help of an armed Andy Capp from Newcastle.....
(And now for a little paragraph of fantastical drift). Yes indeed, the Irish, the English, the Cornish, etc and all the rest forced into the new city by the draconian Poor Laws, had joined together in Bradford's (Horton centered) cauldron ready to commandeer all the National Express buses – bringing the Asians with them – ready to head-on down that muddy M1 road to route out the top bourgeoisie and aristos' in Parliament once and for all. But what would have replaced it; a pedestrian dull workers' parliament locked into an even duller workers' charter or would the breach which had been made, produce something much more total, uplifting and open-ended; a supercession perhaps of all that had been lost in the aborted revolution of two centuries previously? One can only imagine...... As per usual a dismal official history shows that the national army got there first followed by the inevitable shoot out between Chartists and red coats in inner city Bradford. The rag tag army lost out but the authorities even in their victory still remained scared of the insurgents so much so that punishment for many of those captured was usually little more a mere few years deportation to the then favoured Australian stomping ground. (Here endeth the drift).
A mere place name signposting the ford of Brad on a 250 year old map, Bradford would become a classic example of the industrial city, its original inhabitants drawn from all over Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe and beyond, particularly from Russia and the Ukraine. Street names like Bude St and Rochester St, Salisbury St etc testify to the workings of the Victorian Poor Law, the unemployed of rural districts in southern England and the West Country forced off parish relief to walk the distance to Bradford and other rapidly industrialising cities in the north and midlands. There was also a sizable, unorthodox Jewish community and we frequently encounter an elderly couple on the streets or waiting at a bus stop, the husband devotedly pushing his disabled wife around in a wheel chair. Their partisan knowledge of Bradford, past and present, is extraordinary and inspirational and at the opposite pole to that of the imbecile bureaucrats in the town hall we have had to deal with over the past year. Now in their 80s, they are still struggling for 'rights' that can still be loosely categorised as an extension of 'workers rights'. And this is the key to getting a handle on Bradford, for, despite being more of a multi ethnic city than ever, with more languages spoken on its streets than anywhere other than London and Birmingham, it is still very much of a 'workers city' in which the language of class conflict, in the final analysis, clearly trumps that of ethnic divisions. Where previously it was the factory system that would eventually force solidarity upon a heterogeneous labour force, today it is more like force of tradition in a city in which the major industry is now education and the related buy-to-let sector.
Though the city has become increasingly Islamified over the past 25 years, it has not become noticeably more ghettoized. And if the Bavarian pub in the heart of the Manningham district has closed down, it has more to do with the escalating price of alcohol than with the fact it was a lesbian hangout with all-comers nights set aside for lipstick lesbians, who, if you happened to be in the company of an Asian woman, would instantly make a beeline for her. Radical Islam is not able to make all that many inroads into the city, and though hobbled by parliamentary illusions, it was Muslim women defying the male dominated Biradari commanding them to vote traditional labour, that secured the victory of George Galloway's Respect Party in a local election. Though educated Muslim women, who have never visited the city, will tend to ape majority opinion and smirk at the very mention of Bradford, it is unlikely such a progressive move would have occurred elsewhere in Britain on the scale it did in Bradford. There is an ethnic loosening, even undoing; about the place that continually challenges the national stereotype. Seated on a bus one day we were confronted by a young Muslim rebel out to make mischief. Having already exchanged words with the Asian bus driver, he belligerently began to reel off passages from the Koran, calling us "brother" in a tone of voice that signified we were anything but his brothers. But he didn't get much further, the bus driver flying out of his cab and shouting at the Islamo beatnik "just bloody well shut-up , and bloody well sit down and bloody well show some consideration for others". He could have been Billy Liar's dad .On another occasion, accidentally listening in on a mixed group of white and traditionally dressed Asian girls, we became aware they were calling each other "blood", like they were black Americans. And then there was the altercation, largely staged for its effect, on a bus going up to Great Horton, between a rival group of Muslim girls, the air turning blue with fucks and cunts, like they were out to test limits and throw off their conditioning. Some on the bus merely smiled, others were shocked, racial factors of little significance in determining reactions. Eventually, a straight laced African girl, unable to stand the Swearing Olympic a moment longer, demanded the white driver throw them of the bus......We feel it is important to recount these incidents for they are everyday events: rather than you finding them, they find you. And it is against this unpredictable background the errant Reverend Flowers would put on his real X Factor show.
Above Left: Great Horton's dull, Greco-roman, Methodist church where Rev Flowers cut a rug and made the stones dance, though not because of the inhalation of candle fumes. Above Right: Great Horton's still standing, boxlike, primitive Methodist church built in the early 1800's and now housing Al Murad Tiles. Looking like a series of roofed stone boxes that have been undesignedly chucked together, it could just as easily have been a mill - or served as a prison. The primitive Methodists were a breakaway group from official Methodism, their unrepressed rowdyism and intermittent trance like raptures, tinged, as ever, with revolutionary millenarianism. A mere couple of 100 yards down the road opposite the former church, there is the entrance to Horton Park where, prior to it becoming a park, Chartists would regularly assemble, their camp meetings modelled on those of the primitive Methodists, Wesleyan Methodists afraid where the 'tumult' connected with open air gatherings might end up. The Wesleyans were much more money literate, subscriptions guaranteeing their astonishing exponential growth. However there was a price to pay, a split developing between the stipendiary ministries, the circuit superintendents, the Methodist Conference and voluntary lay preachers opposed to the New Babylon of money and an increasingly professional hierarchy founded on money. One such man was John Rushton Myers, a weaver from Ovendon, now a straggling outlying district of Halifax and easily visible from Great Horton but for the intervening hill. A lay preacher as well as a Chartist and Plug rioter (the rioters sweeping through Great Horton in the 1840s), he stipulated no paid preacher should officiate at his funeral, Chartists to give the funeral orations instead. We have always felt that even orthodox Methodism, never mind "Irregular Methodism", secreted deep within itself a critique of money, our mother, who had never read Marx, letting fall one day, as if it couldn't possibly be of the remotest interest, that she had often wondered why there was such a thing as money. If only the stones of this primitive Methodist chapel could be made to speak. What a light they could shine on the past and, by inference, on today's events.....
100 yards up from Great Horton Methodist church there is a little alley; on the near side, a wall surrounding a manor house that had been built in the 1640s. Attached to the opposite wall, there is a neon sign of a conked-out Santa Claus on his sled that fitfully splutters into life around Xmas time. At the far end of the alley, there is an old stone house: it was here the very first Cooperative store was opened and not in Rochdale, 25 miles away, the Rochdale Pioneers of labour mythology having been beaten to the post by the Bradford Pioneers. The Reverend Flowers, like most others aware of the neighbourhood's labour history, knew this, Great Horton (as previously mentioned) a major centre of "physical force" Chartism where men would drill with pikestaffs and muskets in preparation for the coming revolution. Legend has it that Fergus O'Connor was pulled through the streets of Great Horton in his horse and trap by cheering crowds. Close by the Methodist church there is Watmough Street, named after an old Chartist who reneged on his former revolutionary ideals by joining Bradford's board of governors and, at the same time, promoting co-operative stores throughout Bradford. Merely six months ago, the Reverend Flowers had every reason to expect his name would, in time, be honoured in a similar fashion, though perhaps more by Bradford's gay community than what's left of the official, foundering labour movement in the city. (Even so, memories run deep on the labour front, a retired engineer we got into conversation with recently, becoming heated when discussing the Hindle Gears 3 year strike in the 1980s, even though he had never been employed by the firm).
Above: Great Horton's Watmough Street. No matter how hard you look you won't find even the meanest pleat in a brick wall named Fergus O'Connor Fold. And who would guess passing the end of Rawfolds Way not three miles distance from Great Horton that this was the site of a major Luddite attack on Rawfolds Mill.
To amuse ourselves, we mentally set about composing a TV drama, opening with the Reverend Flowers lustily singing Onward Christian Soldiers in the chapel and then for the missionary belter, composed in nearby Horbury, to fade into Lou Reed's Waiting for the Man. But no stage representation will ever match the priceless comedy of the moment or its capacity to spark an imaginative, subversive drift, ending up God knows where. Despite his lame attempt at a public apology, this was what the best part of the Reverend Flowers was all about. And it is more than possible his present contrition may yet turn into a defiant, Ranter-like, "proclaim the god within yourself", once he realizes he has lost everything and there is to be no posthumous rehabilitation. He begged to be allowed to deliver a sermon on Christmas Day 2013. In the meantime he could do worse than swot up on his Spinoza and argue, like the Ranters, there is no such thing as sin. Imagine what the attendance would be like in the chapel if he had gone through with his intention? And the TV coverage on this the most desperate day of the calendar? It would have made this hollow festival just about endurable. Meanwhile this is the best laugh Bradford has had in ages only Bradford's censorious, bureaucratic class located in the town hall, unable to share in the general glee.
A few personal experiences in and around crystal Methodism........
Though a Methodist and at heart a genuine Christian socialist (a term she never used), our mother had long ceased to attend chapel, finding the chapel folk of Great Horton, where the Reverend Flowers preached, "stuck-up and unfriendly", an opinion the Reverend immediately, and wholeheartedly, agreed with. Thinking it safe to up the ante, our mother then ventured to say she would like to "shutt"(i.e. shoot) Mrs Thatcher, the right Reverend Flowers replying "Doris, you and I are of the same mind", the sound of gunfire, in a manner of speaking, still echoing in Gt. Horton, just as it had in Chartist times.
Her father, a coal and iron stone miner, had been a lay preacher, as were a number of others in our family, our Uncle Ed both an engineer and self taught chorister and who would recruit young boys to sing in the chapel choir. We were told "he never married" and it is only latterly that we realized he was probably gay, the time not ripe for coming out of the closet as, decades later, the Reverend Flowers was able to do without fear of societal and religious censure. Our family, like so many others in the industrial heartlands of northern England, teetered on the brink of libidinal Irregular Methodism, only just managing to keep repression under wraps. A mining uncle turned to spiritualism and would fill our infant minds with fearful delight as we trudged the countryside together, Uncle Aaron correctly naming the trees, plants, birds etc, whilst also drawing our attention to the elves, hobgoblins, ghosts we struggled in vain to see. It was bit like going for a walk with a pagan William Blake - but without the revolutionary transcendence, none of our family ever able to go beyond left Labourism, despite our parents furious, frequent, almost revolutionary denunciations of "the damned Labour party" together with proclamations saying that one day all railway travel would be free. Uncle Aaron never spoke to Aunty Flossie for nearly all his married life, suspecting, not without cause, he wasn't the father of the child they had in common. Had Aunty Flossie lived in the village of Grindleton in Tudor times, she would not have been regarded as a sinner, wives, like property, being held in common. (From the back of the Great Horton Methodist church it is possible to get a clear view of the fold in the hill where the village of Grindelton is situated). in fact, that hot bed of debauchery the Irreverend Flowers is accused of, is one consequence of Blake's exhortation to "bring me my arrows of desire", a gay orgy in a Manchester hotel and 'paid' for by an employee of the Co-operative Bank, very much in the spirit of Jerusalem the nation's peerless, second anthem in which, unfortunately, a reforming, nationalist zeal triumphs over the revolutionary internationalism of sensual fulfilment, gratification and a protracted extension of William Blake's "senses five" the only way of realizing the beautiful infinities promised by religion. Will the Reverend Flowers 'excesses' now put him on that road that leads to "the palace of wisdom" and relevant critique? The fact of the matter is that he is well liked both by his former parishioners and in the ward of Great Horton, which as he also represented as a Labour councillor. It is difficult to find anyone with a bad word to say about him, including Muslims, many in the past approaching him for help and everyone saying he would always do his best to provide it. Word soon got around this was a Labour councillor who cared, a fact that has been totally ignored in the vast press coverage, only one journo quoting a parishioner as saying "He was so popular with parishioners, he may yet comeback, the ladies love him....." Yes indeed, even John Wesley, that monster of repression sent by God to rid the country of the demon of class struggle, had also to struggle with his inner demons, being "as susceptible to women as they were attracted to him". Not yet a teenager, I can recall overhearing women complaining about temperance, though otherwise worldly, backslider of a preacher-man uncle caught peeking at women in various stages of undress at a woman's outfitters.
Our Aunty Dora was in her late 70s / early 80s when the Reverend Flowers began to strut his stuff in Great Horton. She struggled hard to come to terms with the fact that he was gay and would excuse herself for having reservations, whilst unreservedly supporting the ordination of women priests in the Church of England, thinking the whole affair a silly storm in a tea cup and just so typical of the conservative C of E. Instead, she chose to censor the reverend for putting politics before religion. And she was right about this, but for the wrong reasons we criticizing the Reverend Flowers for not seeking to realize religion, which is a directly social undertaking, and for failing to understand that the anti capitalist utopia of a heaven on earth is not the creation of the state but implies its abolition. A miner's daughter, there was literally no question whatsoever of our Aunty Dora disproving of him becoming a Labour councillor. More conservative than our mother - who delighted in saying "bugger" and "damn" (though never in a million years "fuck", note well) on a Sunday in front of the faithful and which echoes the beatifying of swearing by the insurgents of the 1640s, Aunty Dora did disapprove of the Reverend Flowers flouting of both religious and social conventions. For instance, the Reverend Flowers insisted on calling parishioners by their first names, no matter their age or social standing. Though in her 80s, our mother liked to be called "Doris" but our slightly starchy Aunty Dora thought it disrespectful and preferred to be addressed as "Mrs Marshall". In her 90s, she had gone to a function in the Great Horton Methodist church presided over by the Reverend Flowers. Breaking off for tea and cakes, she had asked the Reverend to bless the food they were about to eat. Expecting him to close his eyes and say for "what we are about to receive may the lord make us truly thankful", he simply shrugged his shoulders; half jestingly raised his eyes to heaven, and mumbled "Ta Pa". Our aunty was shocked but we found it hilarious, telling others in Great Horton, who were as amused as we were, the Reverend going up in their estimation the more he stopped acting like one. However all was forgiven when my Aunty Dora, now in her mid 90s, was mugged practically on her own doorstep at the top of Great Horton Bank.
By this time, around 2000, hard drugs were rapidly spreading through Great Horton and the Reverend Flowers sincerely promised our badly shaken Aunty that he would endeavour to do something about it.Though by now chair of the Lifeline drugs charity based in Manchester, his eyes were wide open to the contemporary drugs problem, whilst that of local councils and the state were generally closed. He could see the consumption of drugs was ceasing to be recreational activity run by small time dealers and was rapidly becoming big business with the arms and finance to back it up.... However he was not going to be railroaded into a blanket condemnation of drug taking, the charity coming in for criticism under his leadership for failing to take a moral stance against drugs, the Reverend Flowers in a report put out by the charity, highly critical of "the suspect world of moral decisions" .The Right Reverend Flowers wanted, we firmly believe, to restore "the truth" of drug taking (or better, intoxication even ecstasy) just as he later sought to restore "the truth" of the labour theory of value when chair of the Co-operative Bank. In both cases he was looking back to a bygone golden age: that of the late 1960s, when drug taking was loosely regarded as the precursor of revolution, and that of a no less fanciful, "ethical capitalism", where honest work paid and labour was the measure of value. The Reverend Flowers would vainly try to bring the two together in a tardy alliance that was bound to fail, back-to-basics drug taking, the Co-operative Bank, and the labour values it embodied, as unrecoverable as the popped bubble at the end of a crack pipe.
The meetings that took place in Great Horton sometime in 2002 were held in Great Horton Methodist church not in council premises. Hundreds turned up to attend, the police and the council turning pale at the rollicking they received, their voices trembling as they mustered up the courage to reply to the avalanche of insults and threats. Council officials and the police came close to being assaulted and had the latter tried to arrest anyone, a riot would have ensued and not only would the houses of known drug dealers been set alight but the local cop shop as well. The Reverend Flowers scratch citizens' militia was primed for action and we believe this was a turning point in the Reverend's life. He had unintentionally aroused the people and wanted to ride the people's revolutionary tiger (the "tiger, tiger burning bright in the forest of the night") to revolutionary stardom, fatally mixing that aspiration up with a taste for the good life, as promised by capitalism, and a vaulting ambition that would eventually land him the job of drug overlord in the Co-op Bank. Aware, back in 2002, that the most addictive drug of all was money, he would, on his £132,000 per annum salary, become a seeker after the truth of drugs, endeavouring to restore to drug use its uncorrupted innocence and revelatory powers prior to its commodification by money. Hemp, of course, was the herbal basis for the rope industry and much else beside and was once widely smoked: however during the 1640s it was booze and tobacco that flung wide the doors of perception, the stimulus that drink provided the opposite of a narcotic and therefore more conducive to building that promised land that had existed prior to the fall of man and nature. If we are ever to get to grips with the phenomenon that has become the Reverend Flowers, on no account can we overlook these still active influences from the revolutionary past and which, so far, not one reporter has had the wit to divine. We could also say it could only happen in Bradford, we ourselves only just becoming aware of the darkly schizoid nature of the city, its crucifying contradictions like nowhere else in the UK and almost defying a rational explanation.
As well as being opposed to everything that didn't drip bling and guzzle gas, the kiddie gangstaz of Great Horton were notoriously homophobic. Beyond a shadow of a doubt they would have killed given half a chance, and it was scary indeed to be singled out as a "bwatty boy". As twins we were attacked as "bwatty boys" and we had little choice except to take the gangs on - or flee. (Looking back it is now apparent similar local struggles were taking place across the country and with working class women of all races and creeds playing the predominate role, their men folk by enlarge showing their faces only when the dangers had passed and then only to pathetically flaunt their irreversibly damaged, macho credentials).
Try imagining what it was like to be confronted by 50 to 100 tweenies to whom death was the deft touch of a consul button in a video game. Now the Reverend Flowers made no bones about being gay and that meant he became the chief target in this lethal video game played out for real on the streets of Great Horton. And so these inter-racial kiddie gangstaz composed largely of white youths, a lesser number of Asian youths and led by a couple of mixed race, cock-sure dimsters on borrowed time, would surround the Reverend's house on Holly Bank, throwing rocks and threatening instant death if he dared show his face. But not for long, their fantasy of world domination and money beyond the resources of quantitative easing, collapsing overnight as they found themselves hauled up before juvenile courts. Gazing out at the numbers of TV cameras and reporters surrounding his home, the Reverend Flowers must wish for the return of these gentle times when the drug trail did not lead directly to his front door, and the dawn raid by the drugs squad was something he read about in the papers. One of the mixed race youths who terrorized the neighborhood is still in the area. Employed by a building firm, he could well be whupped daily by a brutal foreman and shows every sign of becoming a labour militant. He was our natural ally all along, the era of cheap, endless credit and a capitalism gone street; blinding him to the fact he was on the slippery slope to nowhere and only a revolution against capitalism able to prevent his descent into hell. Of course he still does drugs from time to time - but, irony of ironies, on nothing like the scale of our bionic,
da bomb, puff, blow, black, herb, sensie, cronic, sweet Mary Jane, ganja, splif, reefa, bad, buddha, homegrown, ill, mau mau, trefoil, method, pot, lethal, turbo, tie, shake, skunk, bindweed, stress, whiskas, whacky, weed, glaze, boot, dimebag, scooby doo, bob, bogey, backayard boogie consuming, very Irreverend Flowers.
.....So there is more than just the faint hint of The World Turned Upside Down (the title of Christopher Hill's book on the English Revolution) here........
Even at the time, we were aware just how easily taken in these kiddie gangstas were and how appearances were everything to them. They had not the remotest inkling that many of the people they singled out to attack had been up to more ducking and diving than their inelastic tiny minds could ever possibly get their heads around. Puffed up with underage power and the odd spliff they kidded themselves was crack, they were walking blindfold into a trap, convinced that soon they would be the foot soldiers of an untouchable drugs cartel. And that was a possible scenario but for the rebellion of local people, who rose up against the council, social services, their politically correct apologists, and the police.
When we saw photos of the Reverend's male escorts, they immediately struck us as slightly older versions of some of the youths that had attacked him just over 10 years ago. Though rightly afraid of them, had he perhaps sensed their apparent homophobia was not what it seemed? The gang that presumed to run Gt. Horton would engage in a particularly humiliating practice with youths who were not members of the gang, forcing them to drop their trousers, bend over and bare their backsides. It doesn't take much psychological savvy to see here a rather more explicit kind of masked homoerotic sadomasochism typical, for example, of SS units. Indeed the escort from the "Manchester Lads" agency that grassed up the Reverend Flowers had starred in sadomasochistic DVDs and would nearly double his fees to £800 a night on the back of the Reverend Flowers. (Oops!). Was the Reverend Flowers conflicted when he was attacked, turned-on yet also fearful? It gives a new dimension to PM's Cameron's pre 2010 electioneering gimmick urging us "to hug a hoodie" - and to ex President's Clinton's "tough love", the advice proffered here more family orientated and to do with kids in danger of getting hooked on drugs and going off the rails. But all male youths to the Irreverend Flowers were part of his family, the Family of God, sharing his drugs a way of ministering to his flock, the good shepherd having become The Mighty Quinn. It's too easy to say that the Rev's drug taking simply mirrored the world of high finance he was by now beginning to dabble in; in reality it also had everything to do with his need to be part of the people, not in order to better sympathise with their sufferings and distress from the outside, but to join in on their pleasures and to really get to know them from the inside, just as another, rather more knowing, druggy, De Quincey had done years before the Reverend Flowers. Taking a toke on a kiddy gangsta spliff while trying to reason with him, was more the act of a social guerrilla looking for recruits than that of a vicar living for kicks.
De Quincey and the drugs that morph into a critique of political economy
For what seemed an interminable period of time, Great Horton was in a state of lockdown because of the media hyped war games of the tweeny drug gangs, by now mesmerized by images of kalashnikov toting child soldiers and utterly oblivious to the horrors that lay behind the scenes of televisual swagger. The multiracial, gregarious ambiance of the streets, echoing to the joyous sounds of kids kicking footballs around and playing street cricket, gave way to an untypical, unsocial silence. We stopped going on our habitual perambulations, the higgeldy piggedly, unplanned nature of the neighbourhood, a magnet for people like ourselves looking for signs of a new urbanism beyond the ken, and destructive reach, of architects and planners. Wreathed by Pennine mists, a new, cloud created, anti-architecture would emerge out of the familiar streets, especially as dusk began to fall. And, as dawn broke, it was also a joy to float through the neighborhood on a cushion of booze and home-grown dope.
Did the Reverend ever feel a similar urge and, up, up and away, take off in the direction of the former railway that ran from Bradford Exchange to Haworth in Bronte country now still something of a derelict landscape, fringed by abandoned mills and back-to-back housing breaking the skyline above the rocky embankments ? The Reverend Flowers had written a brief history of the Co-op in which he had said the group "is characterized by moments when vision and ethics come together". Given the scale of his drug taking, the twinned terms take on a different meaning and suggestive of rather more than the business like, prudential, vision of an 'ethical' entrepreneur. Should the Reverend Flowers ever have the courage, and lucidity, to write Confessions of a Crystal Methodist inevitably it will invite comparison with De Quincey's Confessions of an Engish Opium Eater which first hit the streets around 1822.Here also is to be found that historic link, (that never quite goes away in England), between intoxication and a radicalizing 'godhead', the drug taker feeling "that the diviner part of his nature is paramount - that is the moral affections are in a state of cloudless serenity; and high over all the great light of the majestic intellect". Though not a great reader of history, De Quincey was well upon the "period of the parliamentary war" and that "now furnished me with matter for my dreams", beautiful ladies from these revolutionary times dancing before and de Quincey hideously aware they had been in the grave for two centuries. The remarkable Confessions is a lengthy digest of what Coleridge, the deist preacher and morphine addict, never dared give voice to, Coleridge always seeking absolution for the unnameable crime that was hung about his neck as a keepsake, whilst De Quincey refused repentance, flatly asserting "guilt ---I do not acknowledge".
And De Quincey would go through indescribable hell because of his addiction. Unable to concentrate and devoid of hope and wonder, he is delivered from his wretchedness not by Christ, a choir of angels and the lives of the saints, but by a commonplace book sent through the post from Edinburgh: David Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and Taxation! Though inexplicably conservative in his political sympathies, De Quincey had also made the most amazing strides forward, breaking through into, as yet, unrecognized territory on a number of fronts and that caused him to think of himself as less than nothing, "a foundation laid that were never to support a superstructure" . He would describe his writing as a mode "of impassioned prose ranging under no precedents that I am aware of in any literature". Beginning with his opium fuelled drifts around London's rookeries, he would eventually come to be seen as the founder of the urban derive that took the romantic, democratic fashion for walking into new, potentially much more explosive, territory. And he was the first to confront the need to comprehensively embrace political economy, though not, it must be emphasized, a critique of political economy, even though Marx would cite De Quincey's discussion of "the growing substitution of female for male, and above all childish for adult labour" in his examination of Machinery and Large Scale Industry in Capital 1.
The impersonal and permanent workings of Ricardo's "profound truths" were the sobering antidote to De Quincey's drug morphing, boundary defying, dialectically psychotropic world. Within a year of the Confessions appearing, he would publish an article on Ricardo, the law of value at the core of his inquiry. De Quincey would describe Ricardo's political economy as a "science of regular proportions" almost as if it was an architectural treatise, De Quincey, in the meantime, having mortally injected the dream into architecture's previously solid body, as if in anticipation of the critique of political economy and the architecture of desire it promises. Out walking in London and as high as a kite, buildings would melt in front of his eyes, the familiar terrain changing like he was "the first discoverer of these terrae incognito". The visionary became a way of life and not just a temporary state of mind and he had only to envision something for it to become imaginary fact, "the splendours of my dreams chiefly architectural". But sometimes the actual facts were good enough in themselves, De Quincey recalling how, just off Holborn in London, "the road lay through a man's kitchen" and that "you needed to steer cautiously, or else you might run foul of the dripping pan". The Reverend Flowers has been long enough in the parish to perhaps recall a stone built, former Co-operative store from1900 just below Southfield lane on Great Horton Road and which had been turned into a refreshingly unfamiliar shop cum hen coop ...... But not for long.............
De Quincey did not like the fact that Ricardo had inspired radicals and that he opposed the corn laws, 'the law of value' proposed by the "ringleader of the wicked corn law mutineers" setting in train "Ricardian socialism" and the right of working people to the full fruit of their labour as promised by the post war Labour government and which was fundamental to the Co-op group the Reverend Flowers was an executive of. With calumny daily heaped on his head, can the Reverend Flowers go on to critique the democratizing of money and capital as a consequence of Ricardo's law of value? And can this hitherto Nietzsche-like "pale criminal" make a virtue of his drug taking? At the heart of De Quincey's druggy wanderings in London is a lost love - his love for Ann, the child prostitute. Obsessively looking for her, evidence suggests De Quincey had sex with other prostitutes, this tale of genuine love also tangled up with commodified sexuality. Can the Reverend Flowers come clean on this score, own up to the power of a love mangled by money and the easy availability of porn? He would take his male escorts to the theatre and concerts, something De Quincey was incapable of doing because when "in the divinest state" incident to his enjoyment [of opium] theatre crowds became an oppressor to him. Music too "sensual and gross". For he carried within him his own matchless theatre that "suddenly opened and lighted within my brain, which presented nightly spectacles of more than earthly splendour". Once again these remarkable observations show how ahead of his times De Quincey was. Flowers as also the art critic for the Methodist Recorder now has a rare opportunity to take a leaf out of De Quincey's book and tell it like it is - and in so doing not just salvage a reputation not worth having but forge one that is, the Reverend Flowers the embodiment of tendencies that profoundly resonate throughout English history.
The last stand of the illusions of economic mutualism...
In fact the solid rump of the Labour party executive in Bradford Council is under intense media scrutiny for failing to make public the real reasons for the Reverend Flowers resigning as a Labour councillor. It was certainly not hubris that lead to the Reverend's sacking, rather a commendable innocence, the ninny handing in his crashed laptop to the council geeks for servicing who then found he had been accessing gay porn on the internet during paid council time! Who gives a flying fuk, but to us, manna from heaven, for here was solid evidence that Bradford Council will go to any length to suppress the truth - in our case the deliberate flouting of planning law and the annihilation of just about the best urban wild life site in the country, an act of unspeakable ecological vandalism that had cross party support, including the Green party. The Reverend Flowers affair has also shown up the local rag, the Telegraph & Argus, for what it is: a newspaper not fit for purpose and better employed as an arse wipe.
Of course once found out, Bradford Council, to make amends, will put on a public show, one that invariably serves only to highlight what a gang of fools Bradford Council now is. And so the day after it came out Bradford Council had been involved in a cover up, and the police had mounted a dawn raid on the Reverend Flowers Methodist manse, the council decided to swamp the "sin city" neighborhood of Great Horton with every bus ticket inspector it could lay its hands on. And the biggest concentration of these bus ticket vigilantes was to be found – you've guessed it - at the bus stop outside Great Horton Methodist church! As they muscled their way onto the packed bus, we felt like shouting out "I'm Spartacus – I mean the Reverend Flowers and I'm fiddling my bus fare"! Wayward and inconsistent rather than "turbulent"(an adjective more applicable to the likes of John Bunyan, Munzer and Roux of the French Enrages whose protests did not go off at half-cock), all denominations of the church would do well to heed the example of Reverend Flowers if they are ever to reverse the precipitate fall in church attendances.
(Another joker on an NGO binge, Chris Howson, an Bradford Anglican inner city chaplain catering to students and other down and outs, enviously conceded the Reverend "had the fastest growing church in the city", Howson having come upon us 'illegally' seeding a derelict site in inner city Bradford. He blessed our efforts and though meant for god's ears, most assuredly did not reach the council's, who have made a point of destroying every indication of guerrilla gardening, hell bent as they are on creating a second Atacama Desert, fringed with hanging baskets and ridiculously banal bedding plants, out of urban Bradford. Howson, by the by, is another dissenting southerner irresistibly drawn to Bradford and with a message to impart just like the Reverend Flowers. From time to time, this attraction has more revolutionary consequences, "hordes of anarchists" pouring off the London train at the time of the great Manningham Mill strike of 1890 by largely female workers and from which emerged the Independent Labour party, by far the best social democratic party, bar none, there has ever been. We must note well that the ILP helped spawn the POUM - Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista - in the Spanish revolution of 1936 (the organisation George Orwell fought in which was anti Stalinist and pro the Spanish anarchists) and before the ILP's demise in the late 1940s published the ultra leftist Pannekoek's Workers Councils.
There have been calls by journalists, who generally have lapped up the scandal like holy wine, for the Reverend to be made Archbishop of Canterbury. Though said with tongue in cheek, these journos fail to see the Reverend takes Methodist 'egalitarianism' very seriously indeed and that he is confusedly living out Marx's pronouncement that Protestantism was "religion's self criticism in motion", the selling out of his true self also permitting him at the same time to "seek every gong going and to lobbying to get into the House of Lords". This conflict between base and superstructure, authentic self and estranged super-ego, is intrinsic to Methodism that, right from the start, sought to replace the Church of England, the Methodist Central Hall a mere stone throw from that other religious HQ, Westminster Abbey. Until recently, the Church of England had a problem in granting a spot dedicated to the memory of Byron in the abbey's Poets Corner. Having opened its doors to so many 'radical' conventions over the years, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Central Hall, Westminster, might still be the focus of a London wide, insurrectionary, revolutionary assembly. Secular looking and sufficiently basic to be adaptable, the same cannot be said of the nearby Houses of Parliament or Westminster Abbey, both just too weighed down by tradition to be of any immediate use, though William Morris thought the former would make a serviceable stable.
Just up from Great Horton Methodist church there used to be a Co-op general purpose store, the only one of its kind in the neighbourhood, the only other stores being small, open-all-hours, largely Asian corner shops. When the store closed down some ten years ago to eventually make way for a Tesco's superstore, the loss was felt acutely in the area, many journeying to the nearest Co-op store over two miles up the hill in Queensbury. Like in countless other working class communities, the Co-op store was a fixture of our childhood and youth, the 'divi' (actually a forerunner of the loyalty cards issued by Tesco's, Asda, Sainsbury's, etc) cannily cementing loyalty where ideology failed. The thread that binds together the Methodist church, the Co-op and the Labour party is very closely woven indeed.
And so finally to the Reverend Flowers taking over the reins of the Cooperative Bank. We now know that it was not the stress of coping with two jobs that caused him to resign as a Labour councillor and devout himself exclusively to drugs and boys - oops, I actually meant to say his job as CEO of the Co-op Bank HQ in Manchester. However by now he already had a taste for high living (or should that be drug highs), my Aunty Dora complaining in the late 1990s that he was always away abroad on "fact finding missions" (rather than routine missionary stuff) and that he was neglecting the needs of his parishioners in Great Horton. It remains to be seen if he was already nosing out investment opportunities with a view to making the Cooperative Bank a global player in the world of international finance, the Co-op banking arm becoming pivotal in proportion to the decline in importance of the retailing sector. What is certain however, the Cooperative Bank was not a victim of the 2007 crash but rather a victim of its success following the 2007 crash.
Post 2007, money poured into the bank, deposited there by goody goody investors who sanctimoniously pretended to put morals before money. Thoroughly venal though many of the new investors were, and certain god would protect them where heathen financial regulators had failed, the executive of the Co-op Bank still, up to a point, believed in "honest" money. However, the demand for quick returns by the new investors was a key factor in causing the bank's executive to throw caution to the wind. But back in 2007, the relatively unscathed bank came to view the crash as an act of financial retribution and a direct gift from god to the Cooperative Bank, the Reverend Flowers seizing this providential moment to become the Noah of financial reform, able, with god at the helm, to weather all storms and restore to the capitalist system the high ideals it so lacked. The hand of god was patently upon the Co-op as never before, Co-op money taking on the ubiquitous immateriality of god and certain never to fail. When asked by the Treasury Select Committee how much did the Co-op assets amount to, the right Irreverend Flowers replied £3bn, understating the asset base by £44bn. In his own way, the Reverend Flowers was devaluing money as a store house of labour value (and hence directly countering the Co-op's founding principles) but in a manner totally at odds with the get rich quick, bubble economics of a fictitious capitalist system based on the expansion of credit and which, hard though it is to swallow, has been advanced in an increasingly vain expectation of future profits and that therefore, we can legitimately argue, bears little resemblance to the system analysed by Smith and Marx. The Reverend Flowers would not be the only member of the Cooperative Bank's who would regard you as half-daft should you care to put this argument to them, the "little matter" of capitalism approaching a valorisation barrier mere speculative blather. However it goes to the heart of the Reverend Flowers failure to understand contemporary capitalism, even though one cannot help but admire the way he stuck two fingers up to the Treasury Select Committee and then went off to Manchester "to get wasted" as Irregular Methodists have been prone to do for a long, long time, their poison of choice traditionally drink rather than drugs (though for the past 30 years, it has increasingly been a combination of the two). And, to be sure, a lot of white powder did disappear up the Reverend's nose. Though it might seem his behaviour could be stereotyped as typical of a banking coke head, this is far from being the whole truth: to the Reverend all drugs were a gateway drug to god, especially if combined with a sex orgy. Anyone who cannot see the parallels with the revolutionary 1640s has to be really out of their skulls. To compare the Cooperative Bank HQ in Manchester with Bernie Madoff's "North Pole" in New York, and so-called because of the amount of 'snow' in his office, is to totally miss the point.
Following the 2007 crash, even the Tories were temporarily persuaded prudential Co-op banking held the key to the financial future and banking reform. (Today, their flavour of the month are local credit unions, four out of five which fail - unlike local food banks whose numbers are increasing exponentially in response to the biggest food crises since world war two and have become another ad hoc, hot favourite because they appear to be the embodiment of the Tories "big society" in action, the volunteer efforts of "little platoons" to be commended just so long as they don't involuntarily catalyse mass action.). The Tory chancellor, George Osborne, would ask Brussels to go easy on what had now become the thorny question of capital reserves, and hoped the Co-op would buy Lloyds 631 branches that were up for sale, the bank having been nationalized by the government in the wake of the 2007 crash. The deal would fall through, the Cooperative Bank saddling itself with a shit load of toxic debt when it purchased the Britannia, the building society, prior to 2007, totally sold on the illusion the system was immune from crises and that there would never be a crash in the housing and commercial property market! In fact it has just come to light that city advisors got £8.3m for the deal, JP Morgan receiving a £5m "success payment"(!) a managing director admitting the fee was "significant" and then brazenly adding "that is the way the industry works". Yes indeed - just like the expenses claim for the Nuclear Management Partners charged with the decontamination of the Sellafield, £714 going on a taxi fare for a cat! The Reverend Flowers bogus expenses claim are paltry in comparison, some, to be sure, going on stuff to go up his nose but not actually getting up your nose like duck houses for MPs whilst the rest of us can go to fuck.
The Reverend Flowers would resign in June 2013, following a £1.5bn shortfall, the Reverend rightly complaining he had been made "the whipping boy of the right-wing press" and that he needed a cuddle "and something else that I ought not to write about here". The Tory party, of course, has been quick to make political capital out of the crisis, arguing the bank needed to be taken out of the hands of mutualist amateurs and brought under the jurisdiction of bona fide financial regulators, the very same regulators who were asleep at the wheel when the most devastating financial / capitalist crises of all time broke out, the present crisis the first of even more devastating shocks to come. It's true that some on the board of directors had been drawn from the wider Cooperative movement and included a risk averse plasterer and a nurse, these old labour dinosaurs simply museum entrance hall exhibits concealing the fact the day to day running of the bank was increasingly falling into the hands of city slickers, one a former director at Barclays, another a finance director from the RAC. This expansionist drive at any price dates back to the demutualisation of the building societies under Thatcher, the pressure to do so often coming from within them as building society execs, responding to the growing neo liberal ethos of the times that promised to sweep all before it, started to drool over the amounts of money finance directors in high street banks were earning. Far away in Russia, the nomenclature, the degenerate heir of a degenerate Bolshevism was, at the same time, beginning to feast its eyes on Russia's vast reserves of raw materials, bureaucrats aching to become oligarchs........... The Co-op is now no longer a mutual, a 70% share going to bondholders and a US hedge fund. Wiping out all semblance of doing things slightly differently even within its own terms, banking once more has become 'professionalized' (i.e. opaque to scrutiny), a similar pall of totalitarian conformity, in which each must learn to know their place and not to question, falling across the rest of life. And yet a relentless tide of criticism continues to flow, the airing of grievances, paradoxically, an essential element of finance capitalism's continuing hegemony just so long as nothing is acted upon, the rest of the power structure of capitalist society taking heart from this social inertia and doing pretty much as it damn well pleases, knowing no-one will ever be held responsible and brought to book, negative press coverage the most one has to worry about. How long it will be possible to keep in check this colossal crisis of trust in all institutions is today a life and death issue for the human race.
The Rev Flowers knew he had to make an attempt to get to grips with things in something like a rounded totality, the journey a necessary but perilous one, the Reverend no different from anyone else who undertakes it. Refusing to remain forever confined within his pulpit prison, he began to founder, the quest that took him from biblical exegesis to art, from social services to economics being poorly understood. As regards "the dismal science", he never could get beyond a re-hash of mutualism, even as it was just becoming a word from a by-gone era, (and therefore doomed to fail); at the very moment the absence of meaningful cooperation was never felt so strongly as it is now. Platitudinous though it can sound and hellishly difficult to really elucidate, the Reverend never got beyond the value form as expressed in human labour power. He was far from alone in this, there being countless others crying for a return to normality, usually a variation of the gold standard, as the embodiment of value. There are even calls for a virtual currency reputedly free from state manipulation and control, the open source algorithms that it is based on, making it safe from ever being hacked by cyber criminals. Given that hedge funds are taking an interest in bit coin, and that its value is rapidly inflating, (there are already bit coin millionaires), this sounds like complete fanny. Sadly Flowers, along with so many others, was never able to see that the mechanisms which once held together the capitalist mode of production are fast disintegrating, and like Humpty-Dumpty cannot be put back together again. And so basically well-meaning individuals cannot begin to grasp anything that transcends the value form, that essential basis of a free, post capitalist society. If this does not come about, the murderous and absurd will become the everyday norm and we shall be eternally lost as human beings human ........ .. It's an unprecedented situation.
That Bradford against its inclinations should forever be indelibly associated with being the gravedigger of mutualism's last stand, strikes us as emblematic of this most contradictory of cities but also of the times. Taking over the chair of the Cooperative Bank proved to be the Reverend Flowers nemesis, just as it propelled him into the kind of stardom he did not want and which can more adequately be described as a comic notoriety with a social attitude. Swallowed whole by a Leviathan we are still compelled to call "capitalism" (but which, should we remain bogged down by traditional definitions, will blind us to seeing what's newly toxic regarding the morphing, flesh eating phage out there), the Reverend will only find 'repentance' through relevant critique, his age probably debarring him from ever finding that. Perhaps his downfall will turn out to be the first of many in the city, Bradford eventually turning out to be the graveyard of so much else.
Truly it's probably better to stop here – rather than end - on another Lou Reed note:
"You hit me with a flower,
You do it every hour"
Stuart Wise: Xmas 2013