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Iain DaleI’m sure that like most of you I am left gobsmacked by the antics of former Co-Op bank chairman Paul Flowers – the so-called ‘Crystal Methodist’ preacher. In many ways we should be shocked by his drug-taking, but perhaps we’re not as shocked as we should be. The Sun is terribly shocked by him paying a rent boy and indulging in gay orgies. But, shocking as you may find this statement, having gay sex doesn’t actually impair your ability to do your job, even if you are a totally hypocritical Methodist preacher. And a stupid one at that. What kind of idiot would procure a rent boy using his co-op email address?

However, the simple fact is that Flowers was never in a position to do his job properly. His appointment was a crony appointment. He was appointed because of his record of supporting the Labour Party over the years. It clearly wasn’t based on ability. We are left scratching our heads that anyone can be appointed to chair the board of a bank without any knowledge of banking whatsoever. And yet his appointment was cleared by the Financial Services Authority, which just about says it all about the competence of that particular institution. You’d like to think that the system had been tightened up now, and we are assured it has been.

The other distasteful aspect to this scandal has been to watch the Labour Party trying to distance themselves from Paul Flowers. “Flowers? No, never heard of him. Minor player. Not important. Move along. Nothing to see here”. That’s the message that has been emanating from Ed Miliband’s office. It won’t wash, though. He’s had private, one on one meetings with the Labour leader and authorised a £50,000 payment to Ed Balls to help pay for the cost of running his office.  The correct response would have been to say how shocked and horrified they were to find out about the activities of Mr Flowers and they would learn from the experience. Instead, they ran for the hills. How courageous.

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When Nigel Farage walked into my studio last Thursday night, I immediately spotted something was wrong. “Are you OK?” I asked. “No, I’m not,” he said. I assumed he had a bad cold and said no more, as we started the interview. As the red ‘mic live’ light came on, the roar of the crowd and the smell of greasepaint arrived and Nigel, as ever, put on a sterling, combative performance. But as soon as it had finished, he winced with pain and explained that his election day air crash had caught up with him. He then had great difficulty in even putting his coat on. It was therefore with little surprise that I heard the news that he had undergone a spinal operation this week. Whatever one’s political differences with the UKIP leader, no one can doubt his bravery in coping with both the physical and psychological after- effects of that accident. He admits that it changed his outlook on life, and it has changed him as a person. Let’s hope that this operation has been successful and that Nigel will be able to conduct the vigorous European election campaign he has long been planning. I may not agree with some of what he says, but on a basic human level – and to someone I count as a friend –  I wish him a very speedy recovery.

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All of which brings me on to the subject of Paul Sykes, who this week announced he would pay for UKIP’s European election campaign. This could cost him around £4 million. It was news that would certainly aid Nigel’s recovery and enable him to spend less time chasing other big donations. Sykes is a genuine believer in the case for European Union withdrawal. If it weren’t for him donating money to the anti-Euro cause back at the turn of the century, it is entirely possible we’d now be part of it. He’s a bluff northerner who likes to tell it as it is. He told me in an interview on Monday that he hasn’t actually voted in a general election since 1992, and is not a member of UKIP. I do question whether it is healthy for democracy for one person to be able to donate a sum like this, but we should remember that back in William Hague’s leadership both Lord Ashcroft and Stuart Wheeler donated several million pounds each to the Conservatives, and their munificence essentially prevented the Party from bankruptcy. In the absence of state funding, political parties will always have to raise money to exist. Some people apparently believe that they don’t need money to pay staff or print leaflets, or launch campaigns. I certainly don’t believe the taxpayer should subsidise the existence of political parties, and would argue vociferously against it, but it is coming, be in doubt about that. If it does, the only system I could even begin to have any sympathy with is where individual voters ticked a box on their electoral registration form as to which party they wanted a donation to go to. Even then, there should be a ‘none of the above’ box.

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Last night, I dreamt that I was selected as Conservative candidate for my home constituency, Tunbridge Wells, for the next election. There are a number of problems here. Firstly Greg Clark is doing a great job and second of all I am totally uninterested in becoming an MP any longer. So why did I have the dream? Is my subconscious telling my mind that no matter how much I protest, I secretly have a yearning desire to sit on the green benches? Well, if that’s the case, thank goodness my mind is still winning the battle! And long may it continue to do so.

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So the PSBR has come down from £8.2 billion in October 2012 to £8.1 billion this year. Just wow. Ever since the end of 2010 Treasury ministers have been trumpeting the fact they have reduced the deficit by a third. Three years on, that’s starting to wear a bit thin. Why isn’t it down by a half by now?

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Miliband is now trying to dismiss the Flowers scandal as a Tory-led media conspiracy. Can I invite him to imagine what his reaction would be if the positions were reversed? Just imagine what he would say if a religious Tory donor with no experience of banking was appointed to head Coutts and was then found to have bought crystal meth and taken part in gay orgies with rent boys. Does he seriously expect us to believe he wouldn’t be on it like a ton of bricks? Do us a favour Ed, and get real. You’re making a twat of yourself. A serious leader would take it on the chin and want to get to the bottom of what happened and why and to ensure it could never happen again.

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I hear Matthew Bell, the so-called diarist at the Independent on Sunday, is leaving for pastures anew. So sorry to see him go. But at least they have now gained an extra reader.

89 comments for: Iain Dale: It was ignorance, not gay sex, that stopped Flowers doing his job

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