Feeling sorry for Fred Goodwin?
We have all had a lot fun at the expense of Fred Goodwin. And it’s been a very nasty experience. In two previous Snowblogs I have raised the question of whether the titled bankers who were responsible for trashing the British economy and the UK’s financial integrity should lose their honours:
But there is the stench of a witch-hunt and of scapegoating, in this politically led and motivated instance of knighthood stripping.
There appears to be little process, and certainly no wholesale review of who did what when and at what point such “punishment” kicks in. Indeed, a QC to whom I spoke last night advised that Mr Goodwin might well win a judicial review of the handling of his case by the Honours Forfeiture committee, on the issue of due process.
In the widely different cases of Stephen Hester and now of his predecessor there is the whiff of cant and hypocrisy in the air.
What started as anger over the mismanagement of a bank has now deteriorated to the Ruritanian absurdities of our continuing devotion to name-changing honours. The Honours system at the high end has long been seen to be in disrepute. Foreigners are perplexed by it, and those at home regularly suspect that something has gone on in the woodshed in the journey to the sword on the shoulder in Buckingham Palace.
The public is bemused that the criminal law has proved incapable of jailing a single banker for mismanagement of billions of pounds of their money. All the system is capable of is the removal of one greedy individual’s knighthood.
There is no transparency in all this and even less evidence of “due process”. When Knighthood stripping extends beyond odious dictators, the citizen deserves to be allowed to see what is going on, and why, and how. But then doesn’t the citizenry also deserves the right to know how such honours are arrived at in the first place?
A decade ago I made a Channel 4 documentary entitled Secrets of the Honours System. Nothing has changed since.
On the basis of what has happened to Fred Goodwin, there are many others who should be in the waiting room for similar action. But the playing field is now neither level, nor clean. The law is looking an ass.
The British deserve an honours system that does not change people’s names, but does respect exceptional activity that benefits wider society. In an age of cuts, the Honours Forfeiture Committee would seem to be one quick cut. The ‘Honours system’ itself, could be another candidate. A far more modest, believable, and transparent system could be put in its place. The money saved could go towards increasing the capacity of the Serious Fraud Office, and the Financial Services Authority finally to bring errant bankers to book.
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