The Fred the Shred U-turn

February 01, 2012
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Don’t be alarmed if you heard a banging noise last night: that was the sound of Whitehall slamming the stable door five years after the horse bolted. On the advice of senior civil servants, yesterday former RBS Chief Executive Fred Goodwin was stripped of his knighthood—a move which smacks of political opportunism and hypocrisy.

Deciding whether Goodwin should lose his knighthood seemed to be an open and shut case. He was among those responsible for the biggest corporate loss and public bailout in British history, and in this country he more than any other person has become synonymous with the iniquities of capitalism. Goodwin’s knighthood for “services to banking” looked about as reasonable as an honour for Jean-Claude Mas in recognition for his services to the plastic surgery industry.

But though it seems a no-brainer, I can’t help but reach the opposite conclusion—that Goodwin absolutely should have kept his knighthood. The clamour to dis-honour him has the familiar whiff of hypocrisy about it. When Labour knighted him in 2004 they were reflecting widespread approval of his business practices, and the entire political and financial establishment’s view of him as the golden boy of British banking.

The recent U-turn is symptomatic of a political culture in which conventional wisdoms too frequently go unchallenged. We saw the same about turn during the phone hacking scandal, when politicians of all parties, who had spent years bowing and scraping to Rupert Murdoch, were suddenly falling over themselves to condemn his empire.

Goodwin should have been allowed to keep his bauble—as a permanent reminder of the short-sightedness of the British political and financial establishment. In calling for his knighthood to be shredded, politicians have dishonoured themselves most of all.