Fred Goodwin stripped of knighthood

The former head of RBS has been stripped of his title.

Sir Fred Goodwin, former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland and national hate figure, is to be stripped of his knighthood.

Following advice from a panel of civil servants, the Queen has cancelled and annulled his title, which was awarded to him by the Labour government in 2004 for "services to banking".

Goodwin has been blamed for the collapse of RBS, where he was chief executive from 2001 to 2008. He pursued aggressive strategies in corporate lending and investment banking, and his high-risk acquisition of Dutch rival ABN Amro in 2007 -- at the height of the crisis -- meant that RBS had to be bailed out with £45bn of taxpayer money.

He certainly did himself no favours, refusing to apologise or to return any of his £16.9m pension. (After months of pressure from the public and politicians, he eventually agreed to give up a third of it).

Generally, people are only stripped of honours if they have committed a serious crime or been struck off by their professional register. This could be seen as vindication for those -- such as the makers of Inside Job -- who are incredulous that not a single banker has faced criminal charges for their role in the crash.

It would certainly be hard to argue that Goodwin deserves to keep his knighthood -- his actions led to thousands of job losses at RBS, and he played a part in bringing the economy to its knees. But for all the satisfaction of this moment, it is worth remembering that Goodwin did not act in isolation. Indeed, as my colleague Mehdi Hasan pointed out this month, Jon Varley of Barclays was engaged in a bidding war with Goodwin for ABN Amro - had he been successful, rather than Goodwin, we might have had ended up with a very different hate figure. Nor is "Fred the Shred" the only banker to have been given an honour by the last government.

Coming in the same week as Stephen Hester, Goodwin's successor, was forced to refuse his bonus package, this would seem to indicate that the tides are turning against the bankers. But, as I argued last week, this type of gesture politics does nothing to tackle the underlying structural problems which allow sky-high remuneration in the financial sector to continue unabated.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.