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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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.