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.