Few will be saddened by the withdrawal of Fred Goodwin’s knighthood, awarded, absurdly, for “services to banking”. But there was much to regret in the manner of its removal. As Alistair Darling laments in today’s Times (£), rather than establishing a clear set of principles for awarding and revoking honours, the government has behaved in an arbitrary fashion. There was more than a whiff of mob rule about yesterday’s decision, something that should make any liberal feel queasy.
Goodwin has not been convicted of any crime nor has he been “censured, struck off etc by the relevant professional or other regulatory authority” – the standard criteria for the removal of honours. Contrary to what some now claim, the report by the Financial Services Authority into the collapse of RBS did not censure Goodwin personally. Are we sure that Fred the Shred belongs in the same class as Mugabe and Ceausescu?
And what of the honours awarded to former RBS chairman Sir Tom McKillop or former Lloyds chairman Sir Victor Blank? Or the honorary knighthood awarded to Alan Greenspan, the man more responsible than any other for the financial architecture that collapsed in 2008. Are their titles now to be removed? If so, the government should proceed on the basis of principle, not populist whim.
Conservative deputy chairman Michael Fallon’s assertion on the Today programme that the Forfeiture Committee is “entirely independent of politicians” does not bear scrutiny. The removal of Goodwin’s knighthood could not have come at a more convenient moment for Cameron, who broke with precedent to signal his approval of the move. Playing catch-up with Ed Miliband on “responsible capitalism”, he has gleefully thrown some red meat to the mob.
Myself, I believe that Goodwin’s knighthood should have stood as a monument to the folly of a political class bedazzled by high finance. Instead, the Conservative Party, funded as it is by the largesse of the City of London, has removed Goodwin’s honour, whilst simultaneously ensuring that the system that produced him continues as before.