Sir Fred and the rules

Fred Goodwin is shredded: former RBS boss stripped of knighthood
Fred Goodwin has been stripped of his knighthood after a political campaign to see the former head of Royal Bank of Scotland punished for his role in the financial crisis.

Oh dear.

Time was, as a country, we respected the rules. Whatever they were, the ref might be blind but on the field he\’s the boss. Honours were stripped according to criminal convictions (a la Sir Lester) not to political campaigns whipped up in the mob.

When the rules were not followed, the hanging of Lord Haw Haw (how can a not Brit be guilty of treason to Britain? but the mob would not have it….and the deal done that he would hang but his bird would not to encourage him to acquiesce), it is now regarded (by me even if no one else) as a grave injustice.

Sir Fred did indeed fuck up right royally: but that is not the same as being a criminal. Other people fucked up right royally at the time too: those supposedly regulating Sir Fred and those who made him Sir Fred for example. And I for one would like the K to stand for that reason if no other: as a reminder that it wasn\’t just one man at all.

But the larger point also stands. Quite apart from anything else I reject the idea of punishment for fucking up in business: for stealing, sure, for criminal acts, right on, but would anyone really expect to see advance in an economy where fucking up is a punishable offence, rather than just a financially painful one?

Over and above that I\’m afraid that I really am very English. Rules is rules and we don\’t change them dependent upon the way the political winds are blowing. Far from it, rules is what protects us from those gales.

26 comments on “Sir Fred and the rules

  1. Seems to me that this is all part of a larger wilfull on the one hand and provoked on the other, blindness.

    The response to the crisis is degenerating into a hate/envy theme over questions that have little or nothing to do wih the crisis.

    However gross the bankers gross salaries are, they are irrelevant in the solution to the crisis.

    The amount of energy being expended in trying to hold down salaries is a mere diversion.

    I can see the Chinese, Koreans et al scratching their heads in bemusement.

    Here we are gaily (still love that word and use in honour of my father) sailing into a world of economic and social mediocrity and decline and all we seem to want to do is lash out and blame instead of facing up to the real questions.

    The big one:
    What have we been doing wrong?

    How can we become a vibrant, optimistic, productive society?
    Who is going to achieve it ? (Milli y Camer won’t)
    How can we look after those who really need it (and you can bet your bottom dollar they are less than we currently think) without bankrupting ourselves?

    Nah. let’s just keep the blame game going and divert our attention from what is fundamentally wrong.

  2. And smacks not just of rule by the sans-culottes but of the pols enthusiastically directing the ire of the nation towards a mild smell and away from their own reeking midden.

    Peter Viggers and Nicholas Winterton remain knights, for a start.

  3. The question is whether this lances the boil or provides momentum to the haters.
    Let’s hope it’s the former.

  4. What’s the problem here? Goodwin was knighted for services to banking: it has since become evident that his services had been grotesquely overvalued, and the error corrected by revoking the knighthood. If you can get a knighthood for succeeding in business, why shouldn’t you lose the knighthood for failing? The problem is not with this revocation, but with the farce of the honours system in general. We should just auction the things and have done with it.

    William Joyce’s conviction was upheld by both the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. The prosecution held that Joyce could be tried as a British Citizen because he’d declared himself to be one in order to obtain a British passport. The defence was that his declaration had been fraudulent so it didn’t count. It’s a point of law which all the courts decided in favour of the prosecution. I see no grave injustice in a ruling on a technicality.

  5. No, I’m afraid you’ve got it wrong Tim. Mob justice and trial by media is firmly entrenched in the British psyche; and politicians are happy to jump on the bandwagon. Other examples include Sharon Shoesmith, who was sacked from her post as head of child services at Haringey Council following the Baby P case.

    I am reminded of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which a baying mob demands to kill the witch. The local knight, after some tortuous logic, indulges their desire.

  6. Fred was given his knighthood by a politician. It was taken away by a committee which did not include any polticians. The rules are that a knighthood can be taken away if the person’s peers chastise him. That can either be by the person’s organisation rebuking them, or via expelling from the organisation, or in the case of Fred the FSA report into the issue which stated that he was a very naughty boy.

    Is it really a punishment to have a knighthood taken away. It doesn’t confer anything except a bit of cache and he’s already lost that for being the poster boy in the destruction of the banking industry and it’s fall from grace in the eyes of the public.

    He still has his pension. Taking that would cause real hardship.

  7. Fred knew the risks of what he was doing, whatever he would care to claim, it can’t be that he was a victim of circumstance or that he found himself in a position where he was unable to cope.

    He got the K for services to banking, and that was where his greed and hubris lead him to fuck up. So he should lose the K.

    The daily mash has some wisdom on the subject…

  8. What paulb said

    Plus. I think you undermine your point by eliding criminal law and the honours system. The latter has long been tainted by political favouritism and has never been held to the same standard.

    Also if it was just that Johan Hari return his ‘honour’ (ie Orwell prize) then in what respects does this differ from the discovery of irregularities in Goodwin case.

  9. But the larger point also stands. Quite apart from anything else I reject the idea of punishment for fucking up in business: for stealing, sure, for criminal acts, right on, but would anyone really expect to see advance in an economy where fucking up is a punishable offence, rather than just a financially painful one?

    ISTM it depends on how big the fuck up is.

    We have the legal concept of negligence. There is an accusation that Goodwin didn’t exercise proper diligence. So does his failure constitute a criminal act?

  10. This was a gesture to appease public opinion, nothing more. It solves nothing.

    It’s also grossly unfair to single out one individual like this. Goodwin’s an incompetent megalomaniac, but he’s certainly not the only one. For example, how come Sir John Varley gets to keep his K? Yes, ok, he wasn’t actually running HBOS when it failed – he’d seen the writing on the wall and got out, setting up the ignorant and naive Hornby as the fall guy. But the fraud and excessive risk-taking that eventually brought HBOS down occurred on his watch, and he was also partly responsible for the FSA’s epic regulatory failure in regard to HBOS, since for two years he was on the board of the FSA as well as chairman of HBOS. There are plenty more examples I could give. Where would it end if all the people who could be blamed for the crisis lost their gongs and their pensions?

  11. It’s grossly unfair that Goodwin is no longer a Knight Bachelor? So that his reward for wanton financial destruction is reduced to a pension of only sixty or so times what an ordinary pensioner gets. Plus a retirement lump sum of two or three million.

    Where would it end if all the people who could be blamed for the crisis lost their gongs? It would end with many fewer malefactors in possession of gongs.

    Me, I can think of other things to lose sleep over.

  12. Rules is rules, indeed, but you seem to have plucked the rule “only criminal activity can lose you a knighthood” out of thin air. If you can show me it written down, I’ll change my mind.

    > I am reminded of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which a baying mob demands to kill the witch. The local knight, after some tortuous logic, indulges their desire.

    You need to watch the scene again (well worth it anyway):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp_l5ntikaU

    The mob are about to burn the “witch”; the knight intervenes, indulges in tortuous logic, but nonetheless concludes *correctly* that she is a witch (and she admits this).

  13. PaulB – it actually seems like a return to the Court of the Star Chamber, which is possibly even worse than the court of public opinion:

    “The Committee normally conducts its business by correspondence. It considers cases where an individual who has been honoured is judged to have brought the honours system into disrepute, for example if he or she:

    has been found guilty by the courts of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three months or more, or
    has been censured, struck off etc by the relevant professional or other regulatory authority for action or inaction which was directly relevant to the granting of the honours.

    The Committee is not restricted to these two criteria, and if there is other compelling evidence that an individual has brought the honours system into disrepute, then it is open to the Committee to consider such cases as well.

    The Committee also considers matters of general policy regarding forfeiture.

    The Committee comprises:

    Head of the Home Civil Service (Chair)
    Cabinet Secretary
    Permanent Secretary, Home Office
    Permanent Secretary, Scottish Executive
    Treasury Solicitor and HM Procurator General and
    Head of Honours and Appointments Secretariat, Cabinet Office (Secretary).

    The Committee’s recommendations are submitted to The Queen through the Prime Minister.

    The subjects discussed by the Committee remain confidential. Decisions on forfeiture are published in the London Gazette.”

    They only suggest resons for forfeit of honours, but has Fred fallen foul of either of them?

  14. I suppose that the Committee took the view that the FSA’s report on the failure of RBS satisfied the second criterion. But you’d have to ask them.

    Why do you care about this? It’s not as if Goodwin is being deprived of his liberty or his estate, let alone his ears as he might have been at the hands of the Court of Star Chamber. It wouldn’t bother me if any or all knights lost their titles.

  15. Steve Crook (#8) said “He got the K for services to banking, and that was where his greed and hubris lead him to fuck up. So he should lose the K. ”

    No.

    He was knighted for merging RBS (because Brown wanted a big Scottish-based bank). If that’s what he was knighted for, they shouldn’t take it away for the same thing.

    Sure, merging RBS subsequently turned out to be a bad idea.

    But the Honours Committee (or whatever we had back then) made the same mistake of thinking it was a good idea at the time, so they ought to stand by that.

  16. Hear! Hear!

    And we don’t like mob rule either.

    Leave that sort of thing to the gesticulating hordes across the Channel, please.

  17. PaulB – if we want to punish Goodwin, then there are courts of law. This episode says that a group of unaccountable mediocrities – and I hope they do not get paid on top of their salaries for behaving like Daily Mail journos – think he has done wrong in a way that the courts cannot show and so we deprive him of an honour. It is arbitrary justice. Why not put him in the stocks? And why stop at Goodwin? It is scapegoating and gestural as well. Do you ujnderstyand the pricnciple of the rule of law? That it applies to all people equally? Do you approve of lynching? Tarring and feathering?

  18. Bloody hell. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rule of law. The rule of law has been adhered to at all times in this case.

    Imagine there’s an Exceptionally Excellent & Successful Scotsmen Club in St James’s, and they decide to make Gordon Brown and Fred Goodwin life members in 2005 because of their fantastic work in creating the boom that will never end.

    Once it turns out that they’re actually both chancers who got lucky and then unlucky, then the committee of the EE&SSC have every right to rescind Brown & Goodwin’s membership for bringing the club into disrepute, by failing to live up to its ideas.

    Knighthood (unlike peerage, which is a much more complex honour) acts like a club in that sense. It’s not a legal right, and there is a clearly defined procedure under which people can be thrown out of the club. The only way in which the rule of law comes into play is if the club fails to apply its own rules, which clearly isn’t the case here.

    (Jean Else – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Else – lost her damehood, which is the same level of honour as a knighthood and follows the same procedures, last year despite not having been formally struck off as a teacher or having faced any criminal charges).

  19. “a clearly defined procedure ”

    except that it is not clearly defined and the only rules that have been publically expressed have not been infringed. Other than those errors, John B, you are absolutely correct.

  20. I meant Sir James Crosby, not Sir John Varley, of course. Sir John was Barclays boss before Diamond, Sir James HBOS boss before Hornby. Otherwise they’re almost indistinguishable.

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