Fred Goodwin: A very British humiliation

Fred Goodwin

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He was known as Fred the Shred, and now there's nothing much left to asset strip from the banker who flew too high.

Three years and four months after the Royal Bank of Scotland was saved from catastrophic collapse, the former chief executive is too much of a pariah to get much work in the UK, his bad reputation is global, he certainly can't work in finance ever again, his family life has gone awry, and now he's lost his title too.

What difference does it make? Well, to Mr Goodwin, he'll have to get his cheque books re-printed. That makes you wonder if he's still an RBS customer.

It may provide some satisfaction to those still angered by Mr Goodwin's behaviour at the bank, and his refusal to give any ground on that super-gold-plated pension - until it was too late and the reputational damage had been done.

But it raises questions for others who have honours and whose business or political careers go into a tailspin, bringing dishonour on the honour system.

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Taking away an honour does nothing to improve the safety of the banks or enhance the reputation of bankers. ”

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Two members of the House of Lords have been jailed; Lord Archer for perjury, Lord Watson for fire-raising. They sit in the upper house of the nation's legislature, but they haven't had their titles removed for serious breach of the law.

Mr Goodwin, by contrast, has not broken any law, other than that of good judgement. The Financial Services Authority went into his role in some depth, and did not censure him.

On the contrary, it found the system's checks and balances had failed where the RBS board of directors did not rein him in, and indeed the regulator itself had failed.

The man we used to call Sir Fred played the high-octane game of low interest rates and aggressive acquisition, which many others were playing.

He happened to play it extremely well, but vastly over-reached himself, particularly with the ABN Amro acquisition, and was most exposed when the music stopped.

Others who worked hard to get their gongs may be wondering just how secure they are now.

The award of honours is strangely, mysteriously British, and the withdrawal of honours is at least as strange. So this is a very British humiliation, coming inexplicably late after the events that brought RBS low.

Taking away an honour does nothing to improve the safety of the banks or enhance the reputation of bankers. It may be the closest we can collectively come to punishment, where the criminal law and contractual pension rights don't offer means of revenge.

Or could this be a decision that's been made to save the reputation of the honours system itself?

Douglas Fraser, Business and economy editor, Scotland Article written by Douglas Fraser Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor, Scotland

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Can we take Mick Jagger's title away for corrupting a whole generation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Mr Fraser has underestimated the number of jailed peers; Milords Black, Taylor of Warwick and Hannington can be added to his list.
    A knighthood is just a title but a life peerage confers a seat in the legislature. Surely something should be done to remove these men from the House of Lords.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Who cares whether Goodwin has lost his knighthood? I certainly don't and refuse to acknowledge any title that is not a professional designation such as doctor or professor. It's time for Britain to join the ranks of real 21st century democracies and end the practice of knighthoods and peerages, whether the latter are for life or are inherited.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Sorry,this is just petty and is a smokescreen that Labour in particular are hiding behind.It wasn't just the banks that caused current Austerity measures to be needed,it was Labours usual spendthrift attitude to taxpayers money that bankrupted us.Why haven't they been censured?Anyone currently in the shadow cabinet who was in the previous govt should be booted out of their shadow roles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    A disgrace - to remove the honour - I can't believe the witch-hunt this man has endured for behaviour which the country had encouraged and praised when it suited. No denying the fall-out of RBS but to humiliate this talented & capable man - serves no purpose other than political pressure. No crime committed, no charges faced. Its time to leave the man alone. RBS had contributed much before crash


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