Mark Leftly: Why it isn't right to make a mere financier a knight

Tycoons set out to make a fortune and that should be their reward, instead of bestowing on them the nation's highest honour

Spot the odd one out in this rogue's gallery: Robert Mugabe, Anthony Blunt, Jimmy Savile, Fred Goodwin, Nicolae Ceausescu.

It's Savile, as he's the only one who hasn't been stripped of his knighthood. Following the overwhelming evidence that the twisted DJ was a sexual predator of emotionally vulnerable girls, there was a huge campaign for his honorific title of "Sir" to be taken away from him.

However, people were disappointed to discover a person ceases to be knighted once they are dead, meaning the grubby egotist managed to avoid just about the only punishment that could have been inflicted upon him in the grave.

Predictably, last week there were calls for former HBOS boss Sir James Crosby to join those ranks of bloodthirsty dictators, national traitors and – perhaps worst of all in a world that has lost its sense of perspective – Goodwin, in losing his title. Along with Crosby's successor, Andy Hornby, and chairman Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, the Parliamentary Banking Commission last week found that he bore "primary responsibility" for the failures that brought down HBOS and resulted in the bank being rescued by Lloyds in 2008.

Whether or not Whitehall's forfeiture committee looks at removing Crosby's knighthood is really missing the point. What seems extraordinary is the fact that Crosby and Goodwin received these honours in the first place, having apparently earned them through "services" to the financial industry and banking.

A knighthood is, according to The Official Website of the British Monarchy, supposed to be for "significant contributions to national life" which, frankly, doesn't seem to be a particularly apt description of people who simply have successful careers. Crosby was one of four businessmen knighted in 2006 and it is difficult to see why any of them earned a "K" above, say, an Andy Murray, who ended Britain's 76-year men's Grand Slam slump or even a Rob Holden, who built the Channel Tunnel rail link.

Let's look at these other sirs from the 2006 vintage. First up, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, rewarded for services to entrepreneurship. Perhaps there's an argument that he brought cheap travel to the masses by founding easyJet, but ultimately it was a project designed to make himself more money.

I'm absolutely not saying there's anything wrong in that, but it strikes me that a degree of altruism is implicit in the notion that someone deserves a knighthood. Plus, Haji-Ioannou could also be criticised for behaviour not befitting a knight of the realm in recent years, when he has spent so much time attacking the easyJet board – essentially washing its dirty linen in public.

Then there was Philip Green, whose response to being honoured for services to the retail industry was the rather bizarre "I absolutely welcome it – why not?" Well, one reason could be that his wife technically owns his Arcadia empire and she lives in Monaco – meaning that the UK misses out on hundreds of millions of pounds in tax on her dividends.

In fairness, Green has argued that the Bhs-to-Top Shop owner paid nearly £600m in corporation tax between 2002-12, but it seems odd that someone who has managed to avoid paying substantial taxes to the Crown has also been honoured by Her Majesty. He has been a big supporter of retail academies designed to get more people into the retail industry and he has employed hundreds of thousands of people, but surely a K is a stretch for what is essentially a high street tycoon acting like a high street tycoon.

The next was John Sunderland, who was then chairman at Cadbury Schweppes and rewarded for services to business. A year later plans to demerge the company's chocolate and soft drinks arms were announced, creating a streamlined Cadbury that ultimately took the fancy of Philadelphia cream cheese maker Kraft in an overseas takeover that so angered the tabloids, politicians and unions.

As a non-executive director at Barclays, Sunderland has also defended the egregious bonuses that were handed to Bob Diamond when he was the chief executive at the bank. Even forgetting what followed – and allowing for the arguments that the businesses were probably improved by the demerger and that he left Cadbury before Kraft's takeover – it's hard to see what Sunderland did that was so out-of-the-ordinary in the world of big business.

All there seemed to be was the loyalty of staying at the same business for 40 years, which is commendable but should surely be recognised by a gold clock rather than the nation's highest honour.

And that brings us back to Crosby. Let's ignore the disasters of the financial crisis and try and work out why in 2005-06 it was felt that he was a prime candidate for a K. The stand-out achievement of his CV was that he had masterminded Halifax's £30bn merger with Bank of Scotland and became the combined group's first chief executive in 2001.

He did serve the country as a non-executive director at the Financial Services Authority, the City watchdog that has just been broken up. However, this appointment in 2004 was controversial as he was still in charge of HBOS, meaning it could easily be argued there was a conflict of interest.

The knighthoods here appear to be more to do with being successful, not necessarily the same thing as making a significant contribution to national life. Rewarding businessmen and women with such honours seems odd because they are effectively being rewarded for creating their own wealth.

While impressive and maybe even admirable in a capitalist society, these knighthoods are surely not warranted. Business, by its nature, is there to make money: it is implicitly self-serving and the dough is the perfectly natural, most fitting and only deserving reward for those who do well in the tough world of industry and commerce.

No one can blame these four and any other business leaders for accepting a knighthood. In that context, Green's "Why not?" response makes sense. But the Queen might want a quick word with the honours committee to sort out their selection criteria when it comes to big business.

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

The benefits of Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Finance Assistant - Part time - 9 month FTC

£20000 - £23250 Per Annum pro rata: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pro rata ...

Marketing Manager

£40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes