Economy in crisis Politicians, posturing and 'crony capitalism'

An easy target: Fred the Shred and his knighthood

Suddenly, all parties think ex-RBS chief Sir Fred Goodwin should be stripped of his honour. Maybe. But why now? And will it really do anything to rein in the bankers? Jane Merrick, Mark Leftly, Matt Chorley and Brian Brady report

The image of Sir Fred Goodwin sporting tweed shooting jacket and "broken" double-barrelled shotgun has come to symbolise all that is wrong with crony capitalism and immoral bankers. "Fred the Shred" has become the target, an easy scapegoat, as if stripping him of his knighthood, as the Daily Mail demands, will atone for all the sins of the banking crisis; the 21st-century equivalent of mounting a criminal's head on a spike outside the Tower of London.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all eagerly joined in last week to call for Sir Fred to lose his knighthood – even though this is subject to an independent committee of senior civil servants.

The party leaders have used Sir Fred to push their own case – be it "moral markets", "popular capitalism vs crony capitalism", "producers vs predators", or a "John Lewis economy".

But in the different versions of this same argument – all fine words promising a brighter future for society – will any of it make a difference to the current state of play? Or will it continue to be the case that the richest in society are left untouched by the Government's austerity agenda, while the poorest continue to suffer?

The politics in this are important. With the public so recently reminded of Sir Fred, chief bogeyman of banking, the Government, in particular, is under pressure to offer more than tough words and vague action.

Enter Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, who will this week unveil plans to clamp down on executive pay, empower shareholders and give employees a greater say.

Although some of the moves have been already trailed by the Prime Minister and Mr Clegg, Mr Cable is planning a "tough" crackdown on boardroom pay which he believes will address concerns in his party that the Lib Dems are not pushing the fairness agenda inside the coalition.

Mr Cable, who was still drafting his speech last night, is finessing plans to tax banks and other firms who fail to show restraint in awarding pay and bonuses – but faces resistance from the Treasury under George Osborne.

Central to the coalition battle over executive pay is the role employees can play. Mr Cable is adamant that the huge rise in executive pay in the City is at odds with the success firms achieve. He wants to see employees on remuneration panels, arguing they can bring "a helpful, fresh perspective". The battle will go to the wire. "Vince is very keen, the PM and Chancellor aren't," said a government source.

The average total remuneration of chief executives in FTSE 100 companies was £1m in 1998, but topped £4.2m in 2010. While salaries have remained relatively static, the levels of bonuses, long-term incentive plans and pensions have grown dramatically.

Mr Cable will call time on "payouts for failure", forcing firms to have a set policy on golden goodbyes to prevent failing bosses walking away with millions. Shareholders will be given clearer information on the proportion of company profits paid to executives, compared with dividends and employee pay.

He is expected to halt the City merry-go-round which has seen directors from different firms serving on each others' remuneration boards, which has helped drive up pay across companies. Shareholders will be given a binding vote on executive pay. Mr Cable is also keen to reverse the trend that has seen pay at the top rise sharply, while "shop-floor" staff have received meagre increases, or even pay freezes.

Part of bringing "morality" into markets is ensuring firms look more like the rest of society, including having more women both in the boardroom and on remuneration panels.

Lord Oakeshott, a former Lib Dem Treasury spokesman and an ally of Mr Cable, said: "The bosses of Britain's big companies are a self-selecting old boys' club: 310 of the FTSE 350 have not a single woman executive director, and progress is invisible to the naked eye."

Chuka Umunna, the shadow Business Secretary, will argue that Mr Cable's plans fall short of implementing the recommendations of the High Pay Commission, published last November, which called for greater transparency and accountability.

But will any of this be enough? The bonus season is already in full swing, and as he led the Government's assault on "crony capitalism" last week, Mr Cameron claimed that he would act to stop bosses of state-owned banks, such as the RBS boss, Stephen Hester, receiving excessive bonuses.

Mr Hester is in line for a £1.5m payout, even though RBS's share price halved over the past year, after he got a £2m windfall the previous year.

Angela Knight, chief executive at the British Bankers' Association, said the banking industry was the "inevitable target" of remuneration reforms, and called on the Government to cool criticism of the sector, making it clear that her colleagues would fight any reforms.

There is now an unstoppable backlash against Sir Fred, led by the Daily Mail and Facebook pages. Manifest, the shareholder proxy voting service, has scanned FTSE 100 boardrooms and identified 63 knights, 19 lords, seven baronesses and three dames. Yet why should the Honours Forfeiture Committee remove Sir Fred's knighthood when Lord Archer, for example, kept his peerage despite being jailed for perjury and perverting the course of justice?

But anyone could be forgiven for thinking that, as the leaders of all three parties went to war on greedy bankers last week, fairness was being restored in the system.

Yet at the same time, figures released by the welfare minister, Chris Grayling, and the immigration minister, Damian Green, claiming that there are "370,000 migrants on the dole" showed that there are those among the poorest in society who are being made scapegoats.

These figures, which were challenged by economists, were released against a backdrop of the Government's legislation on welfare reform, reducing benefits for the disabled and unemployed: the poorest. The Government will be judged not just by its fine words, but its deeds. And they know it.

So, why is no one calling for these bankers to lose their gongs?

1. Sir Victor Blank

Knighted 1999. Chairman of Lloyds during the HBOS merger, just before it was bailed out. Faces US legal action

2. Lord Stevenson of Coddenham

Ennobled 1999. Resigned as HBOS chairman after the Lloyds merger. Has apologised for bank's near-collapse

3. Sir James Crosby

Knighted 2006. Resigned from FSA in 2009 after allegations he ignored a whistleblower while head of HBOS

4. Sir Tom McKillop

Knighted 2002. RBS chairman in Goodwin's reign. Later admitted he had no banking qualifications

5. Sir Philip Hampton

Knighted 2007. Chairman of RBS since 2009. Presided over rows about chief exec Stephen Hester's bonuses

6. Sir George Mathewson

Knighted 1999. RBS group chief exec 1992-2001, chairman to 2006, then a £75,000-a-year consultant to the bank

7. Sir John Bond

Knighted 1999. HSBC Holdings chairman until 2006. Vodafone row over £1.25bn tax bill blotted his copybook

8. Helen Weird, CBE

Honoured 2008. Lloyds TSB finance director was awarded £875,000 bonus while retail executive director

9. Philip Williamson, CBE

Honoured 2008. Ex-Nationwide chief exec got £1.6m on retiring, plus £605,000 salary and £374,000 bonus

10. Lindsay Tomlinson, OBE

Honoured 2005. The ex-Barclays executive sold £5.5m-worth of bonus-scheme shares leaving him with £25m

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