Politicians are jumping over each other to demand that the disgraced former RBS chief Fred "the Shred" Goodwin should be stripped of his knighthood. Why? What difference would it make? I can see that the ritual of public humiliation might turn some people on, but this futile gesture won't help the huge number of folk fruitlessly looking for work or trying to pay bills. It won't build a single affordable home, fund a crèche or keep a library open. Ed Miliband is the latest lemming to demand Fred's head on a platter, telling anyone who'll listen that Gordon Brown should "never" have handed out the accolade in the first place.
Goodwin is an easy person to loathe. He's a bit common, looks like a ferret, and has never publicly graced us with a full apology. He still lives in a posh house with mega-security in a swanky part of Edinburgh. What do Dave, Cleggy and Ed want? That he should walk down Whitehall in sackcloth having custard pies chucked at him by angry voters?
There are plenty of people as loathsome as Sir Fred – our former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, for starters, with their self-important charitable foundations and conspicuous lack of humility about their track records; their huge "expenses"; their trumpeting of their desire to "help" the underprivileged on a global scale; their refusal consistently to accept blame.
Taking away Goodwin's knighthood will not make any difference to the bonus culture or the deeply entrenched mindset in the City. The people who run our country have had more than three years to get cross about his gong, so why are politicians so incandescent with rage now? Almost certainly because they know they are powerless to prevent the steady flow of bad news on all fronts.
Unemployment is at a record high. The high street is in crisis, with liquidations every week. More young people than ever have been sitting around doing nothing for more than a year. There's the ever-present danger of a double-dip recession. The euro teeters on the brink of collapse. We seem to be blundering through a maze of misery, so (they seem to have decided) why not pick on an easily identifiable bloke and make him the scapegoat for all the current woes? Why not try and distract voters with a fall guy?
The truth is, Fred G was just one of many. The Labour government did bugger-all to deal with banking excesses. And when the crunch came, they still treated bankers as a special case. Ann Godbehere, the woman brought in by Labour to sort out Northern Rock's financial mess, was allowed to base her tax affairs outside the UK. And they appointed a new chairman, Ron Sandler, a non-dom whose £8m London house was owned by an overseas trust.
Labour chose these two key people to be in charge of billions of pound's worth of public money when we bailed out the bank – people who enjoyed tax breaks that were denied to ordinary people. So forgive my cynicism. I can't see that any politicians are committed to changing the way that bankers and tax avoiders operate. If they did, we would have signed up for the Robin Hood Tax, a levy on all financial transactions, a simple decision that would change charitable giving overnight and really help the needy.
Another thing about knighthoods is that they're worthless, a snobbish relic that reinforces our class-ridden, socially stagnant society. Terry Leahy, Philip Green, Stuart Rose and Richard Branson were all knighted for services to retail and various types of enterprise. In reality, they were already lavishly rewarded financially for their job. So why garnish their CVs with a gong? In the US, knighthoods don't exist, you are valued by your peers according to how well your business is doing. The US is a true meritocracy. We still believe titles carry clout.
When Simon Schama trashed Downton Abbey as "a steaming, silvered tureen or snobbery", he hit the nail right on the head. There's a nasty little corner buried in the British psyche that secretly aches for a gong, that can't help itself genuflecting to a title. Sir Mick Jagger sold out when he accepted one. Ditto Sir Bob Geldof. Sir Fred's title is an irrelevance, not worthy of a moment's concern.
Decadence in Paris – here today, gone tomorrow
This Tuesday, Paris hosts a unique event, the world's first 24-hour museum dedicated to decadence.
Artist Francesco Vezzoli is a master of publicity – in 2009 he persuaded Lady Gaga to wear a hat designed by architect Frank Gehry and play a piano painted by Damien Hirst, while the Bolshoi Ballet danced around her. In 2005, he created a "new" trailer for the 1979 cult film Caligula – starring Courtney Love as Caligula and Helen Mirren, from the original cast, as Tiberius in a toga designed by Donatella Versace. The piece was unveiled at the Whitney Biennial.
This time, Vezzoli's grandiose plans for a museum to decadence are funded by the Prada Foundation, which put up the cash for artist Carsten Höller's fabulous Double Club in London in 2009. The museum will transform the classical Palais d'Iéna, kicking off with a swanky dinner and staying open all night. Next day, there will be school trips and a public party, before it closes for good. The contents sound fabulously tacky. We're promised 5m-high statues of celebrities that light up.
Vezzoli says he wants people to be inspired and plans to be there for the duration: "If there's no sex, I'm going home!" I'd love a ticket!
Joyful Hockney upsets sneery critics
Last week, I spent an evening at a preview of the stupendous David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy. The work is dazzling, exhilarating, and humbling. Hockney's monumental interpretations of the bleak Yorkshire Wolds, the flowering hawthorn bushes, muddy lanes and neat piles of logs are unforgettable. Of course, the curmudgeons in the art world were ready to sneer. Brian Sewell ranted about the "ghastly gaudiness of Hockney's vision". Alastair Sooke complained the show was "too big" and implied Hockney was past his prime. Adrian Searle put the boot in with: "It all becomes a sort of slurry." Their problem? The sheer positivity on show. It's too joyous by half. Luckily, what they say is totally irrelevant.
Desmond's sex drive hits gardens
Richard Desmond made a fortune from magazines that focus on one thing: sex. The multimillionaire now owns Channel 5 and seems determined that his recipe for publishing success should influence programming content – and judging by the glamour-girl content on Celebrity Big Brother, his wishes are being granted. Now, he's even managed to introduce sexual performance into the tasteful world of horticulture. David Domoney who hosts Garden ER on Channel 5, insists that adding a small amount of Viagra to drooping cut flowers "stiffens things up nicely". He also advocates spraying Deep Heat muscle relaxant on tea bags as a cat repellent. Would an anxious middle-aged chap really bother to grind up a 50mg Viagra tablet to extract a 1mg dose to perk up their peonies?Reuse content