Richard Ingrams's Week: Fred the Shred loses the job but not the gong

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The Independent Online

Sir Fred Goodwin, who has resigned as chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland, lists his recreation in Who's Who as restoring cars. He may have some more time for this now, while others, hopefully less cavalier, are embarking on the more difficult task of restoring banks.

The press, which has too often acted as a glorified PR agency for the banking industry, performed a small but valuable service this week by printing large pictures of Sir Fred and the other discredited bank bosses. No one who looked closely at these mugshots could derive a feeling of reassurance from the experience. Many, myself included, were maybe left wondering how we could possibly have entrusted our meagre savings to these individuals.

As for the Government, it is in a difficulty about casting Goodwin in the role of scapegoat because he is not just Fred Goodwin but Sir Fred. In other words, there was a time, and not so long ago – 2004 to be precise – when this man was so highly rated by ministers and presumably the then Chancellor himself that he was given a knighthood and duly went off to Buckingham Palace to be tapped on the shoulder with the royal sword. And all this at a time when he was making the disastrous acquisitions that have landed Royal Bank of Scotland in the ordure.

Goodwin, who is said to have relished his nickname of Fred the Shred – a reference to his record of large-scale sackings and not, as I first thought, to shredding documents – will hang on to his knighthood, a lasting reminder of the great esteem in which he was once held by the likes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The Blairites need rebranding


There's no sign that Blairites dislike being called that. Yet it can't be helpful to be given a label that links you to a man who in the eyes of almost all right-thinking people is completely discredited.

The Bernie Ecclestone scandal resurfaced this week when two Tory MPs asked the Speaker to investigate claims that Blair deliberately misled Parliament over Ecclestone's £1m donation to the Labour Party and the decision by Blair to exempt Formula One racing from the proposed ban on tobacco advertising.

The scandal was significant as it was the first indication that Blair was just as sleazy as his predecessor John Major – but far more hypocritical, an impression confirmed when, accused of lying over the Ecclestone donation in a TV interview, he claimed famously that he was "a pretty straight sort of guy".

Whether all these years later people will get worked up again over the Ecclestone affair I doubt. The reason is that since then, Blair has been shown to have told so many lies in connection with invasion of Iraq – the weapons of mass destruction, the false claims about intelligence, etc – that a little matter of a £1m cheque from Ecclestone seems positively trivial in comparison.

But you would think that by now those Blairites would have called in a skilful PR man to think up a better name for their grouping.

Sensible train travel has gone off the rails

The railways have recently invented a whole new vocabulary to describe their operations. Passengers are now customers. Trains are no longer trains: they are services. And they arrive not at Paddington but into Paddington.

And trains are never late; they are delayed. In other words, some external force is responsible. Now the authorities have decided to redefine the word "overcrowded". In future, a train will be considered overcrowded only if it is carrying more than 130 passengers for every 100 seats. There isn't a word at present for a train with fewer than 130.

It has been obvious for some time that the answer to the overcrowding problem, in the majority of cases, was simply to add more coaches to the train. As a lifelong commuter I can remember travelling on trains with many more coaches than the present turbo trains are provided with.

The answer the train companies give nowadays is that in many cases the platforms aren't long enough. But why should that be a problem when it never was in the past?

The answer, I suspect, is our old friend Health and Safety. They are scared that somebody might fall out of a coach that isn't at the platform – even if they have been told to move up the train if they want to get out.

It never happened in the old days and it wouldn't happen now. But such obvious and sensible considerations don't carry any weight with people like the Health and Safety Executive.

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