Leading article: Why should we stop with Fred Goodwin?

What about politicians who presided over the irrationally exuberant carnival?

Wednesday 01 February 2012 01:00 GMT

And so the second scapegoat is expelled, and the sign claiming Britain is open for business turned to the wall. Just two days after the current chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland was bullied by the court of public opinion into handing back his bonus, his predecessor has now been stripped of his knighthood by a Whitehall committee that deems his offences so egregious as to make him an "exceptional case". Nonsense. Fred Goodwin is exceptional only in his totemic value to a mob baying for vengeance.

This is no defence of Fred the Shred. His hubris and bad judgement drove RBS almost to bankruptcy, forcing the taxpayer to step in with £45bn to prevent the bank dragging the whole economy down with it. But, although undoubtedly incompetent, Mr Goodwin broke no law. And, while the unthinking public ignominy focused on him has now been endorsed by the full weight of the establishment, the gongs of a multitude of others at least – if not more – responsible for the financial crisis remain untarnished.

If it is right to strip Mr Goodwin of his knighthood, then the list of those that should suffer with him is long indeed. The most obvious starting point must be his colleagues at RBS, former chairman Sir Tom McKillop, for example. Then there are those at other broken banks, Sir Victor Blank, the former chairman at Lloyds, say. And that is before the wave of retribution reaches the regulators, whose appetite for risk may not have equalled Mr Goodwin's but whose incompetence arguably did. Sir Mervyn King at the Bank of England, then. Or Sir Callum McCarthy, the chairman of the Financial Services Authority in the run-up to the crisis.

And what about the politicians who presided over the whole careening, irrationally exuberant carnival? Lord Mandelson, perhaps. Or Lord Prescott. In fact, to be fair, all cabinet ministers from the relevant period should be stripped of their status as Privy Councillors.

Indeed, if Mr Goodwin is too scurvy to be worth an honour without his having broken the law, then surely those who have should also be busted back to the common herd. After serving prison time for perjury, Lord Archer's title must be under threat. Equally, Lord Browne, who owned up to lying in court, even if he was not subsequently charged. To them, of course, should be added those peers who committed expenses fraud – Lord Clarke, for example, who admitted his fiddling, or Lords Hanningfield or Taylor, who went to jail for it.

More than anything else, the absurd treatment of Mr Goodwin – added to the furore over Stephen Hester's bonus – damages nothing as much as it damages Britain. It sends out the profoundly off-putting signal that Britain is anti-business and anti-wealth, a culture of harboured grudges, public vindictiveness and mob rule. At a time when the economy is more exposed than ever to the chill winds of global competition, when growth rates are stagnant at best, if not heading back into recession, it is the worst possible image to convey. Stripping Mr Goodwin of his knighthood is crass, childish, and wholly counter-productive.

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