David Cameron, followed by Ed Miliband, says strip Sir Fred Goodwin of his knighthood. Nick Clegg, desperate not to be left out, cries “me too.” Pass the sick bag.
I don’t know Fred personally. I’m no advocate for the man. Tales out of RBS since his fall paint him as arrogant, overbearing and, as Fred the Shred, willing to trample over other people.
His mishandling of RBS was a disaster for those sacked, and other companies and people previously reliant on the bank are still struggling with ruined lives. He deserves all the opprobrium heaped upon him for being a banker whose hubris got the better of him.
But Fred did not award himself a knighthood. He was nominated by Jack McConnell’s Scottish Exective and given it by Gordon Brown, who was so taken by him that Fred became one of his financial group advisors at the same time he was running and ruining RBS.
But that was when Labour was in love with the City slickers making themselves filthy rich. No serious questions were ever asked of Fred or RBS by those who should have asked, unless it was “want a knighthood Fred? – you’ve got it”.
If Fred was to be stripped of his honour, the obvious time to demand this was when RBS collapsed and he waltzed off – to public dismay and anger – with his big pay-out and big pension. That was in 2009. Why now, I ask myself? Why is this one man being singled out when down the corridor from the House of Commons sits a number of lords who made false claims on expenses, on the taxpayers’ tab, but remain there in full membership?
What about the rest of that RBS board, known as the “nodding dogs” for endorsing whatever Fred came up with? The then chairman, McKillop, is also a Sir. Of far greater threat to Fred and each of them than being stripped of honours would be for Vince Cable’s business department to strip them all of the right ever again to be company directors. He has the power to do so. Fat chance of that.
Fred has been wheeled out now as a lightning rod for public anger, diverting our attention from rising unemployment. There will be no growth until big companies start investing again. Right now they are on strike. If low-paid public sector workers strike, it’s headlines. When big capital goes on strike, silence. Big UK companies have £76 billion on their books that they are not investing.
As people ask questions about such a system, Cameron gets clever with talk of “responsible capitalism”, as opposed to the Goodwin “irresponsible” sort.
Miliband, a pathetic excuse for a Labour leader, joins in this contrived piece of theatre. Fred is handed to an angry, anxious public as a scapegoat upon whom we can vent our spleen. Sir Fred will become just plain Fred. He’ll get his comeuppance, and we are all meant to feel better.
But tell me, what does it matter to you and me, and to the economy now, whether he is Sir Fred or just Fred? Not a jot. We shall not be better off by one penny, and not one person’s employment prospects will be altered.
But if we keep venting our spite on the ex-RBS man, Cameron will have successfully convinced us that, just as Fred was one of those minority irresponsible capitalists, there are many more responsible ones in whom we can put our faith. The idea of capitalism being responsible to the community in which it operates is tripe.
Of course, there are people like Tom Farmer, a Leith lad with a deep commitment to the people he came from, and Bill Gates with his commitment to eradicating fatal diseases in Africa. But they are exceptions. Look at our utilities and manufacturers which, without a moment’s hesitation, will shift their call centres and plants to Asia for the cheap labour available, closing centres and plants here. How many of our big retailers have been caught selling goods made by exploited children, and then cried “ we didn’t know”?
Then there are the big financial investment groups, and those hedge funds, betting against currencies to make a fast buck, quite uncaring of the damage wreaked upon economies and the destruction of jobs that follows.
Capitalism isn’t immoral. It is amoral, quite different. There is no great conspiracy where people who wield the power of money plot to destroy economies and jobs.
Fred Goodwin didn’t intend to bust RBS, he meant to make it bigger and more profitable. Making a return on capital invested, on the exploitation of labour – whether it be physical, mental or intellectual – is the fundamental principle of capitalism. Turning the amoral into the moral is a hopeless quest where capitalism is concerned.