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Fallen Knights: Banker's Tale Is A Lesson For UK

Graham Stringer, MP, on Fred Goodwin and a broken honour's system

Published on February 4th 2012.

Fallen Knights: Banker's Tale Is A Lesson For UK

THERE has been an exquisite pleasure in watching the establishment squabble about the rights and wrongs of the defrocking of Sir Fred Goodwin, the ex high priest of bankers’ obscene bonuses.

It is absurd to remove Fred Goodwin’s knighthood and leave his fellow incompetents, at the Royal Bank of Scotland and other banks and financial institutions, with their gongs. 

It would be outrageous for the man who precipitated the recession, by steering the Royal Bank of Scotland to the biggest corporate disaster in this country’s history, to maintain the right to be called Sir. After all, the £45 billion bailout of this bank cost every man, woman and child in the country around £750.

This populist argument is strongly supported by the Prime Minister, who instructed his poodles on the obscure Forfeiture Committee to remove Goodwin’s knighthood. Even though, that supposedly independent body had decided not to do so two and a half years ago.

This is victimisation and scapegoating claimed Cameron’s opponents. The removal of knighthoods has previously been reserved for spies (Anthony Blunt 1979), dictators and mass murderers (Nicolae Ceausescu 1989, Robert Mugabe 2008) and paedophiles (Cyril Littlewood 2004) as well as other assorted convicted criminals. Goodwin maybe a loathsome fat cat but he is not guilty of any of the above.

The pleasure in watching the great and good tear into each other is that the arguments on both sides can easily be reduced to absurdity. It is absurd to remove Fred Goodwin’s knighthood and leave his fellow incompetents, at the Royal Bank of Scotland and other banks and financial institutions, with their gongs. He is no better or worse than these other venal ‘masters of the universe’.

Fallen Knight - Despite Heavy Disguise Fred Goodwin's Honour Is UnhorsedFallen Knight - Despite Heavy Disguise Fred Goodwin's Honour Is Unhorsed

It would also be absurd to allow him to retain his knighthood, which are awarded for ‘distinguished service or outstanding achievement’.

There is of course an unstated unity of purpose between both sides; they are looking for the best way to defend the honours system. This whole farrago points to a much better solution; abolish the honours system. The current honours system is corrupt and corrupting - maybe not in a legal sense but certainly in a cultural and political sense.

The last New Year’s honours list for instance rewarded four leading Conservative supporters, who between them had given the party close to a million pounds. One of them Paul Ruddock, a hedge fund manager who made money from the collapse of Northern Rock, received a knighthood.

I have seen senior executives distort their company’s priorities in order to achieve a personal honour. 

It is impossible when there is a coincidence between honours and donors not to suspect that influence is being purchased. What other reasons can there be for continuing to reward hedge fund managers, bankers and financiers who are recognised as the prime cause of our economic woes? Giving a third of all honours to bankers and businessmen is rubbing the noses in it for the poorest people in our society.

One also has to be sceptical about the award of a knighthood to the troublesome backbench Lib Dem MP from Colchester. I bet his inclination to vote against this awful Conservative led coalition will be much diminished now he carries the burden of being a Knight of the Realm. 

Ireland manages without a civilian honours system. France and the United States abolished titles after their revolutions. It is the titles that are the most odious part of the system and the scramble for them by people with political and financial power which is the most corrupting.

Rich people paying large sums of money to political parties can at the very least appear to influence unfairly the party’s priorities. It also works the other way. I have seen senior executives distort their company’s priorities in order to achieve a personal honour. This year the Conservatives presided over an indefensible list. Labour’s record was far from perfect by not declaring loans from recipients of honours.

I am always delighted when community activists from my constituency are recognised in the Queen’s birthday or New Year honours list. These people should continue to receive an honour from the Queen, at Buckingham Palace

However I have never criticised (and will not) anybody for accepting an honour, many recipients are excellent people with no stain on their record or character. Just for the record, when I was offered a title some time ago it took me about two seconds to decide not to accept. Now is the time to get rid of titles, because they exacerbate division within our already divided society.

Plain old Fred Goodwin (nee knight)Plain old Fred Goodwin (née knight)

What about our unsung heroes who get very little reward or recognition for putting time and effort into their community? I am always delighted when community activists from my constituency are recognised in the Queen’s birthday or New Year honours list. These people should continue to receive an honour from the Queen, at Buckingham Palace, similar to the MBE or OBE but without the use of the word Empire.

New honours then for lollipop men and women, community activists and volunteers in housing associations, but no titles or honours for MPs and the captains of industry, after all they have the privilege of representing people and often being filthy rich.   

Graham Stringer is the Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton. He was the leader of Manchester City Council from 1984-1996.

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

J RylandsFebruary 4th 2012.

Great piece Graham. I agree honours should be for those outside the public eye. Celebs and millionaires shouldn't. Even those who've donated lots of pounds shouldn't get them as charity is it's own reward.

Johnnie be goodFebruary 4th 2012.

I am persuaded. Very well thought out argument, we must change the honours system.

the Whalley RangerFebruary 4th 2012.

Awarding honours has always had a political aspect to it, so has the 'stripping of' in this instance.

The public would not want to see FG made a scapegoat. It would fog the true scale of the problem. FG has turned out to be the scapegoat simply because not a single individual has yet been accused, tried and convicted of serious breaches to corporate governance rules and fraud.

THAT is what the public would like to see: a public inquiry into the banking desaster, similar to Leveson and Chilcot - leading to exposing accountability and criminal proceedings.

It's been three years now since the game ended, over 15 years since it all started.

My hope is that we will get this process going soon.

Lord MagritteFebruary 4th 2012.

Honours are honours. A boys' club is a boys' club.

Bonus SeasonFebruary 5th 2012.

Breaking News:

BoE is printing another £50bn this week - and guess what, it's bonus season in February!

I am amazed that no one appears to see the causality in that...

DavidFebruary 6th 2012.

Mr Stringer without any evidence to back it up,accuses the rest of the bank management as being 'incompetents'But are not these people appointed by the last 'incompetent' Labour government.
The biggest 'incompetent' actually is Mr Stringer who has achieved nothing in his time as MP.Is is not time he stood aside for somebody who actually is capable of defending the interests of this great city.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldFebruary 9th 2012.

Listen David I know nothing of what you have and haven't done. So please don't insult people under the cloak of anonymity. That is spineless

DavidFebruary 10th 2012.

Listen Jonathon I do not know who you are either.But I have noticed Mr Stringer dismal performance since becoming an MP.Which I would suggest is why he has not been given any major job in government or opposition.

John NuttallFebruary 7th 2012.

Graham is quite correct that the honours system is quite odious and should be abolished however to say that "hedge fund managers, bankers and financiers are recognised as the prime cause of our economic woes? " is quite laughable, the government of the day handed the keys to the sweet shop to the children and then expressed surprise and horror at the predictable result.

AnonymousFebruary 7th 2012.

Errr about time we had some balance on here please? I'd like to see a Tory/Green/Libdem/other/ perspective too please? Yes scrap the honours system, but instead of slating the tories and libdems for their misgivings Graham, think back to the expenses scandal when your own fellow labour MP Gerald "Serve Yourself" Kaufman was quick to slate the rioters last year for looting TV's whilst only a year or two back he was being rumbled himself for trying to slip through an 8k Bang and Olufsen TV on his expenses form! Naturally, he expected me and you to pay for it!!?? I truly am sick of labour spin in this city, Mr Stringer is useless. He is supposed to represent the interests of Moston and Blackey etc but where was he when half of Moston were signing petitions to stop council plans to waste our much needed public money (750k in fact followed by a "loan" of 500k!!) towards a 5,000 seater stadium for rebel "political" football team "FC United"? He sat on the fence completely with that one, colluding probably with that other waste of our money, Tony Lloyd who, it was also said by some, to be secretly contacting Sir Howard Bernstein pushing it all through!? This issue has and continues to cause much anxiety to a close knit community much to the disgust of thousands of locals. He could step in and stop this tomorrow if he wanted to. I know someone who (finally)got an email off him on the day of the Executive Planning Meeting when it got passed!! The whole thing is bent to the core and he must know this? Services are being scrapped and reduced and a stadium gets through its complete madness. I heard him and Richard Leese dont see eye to eye anyway so maybe theres sour grapes there now Leese is a "Sir". Why wont he step out of the party line go against Leese and get this stadium stopped? He may get a knighthood himself then by protecting valuable covenanted greenbelt land in Moston eh!? Time he put himself on the line for once. Back to bankers, Wasn't it under the last inept labour administration that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was scrapped?? Maybe if banks had been stopped taking other banks over so readily they wouldnt have become so poweful to the point we now have a series of morally corrupt"cartels" in this country running the show? Whether it be supermarkets, banks, energy providers and transport companies, they have us all by the balls. Heres a thought: Why wasnt Mr Leese stripped of his Knighthood too when he had to step down in April 2010 for an assault on his stepdaughter???

DavidFebruary 9th 2012.

Graham Stringer,Tony Lloyd,Kaufman.Why does Manchester have such a poor quality of MP.Can anyone imagine any of local politicians being cabinet ministers,or even party leaders?.In contrast look at all the Scots who get top jobs.Is it a coincidence that Scotland gets greater share of spending than Manchester does?.
Manchester is too dominated by the Labout party,which clearly does not promote the talented.Its just safe seats for the mediocre.

TrevorFebruary 9th 2012.

Graham Stringer and Gerald Kaufman are not poor quality MPs, they're about as good as it gets.

DavidFebruary 10th 2012.

Yes they are.Have you forgotten Kaufmans greedy expenses claims?.£1800 for a rug,£8865 for a television.Labours electoral monopoly in Manchester has kept very based MPs in jobs for life.

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