In 2004, Fred Goodwin, then Group Chief Executive of RBS, was awarded a knighthood for "Services to Banking". On Tuesday it was announced by the Cabinet Office that Goodwin's knighthood is to be "cancelled and annulled", following a recommendation by the Honours Forfeiture Committee.
I would have thought this would be no great loss to him: he should find it easier to enjoy his considerable wealth as the relatively obscure Mr Goodwin. But his friends and sympathizers are outraged: Alistair Darling, who was a better Chancellor than Gordon Brown, wrote in the Times that "There is something tawdry about the government directing its fire at Fred Goodwin alone..." Jackie Stewart says that "No single person or even any single bank created the biggest financial recession in modern times...To have this stripped I think is poor for the constitution and very dangerous for the future." Simon Walker for the Institute of Directors says "To do it because... you don't approve of someone, you think they have done things that are wrong but actually there is no criminality... is inappropriate and politicises the whole honours system". Digby Jones doesn't disagree with the decision, but remarks it's surrounded by "a faint whiff of the lynch mob on the village green".
What a load of tosh. Goodwin was given the knighthood for services to banking, presumably because a grateful nation appreciated the contribution therefrom to the economy in general. We now know that his banking efforts have cost us many billions of pounds - the price of the bailout depends on what the government gets when it eventually sells its shares in RBS, but currently we're looking at a loss of over £20bn. Against that you can set the tax revenues it's received over the years as a result of RBS's activities, but the end result is not going to be any great gratitude. Goodwin's services to banking were less than worthless, it was a horrible mistake to give him the knighthood, and now we've put that right.
Goodwin's not the only one whose knighthood was an obvious error? Then let's unknight the others too. No single person created the recession? Quite true: no single person created the profits at RBS either, but only Goodwin got the knighthood. The annulment politicises the system? Very funny: it's awards that are decided by politicians, not annulments. The whiff of the lynch mob? That's an odd description of the Head of the Home Civil Service and his colleagues.
The underlying argument seems to be that the annulment of a knighthood is a punishment for wrongdoing, to be decided only after due judicial process. That's wrong. No one has the right to a knighthood; it's a privilege awarded to about one millionth of the population each year. Goodwin doesn't deserve this special privilege, and now he hasn't got it, just like millions of others far less undeserving.
I've not attached titles to anyone's name in this piece, apart from Mr Goodwin's. The things are so ephemeral nowadays.