Bill Carmichael: Knight out for the lynch mob

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BREAK out the pitchforks! Fire up the blazing torches! The lynch mob is on the march in a frenzy of anti-banker hysteria – and utterly shameless politicians, who counted those same bankers as bosom chums just a few months ago, are happy to march at its head all for the sake of a few votes.

First RBS chief executive Stephen Hester was mercilessly bullied until he agreed to forgo a £1m bonus he was perfectly entitled to under the terms of his contract.

Next Fred Goodwin, the man largely responsible for the collapse of RBS, was stripped of his knighthood by the shadowy Honours Forfeiture Committee in a move designed to heap humiliation on his head.

I must admit I snorted tea down my nose when I read the Committee revoked the title to protect the “integrity” of the honours system. Integrity my foot! The House of Lords is packed full of party hacks and chancers. They include among their number some who, unlike Goodwin, have been convicted of serious criminal offences, such as fiddling their expenses. Will the Forfeiture Committee revoke their honours too? Don’t hold your breath.

I don’t defend Goodwin. He was arrogant and foolish and took unconscionable risks that went spectacularly wrong. But he broke no law and he is certainly not single-handedly responsible for our current economic problems. And the stink of hypocrisy surrounding all this manufactured self-righteous anger is absolutely nauseating.

Labour politicians have been at the forefront of the lynch mob. Yet who gave Goodwin his knighthood in the first place? A Labour government did!

Ed Miliband, meanwhile, was actually a member of the Cabinet that approved Hester’s contract, including the bonus he now rails against. If he thought it was such a bad idea, why didn’t he say so at the time?

Sadly a number of Conservative politicians who should know better, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, have been busy pandering to the mob too.

All this banker bashing may make people feel a bit better, but it won’t do anything to address the economic crisis of £1 trillion in debt and flat lining growth.

Indeed, what the Institute of Directors called the “anti-business hysteria” currently being whipped up may actually damage our recovery, by dissuading entrepreneurs from doing business in the UK.

Politicians should calm down a bit. They should be trying to cool the public mood instead of inflaming it. They should have the courage to do the right thing, even if it is unpopular in the short term, rather than abasing themselves in the court of public opinion. Do you think they will listen? No, me neither.

Rich pickings

The BBC website this week highlighted the plight of a typical family who will be hit by the proposed £26,000 benefits cap.

Unemployed father-of-seven “Raymond” told how reducing his £30,284 benefits to the cap would leave him £82.40 a week worse off. The result, he said, was that they would have to choose between “eating or heating”.

I was just tuning up the violin, when I read the detail of Raymond’s weekly outgoings. It included £32 on mobile phones, £15 on Sky television (the most expensive Sky Movies package), 200 cigarettes and a pouch of tobacco (about £70), 24 cans of lager (about £18) and a night down the pub for “three or four” pints (say £10).

By cutting out these luxuries, Raymond could save about £140 a week and the family would be better off even after the cap. If the BBC’s intention was to show how “cruel” the benefits reforms are, this was a classic own goal. All it demonstrated was that the £26,000 limit is not only justified, but is also incredibly generous.