I’m going to launch straight in with a statement many of you may not agree with. I think it’s wrong that Fred Goodwin was stripped of his knighthood. Before you all jump on me, let me tell you where I’m coming from. My understanding of the world
of politics is limited, and my understanding of economics and the world of finance is even more so. But if there’s one thing I do understand, it’s narrative, and I think we’re being sold a really reeking story here, and Mr Goodwin is the rather fishy red herring.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re all in fairly deep financial doo-doo. I understand very little of exactly what has happened or why, but I do know I have heard no good news about the financial situation anywhere in the world for a number
of years, and that in my own home, we are bringing in less money, spending more and worrying even more. I don’t know what will happen in the short or medium term… I have no idea what the real implications would be of the collapse of the Euro, for example. All I know, selfishly and simply, is that I am grateful we have work at all, I cannot foresee any luxuries for us for a long time, and I fear for my teenage son about to go to university. There are plenty of people in our boat, and many more in much, much worse situations. To put it bluntly, most of us are screwed, largely through no fault of our own, and there is little or nothing we can do to change the situation we’re in.
So what do the media do? They give us a lovely story. People to blame, people to look up to, characters to make the enormously complex situation we cannot change into a pantomime we can stomach. So they tell us about the greedy benefits claimants, sitting on their arses, frittering away our hard-earned tax dollars (“Boo! Boo! Hiss!”). They tell us about the philanthropic Australian bus company boss who gave his staff £10 million in bonuses when he sold the company (Hooray! Three Cheers!”) They tell us about Stephen Hester and his ludicrous £1 million bonus (“Throw rotten tomatoes!”). We are suddenly disconcerted when the government tells us their hands are tied and he must have this money, and we are metaphorically patted on the head and told that we would not understand the complex machinations of high finance and bonus packages anyway. We all feel even more uncomfortable when we learn that Hester’s salary is the equivalent of the salary of forty teachers. Because if that’s the case, we’re not all in this together, and this isn’t a system that rewards hard work and contribution to society, it’s a system that rewards greed, nepotism and participation in a small and closed-shop industry, and the rest of us be damned.
Then Hester refuses his bonus, and before we can draw breath, we hear that Goodwin has been stripped of his knighthood. Applause!
Now Goodwin is an easy one to hate. We’re told that he drove RBS into the toilet, caused the financial crisis and then took early retirement and claimed his ludicrously massive pension. He also bites the heads off kittens. That last one isn’t true, but it’s easy to believe. He’s one cape and a twirly moustache short of a pantomime villain. Now he has no knighthood. Hoorah! But what has really changed? He still has all his money and his enormous pension. The people that hated him still hate him, and the people who were his mates still like him, except now he’s a bit martyred, so they like him even more. He’ll need new address labels for his Christmas cards, sans the “Sir”, but that’s about it.
But we’ve all had a chance to boo and hiss at the villain and we all feel vindicated, so we don’t ask any real questions like – never mind Hester, what about the rest of the RBS executives? What bonuses are they getting? And if David Cameron has promised us that he will tackle excessive executive pay, and he can’t even stop it in the boardroom where we are 82% shareholders, why should we believe it will stop anywhere else? And what about the massive corporations and high earning civil servants avoiding millions of pounds in tax?
Politics in this country are painted in broad strokes, with lots of shouting and rhetoric and “Hear, hears!” The media then takes what is going on and turns the broad strokes into a cartoon. But we don’t have to swallow it all. This is life, our lives, not a trip to the pantomime. We may be in the audience, but it’s our job not to be so stupid that we believe everything we’re told, feel what we’re told to feel, cheer for the hero and boo the villain. So when the government or the press says, “It’s behind you!”
Let’s all shout really loudly – “Oh no it isn’t!”
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.