It should not be understated how galling it can be to make an apology, however small. To apologise for the collapse of a bank is a task so obviously fearful that it is no wonder the Labour Party have treated Sir Fred Goodwin with the vitriol previously reserved solely for Thatcher and Ramsay MacDonald. This vitriol is not, however, to extract an apology from Sir Fred (I refuse to remove his knighthood until it is done officially), but to avoid the similarly galling task the Labour Party itself must now face – whether to admit that in 12 years of government, they have made mistakes.
Pity poor Harriet Harman, juggling ideology, leadership aspirations and trying to appear, for the most part, supportive of the leader of her party. Hence, this week Ms Harman decided to attempt something quite astonishing – to retroactively punish an individual for something previously legal, in what was clearly an attempt to distract from the broader problems facing the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the country at large. The rule of law is a tradition too important to be swept aside in honour of ‘Fred the Shred’, and the knighthood was honour enough.
The enormity of Harman’s proposal must not be overlooked. Of course, desperate times require desperate measures, but laws are codified to ensure that even in the most difficult of circumstances we have a common statute to refer to which indicates how we can and can’t treat members of society.
Sir Fred Goodwin may no longer be welcome in the corridors of power, but when Lord Mandelson stated “we are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, Sir Fred was clearly listening attentively. He may be guilty of profligacy and negligence but his actions were always within the law, and it is the lawmakers we should focus on, not those who exploited the strictures.
This would explain why, according to Martin Bright, the Prime Minister has been practising apologies over recent weeks. Indeed, the Spectator blogger suggested Gordon Brown had been studying a DVD of Barack Obama apologising: Obama is a man capable of making sensational apologies whilst simultaneously sweeping all blame aside. One hopes Brown might have asked for a few tips when they met last week.
The Prime Minister needs to account for our current financial woes if he is to have a hope of retaining power; it has long been recognised that Sir Fred Goodwin could not have run a bank into the ground, nor claimed his hefty pension, had the Government, and indeed the opposition paid more attention.
Encouraging bankers to become filthy rich seemed like a good idea in a rather less turbulent economic climate, but now it is time for Labour to say sorry.