Goodwin and getting away with it

Kids, remember what you learn in the school playground, because the grown-up world is… just the same.

Last week, I mentioned the absurdity of the attempts to bully Fred Goodwin, sorry, prevent him from receiving his entirely undeserved pension.

Never mind that we have numerous laws to protect minorities from arbitrary discrimination.  Clearly none of these apply to overpaid, failed bank chief executives.

But before break, the kids in the playground may have learnt that in 1215 the Magna Carta limited the powers of the state. Nevertheless, according to Harriet Harman, Fred Goodwin is so evil that the law should be suspended in his case.

I find it almost beyond belief that an issue as peripheral as Fred’s payoff is still in the news. The House of Commons Treasury Select Committee is to grill the Chairman and Chief Executive of the UKFI (charged with no less a role than managing the UK’s now vast state-owned banking assets) later this morning – I may try to get away with watching a bit of the meeting, as they have their own little TV channel on the internet.  (09:45 – the actual broadcast is here, but it is either not working or late – BBC Parliament, for reasons that are unclear, prefers to run repeats than broadcast Select Committee meetings; 09:52 – finally starting late – pathetically – though it’s also on BBC News 24).

I listen to the BBC, which is to a large degree setting the agenda.  Once again I am stunned that the organisation has scaled new heights of arrogance.  Remember, we’re talking about an institution that can’t even run a quiz in a sensible fashion.  As Bamber Gascoigne (I gather Paul was available but would have gone too far in taking the piss, and Bamber had the edge as a former University Challenge compere) pointed out on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, it’s completely nuts for a university quiz programme to be filmed over two academic years!

Today also admitted this morning that Goodwin’s pension may not have been discretionary in the first place.  Now, as I pointed out last week, I have an inkling that the misunderstanding was all the fault of the school sneak, Robert Peston.  Everyone’s covering for him, and he’s not admitting on his blog that he’s misled everyone.

Then there’s Lord Myners, who’s incompetence in being unsure whether Goodwin’s top-up was discretionary or not is truly breath-taking.  Has he simply trusted Peston?  I fear so, because that’s the sort of thing that happens in the real world.  Nobody’s going to snitch on the Pest because doing so would also expose their own idiocy.

This entire storm in a teacup is of course part of the Government’s smokescreen, which the credulous media are simply lapping up.

Now we have revolting sight of the odious Alistair Darling trying to seize the moral high-ground.  His idea of humility is to say, in effect: “it was someone else’s fault and we should have done more to stop them”.  No Alistair, you created an environment – principally by allowing a property asset bubble to continue unchecked – in which financial disasters were bound to occur.

The real world, kids, is like this: very few are distinguished by being more or less incompetent than anyone else.  Those who “succeed” are simply those who manage to escape the blame for their mistakes.  Those who “fail” were, by and large, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

PS (09:56): The Treasury Select Committee is hilarious.  The UKFI doesn’t have specific information on bank pay-offs.  Headmaster John McFall is giving them a good ticking off.  Bring back the cane, that’s what I say!

(09:57): Now we’re onto the Fred Goodwin issue: it’s quite clear – Goodwin could have been fired (12 months notice/gardening leave – which would itself have likely led to a scandal, of course) rather than early retired.  But the media coverage is a fudge – the pension top-up simply wasn’t discretionary as Peston claimed – the situation would have had to have been handled entirely differently.

(10:08): Still discussing it!  The screw-up, if there was one, was that Goodwin was allowed to retire early, not fired.  These guys are completely mad: the mood was entirely different on October 11th – Fred’s compensation was not a big issue, the important thing was to get him to go quietly.  Myners is not looking very good…  But I’m getting bored.  I expect everyone else is too, so likely Myners will survive.

(11:23): It seems they’ve returned to the Goodwin pension issue many times as each Treasury Select Committee member has to have his ha’porth.  Unbelievable.