People on the left might be expected to be first in line to celebrate the removal of Fred Goodwin’s knighthood – but we know a distraction when we see one…
So Fred Goodwin is no longer a Sir. Not much of a surprise but still something to cheer me up on a cold morning? Well, no. In fact I find myself deeply concerned about the way a very carefully selected group of people are being vilianised by all sides in the debate on reform of capitalism.
We should by now be used to the strategy of the ‘two-minute hate’. In Orwell’s 1984 this was a daily film which party people had to watch and which focussed their anger and frustration at ‘the enemy’ – a simple and well-tried means of definining the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’. But in the contemporary two-minute hate the function is slightly different. We are all angry at what has been done to our economy by a group of unscrupulous business leaders but most people find the whole business so convoluted that they really don’t know who to blame. Regulators? Corporations? Blair? Brown? Cameron?
But unfocussed anger is a dangerous phenomonon for the status quo, implying disatisfaction and providing momentum for reform. The safest bet is to ‘allow’ us to channel our anger by telling us who should be the target. And what do you know? It turns out that the real target for our anger ‘should be’ A Few Bad Apples.
Now those few bad apples are one of the most troublesome groups in the history of mankind. Of late they have been torturing Iraqis, wrecking the economy and hacking into people’s voicemail messages. And oh how we hate them. Them precisely, no-one else. The others are all good apples. This strategy has become more and more prevelant lately as the business of news management becomes ever-more frenzied. It is a simple process for quarantining bad news; discover something bad is happening, assess that you can’t cover it up, pick a group of people you identify as both complicit and expendable, let it be known that they are bad apples and apologise for them.
So far so routine – and no surprise that a bad apple strategy was going to be rolled out around about bank bonus time again. And no surprise that the outcome is that reform of the system is being pushed off the agenda in favour of punishment for those few. This in itself takes away any of the satisfaction I might otherwise feel.
But what really bothers me is how the targets have been selected. Yes, the situation at RBS was particularly bad and yes Fred Goodwin became a hate figure for reasons in part of his own doing post-crash. And still I can’t help feeling that it was inevitable that it was the ‘public sector bank’ which was chosen for vilification. And that only ‘staffers’ are in the cross hairs.
This seems to me to send out two clear messages. Firsty, it seems to be a clear sign to the City of London that a truce will be called and that since the public sector has bought its own bank we can nationalise the blame as well. Secondly, if Britain’s elites are to be targetted, the sights will be kept low – regulators, paid staff. Nothing at all seems to be allowed to splatter upwards onto the class of board member who in many ways are really responsible for the whole disaster. A cloak of invisibility for the governer class and for the private sector.
And last of all, I wonder if location has nothing to do with this. After all, to many in London the RBS must seem virtually foreign. A working-class Scot, based in Scotland and not part of the fully-fledged British establishment? The man virtually had a ‘bad apple’ T-shirt on.
But, just in case anyone is left with a sense of excessive sympathy for Goodwin, a final clarification: taking his toys away is all well and good, but I’d be happier if the police would make a call. If all we are to get is a token it would be nice if it consisted of more than three letter in front of his name.