February 1st, 2012
12:30 PM GMT
London (CNN) – It’s one of the great oddities of the former British Empire – the Queen’s Honour List.
Every year people eagerly await the letter from the Queen to inform them if they have received a knighthood, a lordship, an OBE (Order of the British Empire) etc.
I know there is some incredibly crucial ranking to all this, and it’s all very important to some, but don’t ask me to explain it or agree with it. I do know that being awarded a life peerage (a non-hereditary lordship) gets you, no surprise, into the House of Lords - see the likes of Lord Coe of the London Olympics or Lord Webber of musicals. But a knighthood only gives you the right to be called “Sir,” as with Sir Elton John or Sir Paul McCartney.
Until Tuesday evening, Fred Goodwin, the former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO, was known as Sir Frederick Anderson Goodwin, a result of being knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honour’s list in June 2004. (Note: CNN doesn’t tend to recognize British honorary titles, so he was always just “Fred Goodwin” to us anyway).
But he was stripped of his knighthood, the UK government announced in a statement Tuesday, as he "had brought the honours system in to disrepute.” It added: "The scale and severity of the impact of his actions as CEO of RBS made this an exceptional case.”
Goodwin was the CEO when RBS fought off other banks to take over Dutch bank ABN Amro in October of 2007 - and then shed thousand of jobs during the merger, and near collapse of the bank.
The engorged RBS was effectively nationalized by the UK government in late 2008 and is still majority owned by the taxpayer.
To many in the British public, he was just “Fred the Shred,” thanks to some headline writer at a UK tabloid. Yet Goodwin has not been convicted, or even charged, with any crime related to the financial crisis. Hence, he hasn’t done anything criminal - yet he joins the ranks of Robert Mugabe and Nicolae Ceausescu at being stripped of a knighthood.
Goodwin became the poster child - the British face - of the crisis of 2008 and so he is now also the scapegoat. For many it just stuck in the throat when they had to call him “Sir” Fred or write “Sir Fred.” The country can now sleep peacefully as they simply address him as “Mr. Goodwin,” noting he was allowed to retire in January 2009 with his sizeable pension intact, even though politicians vowed to claw it back.
Goodwin did eventually agree to take less for his retirement every year, but he still earns $500,000 or so annually for his years at the top of RBS, between 2001 and 2009.
Instead, they have “clawed back” something that is almost a precious as money to some in this country: An honor from the Queen.
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