IN RECENT times this newspaper has made repeated calls for a proper and commensurate reckoning for those bankers who were responsible for the catastrophic financial crisis that befell Britain in 2008, necessitating a bail-out for which ordinary Britons are still paying dearly today, and will be for some years to come.
What was particularly galling was the way the most senior men at the top of the worst-hit banks walked away with knighthoods intact and with comfortable pensions that would ensure they were safely cosseted from the age of austerity that they, through their greed and arrogance, helped to create. So it was heartening yesterday to see James Crosby, former chief executive of HBoS, request that his knighthood be removed, and to offer to give up 30 per cent of his handsome pension entitlement.
In a statement issued yesterday, Mr Crosby – it seems the days of calling him Sir James are soon to be over – reflected that last Friday’s report from the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards “made for very chastening reading” and required a personal response. He acknowledged his role in the crisis and said he had “never sought to disassociate myself from what has happened”.
There will inevitably be some speculation about how Mr Crosby calculated what proportion of his pension to surrender as recompense for his sins, and whether the retention of 70 per cent is justifiable, in the circumstances. But taken in the round, the former banker deserves some credit for his course of action.
Some people might legitimately question whether, in the 21st century, an ancient order of chivalry has any value in a public realm far removed from the kind of courtly age in which it was conceived. That would be to underestimate the symbolic value of Mr Crosby’s gesture – and particularly the effect it may have on his former colleagues in Britain’s discredited banking elite, at his own former organisation and at RBS.
Will they now follow suit? They will surely have watched his actions yesterday with some alarm. For if one of their number has seen fit to do the decent thing, what does it say about the others, if they do not follow his example? Can they too find it in themselves to acknowledge in such a public way the damage they have inflicted?
It is not just former bankers who have decisions to make. So too do the various financial organisations that have provided safe havens in which former bankers can see out their professional lives in comfort, mostly away from the public’s searching gaze.
Public anger at bankers in general and bankers like Mr Crosby in particular shows no sign of abating, as the country faces yet deeper austerity. The price people are having to pay – most recently illustrated in the welfare cuts that came into force this month – is vast. It is to be hoped there will be more gestures to come.
Celebrations of death in bad taste
The death of Baroness Thatcher has had a polarising effect on British public opinion. For every person who celebrates her as a political hero on a par with Churchill, there is another who laments the way her economic policies threw millions on to the dole queues.
This is only to be expected. Margaret Thatcher was a woman who always elicited strong reactions, including anger, at the social and economic consequences of her rule. Strong emotions in these circumstances are understandable. But the small gathering of left-wing organisations that held a “party” in Glasgow’s George Square on Monday evening crossed a line. Can it ever be appropriate in a decent society to respond to someone’s death with a public celebration? The people in George Square clearly saw no impediment, and duly chanted: “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead.”
While they were entitled in a free country to chant what they liked, this newspaper believes such behaviour in these circumstances will be regarded by the vast majority of Scots as utterly unacceptable.
Baroness Thatcher was many things to many people, but to those closest to her she was first and foremost a mother and a grandmother. Relatives of the famous – and the infamous – are entitled to be able to grieve for their loss without the sight of someone publicly celebrating the death with a bottle of champagne and an impromptu Highland fling.
Regardless of one’s feelings for the former prime minister – and this newspaper’s coverage yesterday covered her faults as well as her virtues – such actions will for the vast majority of Scots leave a bad taste in the mouth.