Dani Garavelli: The shredded truth

The 'burn-the-witch' campaign against Sir Fred is knee-jerk, medieval and so damned convenient

FRED 'The Shred' Goodwin and Jade Goody may have come from very different backgrounds, but they have more in common than the passing similarity of their surnames. Both creatures of the zeitgeist, the Paisley-grammar-schoolboy-turned-banker and the Essex-chav-turned-reality-TV-princess knew how to play a world which turned on greed and fame to their advantage, and made bucketloads of filthy lucre as a result.

Focused and ambitious, they seemed untroubled by the distress of those on whose backs they trod as they clambered to the top. We know Goody "bullied" Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty on Celebrity Big Brother. And Sir Fred? Well, if he cared about all those who were ruined by his recklessness, he would surely have handed back his 16m pension by now. Both ruthless; both self-obsessed; both fallible. Yet Jade, who died on Mother's Day, was mourned as a national treasure and lauded by everyone from Gordon Brown to the Archbishop of Canterbury, while the smashing of windows at Sir Fred's 2m Edinburgh mansion as part of a hate campaign by a group called Bank Bosses Are Criminals was greeted with unconcealed glee.

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This contrast says so much about the 21st century: we need our saints to give us something to aspire to and we need our sinners to absorb our anger, but the way we choose whom to love and whom to hate is so arbitrary, and public affection so fickle, that a simple twist of fate is often all that separates one from the other. It is not so long ago, after all, that Sir Fred was being knighted on the back of soaring RBS profits, and Goody was leaving the Big Brother house to chants of "Kill the Pig". But then Goodwin pushed through the ABN Amro takeover and Goody contracted cancer, and the seesaw of popular opinion tipped in her favour.

Now it's Sir Fred's turn to be the national bogeyman, and it would take a braver woman than me to defend him against the critics who want to lay at his doorstep the plight of every worker who has been made redundant and every family whose home has been repossessed. As his tussles with the Treasury Select Committee demonstrated, Sir Fred is a charmless megalomaniac who, having presided over the destruction of a national institution, lacked the grace to make any financial gesture to back up his apology. Nevertheless, the "burn-the-witch" campaign against him is so knee-jerk, so medieval and so damned convenient it's almost as frustrating as his own pocketing of taxpayers' money.

And as for the pledge to hang his effigy from a lamppost at this week's G20 summit, it's almost beyond satire. In fact, the whole affair seems to have been lifted directly from the episode of The Simpsons in which the gullible people of Springfield allow a businessman to persuade them a shoddy monorail will bring prosperity, only to attack him with pitchforks when he makes off with the spoils.

It's not the resorting to violence I find most perturbing. Although it goes without saying that vigilante attacks on abortionists, vivisectionists, paedophiles and even bankers cannot be justified, we all know there are rabble-rousers out there just itching for an excuse to cause civil disorder.

No, what really irks me is the faux naivete of those middle-class whiners who are suddenly outraged by the idea of one man profiting at the expense of others: it's as if they've never heard of Third World poverty; never stumbled across social injustice; never realised that an imbalance of wealth and power is the cornerstone of capitalism. Worse, they seem to labour under the illusion that if we could just get Sir Fred to pay up, all those inequalities would somehow be redressed.

Even as they believe they are taking on the system, those who are demonising Goodwin are allowing themselves to be duped: for what is the national scapegoating of Sir Fred if not an attempt to divert attention from others equally culpable for the collapse of the global economy: the politicians who embraced "light-touch regulation" and proclaimed boom and bust to be a thing of the past? Contrary to the contention of those who trashed Goodwin's house, bank bosses are not criminals, and the reason they're not is that legislators sanctioned – nay, actively encouraged – their self-indulgence, risk-taking and fat cat bonuses. The anti-capitalists may think they're oh so radical, but they're trotting obligingly down a path forged by those who set Goodwin up as a hate figure by humiliating him in public then leaking his pension details.

On a more prosaic level, venting our anger at Sir Fred allows us to abdicate our responsibility for a crisis which flourished in a climate of greed almost everyone embraced: every first-time buyer who took on a mortgage they couldn't afford, every shopper who ran up huge credit card bills, every fashionista who boasted about their collection of Prada handbags was driven by the same reckless desire for material gain as Sir Fred – although, admittedly, the stakes weren't quite so high and there wasn't anyone to bail them out when it all went wrong. Honestly, you only have to read the many sob stories about millionaires who went bust because a downturn in business meant they could no longer afford the repayments on loans for a 40,000 bespoke kitchen or their fleet of supercars (boo hoo) to remember just how conspicuous consumption had become.

Goodwin, who is said to be sitting out this latest onslaught in a sumptuous Balearic retreat, is an obvious and appealing fall guy. But blaming one man for the collapse of the global economy is both psychologically unhealthy and intellectually unsustainable. And more importantly it will do nothing to help the country get back on its feet.