Sir Fred Goodwin, former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, has joined one of the most select groups in Britain – the Past Knights’ Club. Meeting in the cellar of an anonymous terrace house in Westminster, the past knights gather to swap stories. It is an elite group – Benito Mussolini (services to transport), former Russian spy and traitor Anthony Blunt (services to communism); Nicolae Ceausescu (services to anti-communism), Robert Mugabe (er, we’ll get back to you on this one). Conversation can be slow, as many of them are dead, but tonight they are all here in spirit for Mr Goodwin’s arrival.
Anthony Blunt: Oh my heavens, they’re letting bankers in now. This used to be a rather classy outfit. Now we’re letting in artisans.
Robert Mugabe: It will be nice to have a new face; Ceausescu’s no fun.
Blunt: Poor Nicolae; he never got to enjoy being unseated. His people shot him before he even got word. I suppose we do need fresh blood. I only hope this Goodwin fits in.
Mugabe: They do say he was something of a dictator.
Blunt: Well, that’s something I suppose. Ah, here he is. Hello, may I be the first to call you Mr Goodwin? Welcome to the Past Knights’ Club. Congratulations on your sir-cumcision. We’ve got some super people – foreign leaders, businessmen – it’s a lot like Davos and just as worried about inequality. So, sit down, tell us how you got here.
Goodwin: I bankrupted my bank, forced the British taxpayers into a bail-out they couldn’t afford and swanned off with a huge pension.
Blunt: Is that it?
Goodwin: They seemed to think it was enough.
Blunt: So you haven’t been convicted of a crime.
Blunt: Haven’t murdered your people or ruined any lives.
Mugabe: Be fair Tony – he has ruined lives.
Blunt: Yes but not intentionally; only as a byproduct. I blame the media. It’s this whole easy-fame thing. Typical of society these days. No one wants to put the work in. I spent years betraying our agents. Look at Nicolae, he massacred his own people. Benito – well his reputation precedes him. You’ve got here without even wanting it. When I heard we were getting a banker I thought it might at least be Alan Greenspan or Mervyn King. At least they achieved on a global scale.
They’ll be letting anyone in soon – jockeys, boxers. We’ve had that Lester Piggott trying to join – but he only lost an OBE.
Goodwin: I thought I saw him in the other room.
Blunt: Yes, we let him run the bar and keep the accounts. And you’ll have seen Prince Naseem on the door. But they’re not full members. Anyway, now you are here we must make the best of it. So, to business.
Blunt: Yes, we have to make our recommendations to the forfeiture committee. We’re always looking for new members. But we don’t want anyone. We are keen to have Joanna Lumley though.
Mugabe: She’s only an OBE but she’s fabulous. Also Sir Cliff Richard. He’s well past his best.
Goodwin: How about Lord Archer? I hear he might be a contender.
Blunt: Absolutely not. We’ve told the committee he’s blackballed. We have standards to maintain.
Rules for stripping
Now that the qualifications for being stripped of a title have been muddied it may be necessary to draw up a new procedure. The current situation is unsustainable and could be a serious disincentive that puts off other business leaders wishing to take the kind of risks that might bankrupt the country. New rules are needed. The criteria could include:
1) Committing a crime
2) Being censured by a regulator
3) Getting in the papers
4) Being considered a bit of a git by Polly Toynbee
5) Becoming a political liability
6) Upsetting the Daily Mail
7) Being overpaid but no good at soccer.
There could be an eighth rule of wasting taxpayers’ money but this has been dismissed as too wide.
Others ideas include asking credit rating agencies to classify possible contenders. Victims could thus be placed on negative outlook to give them a chance to mend their ways before they are downgraded to MBE.
Or if popularity is going to be the determining factor, how about a
TV show where people are voted out of their titles. We could call it The
K factor, or perhaps Not to Knight.