Gordon, Harriet and Fred.

Yesterday, I wrote a letter to my MP.

I say letter. You can send emails through the Parliament website, these days. It makes it very easy. Also, you’d think it would lead to getting ignored, but apparently not. I’ve done it once before, you see — only once, my wife’s more of that kind of agitator than I am — and I got a substantial reply. I may occasionally fill a pen with a nice green ink, but I don’t make a habit of writing as Concerned from Culcavy.

I am, though.

RBS goes from being one of the biggest banks in the world (whatever that means) to needing a barrow-full of money from the Treasury to keep going, so the head of the company did the decent thing and resigned — taking with him a pension that in any given year will provide him with quite probably more money than I will earn between here and my own retirement. The Government, as represented by Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman, are determined that he won’t get to keep it, even though that’s what he was promised, contracted and given.

Both Mr Brown and Ms Harman have been very vocal in the press, with the latter being quoted as saying:

It might be enforceable in a court of law this contract but it’s not enforceable in the court of public opinion and that’s where the Government steps in.

That’s what bothers me, and I’m of the sort of political leaning that tends to like government involvement in things.

It’s like this:

  • Thing's went really wrong on Sir Fred Goodwin's watch, so he resigned. That's as it should be.
  • The amount of money he's being given as a pension is horrendous, but it is what he's entitled to by his contract (I am not a lawyer, of course, and this is based purely on press coverage).
  • Nobody, except possibly the man himself, thinks it's fair or reasonable for him to take it all, but the decision is his and he seems to want to keep it. Honour, justice, whatever, might suggest that he shouldn't, but it's his call.
  • Prominent folks in Government are hinting at intervention to see that he doesn't get to keep it.

It’s pretty objectionable in this case, but the contract of employment can be one of the major things that protects employees from abuse (assuming that contract is fair and just). Suggesting that an employee’s entitlements in a contract can be reduced after the fact, just because we don’t like them, is worrying. Even more so is the idea that Government will get involved in a specific individual case like this. After Sir Fred, who will be the next one to have the rug pulled out from under them?

The damage is done; learn the lesson (a clause along the lines of “If you make a hash of it then you don’t get quite as big a pile of money”?) and move on.