David Parkin on the HBOS furore and the passing of Baroness Thatcher

QUESTION: Who is the odd one out? Former HBOS directors Sir James Crosby, Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson, or Terry Wogan?

Answer: Terry Wogan, as he is the only one with banking qualifications.

I can’t lay claim to this illuminating fact, it was quoted by City financier Terry Smith on Radio 4’s Today programme this week, and amply explains why HBOS flourished in the boom times and hit the buffers as soon as markets took a turn for the worse.

Whilst the HBOS trio must shoulder much of the blame for what happened to the group that was the combination of two of our great banking institutions – Halifax and Bank of Scotland – the firestorm started around them by almost gleeful politicians doesn’t make me, for one, feel very comfortable.

Does the country actually need another round of bank bashing following the opprobrium that consumed Sir Fred Goodwin, Bob Diamond and continues to buffett the entirely blameless Stephen Hester, who has taken responsibility for sorting out Royal Bank of Scotland?

Whether you think it does or doesn’t, that is what is happening. They say you see people’s true character in adversity and James Crosby has stood up to be counted this week – offering to hand back his knighthood, forgo a chunk of his pension and stepping down from non-exec roles with Compass and Bridgepoint.

Andy Hornby, Crosby’s successor as CEO at HBOS, has since moved on to run the bookmaking outfit Coral, while Lord Stevenson, who received his life peerage in 1999, the year he joined Halifax as chairman, is keeping his head firmly below the parapet of his country estate.

While all three have already apologised and accepted their role in the shambles that HBOS became, politicans, led by grandstanding Business Secretary Vince Cable are now threatening to ban all three men as directors.

In my opinion, leave their future to the free market. If organisations feel any of the trio have something to offer them then they should have the right to employ them.

And if they don’t? Then that is punishment enough.

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THE other furore this week surrounded the death of former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher.

In death, as in life, Maggie polarised opinion and she wouldn’t apologise for that.

Yes, I find the celebratory comments by a minority following her passing distasteful. But I can’t join the self-appointed moral majority led by some newspapers, who strike a pose akin to Edvard Munch’s Scream, and castigate such shameful behaviour.

What we are seeing is the reaction of a small group of individuals whose position on the left wing fringes of British politics was left marginalised by Margaret Thatcher’s strident march to the right and continued by her prime ministerial successors who sought the electoral safety of the centre ground.

We live in a society that holds free speech dear. If the consequence  is that we allow people to trumpet their opinions across social media like Twitter and Facebook then we must accept it.

It gets worse. I heard this morning that the song Ding Dong the Witch is Dead from the Wizard of Oz has rocketed into the top 10 downloaded music tracks, fuelled, apparently by young people celebrating the former premier’s demise.

Bizarre and ghoulish? Yes. But it is the price of free speech and a free market, two things Baroness Thatcher held dear.

It is more than 20 years since Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister.

Two decades is a long time to carry such bile and bitterness in your heart. Who are they going to find to blame now?

The rest of those commenting and downloading probably weren’t even born when Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street and many others won’t have been old enough to vote against this individual that they appear to hate so much.

But most will have the benefit of owning their own home, investing for their own future and enjoying foreign holidays.

I wonder who they have to thank for that?