Apparently the King’s words were ‘misinterpreted’ by a gang of His Majesty’s knights, but I’d imagine that was small solace for poor old Thomas Beckett, as he bled to death, butchered in his own cathedral.For centuries the ‘not me guv’ defence has allowed the powerful to get away with practically anything, including murder, by saying they didn’t have a clue what their misguided underlings were up to – even when nobody believed a word of it. Most recently, despite resigning this morning, this technique was used by everybody’s favourite crook in a pin-striped suit, Bob ‘big bucks’ Diamond. But he’s not alone. There seems to be a lot of ‘plausible deniability’ being employed at News International, where they would have us believe that practically no-one in charge knew about a phone hacking scandal that was going on for years. And of course, it’s been a way of life in politics for centuries. As long as you don’t commit evidence of knowing anything to paper, tape, or other electronic transmission, you’re home free. This practice must be stopped, and this is how we do it: If we can’t prove these guys know things that only an incompetent wouldn’t, then we make it a criminal offence to be in charge of a major operation, whilst not knowing what’s going on. Make this minor change to the way such things are viewed and believe me, banks will be doing a whole lot less ripping off of businesses. Rules will be observed, complicated products will be explained, and insurance will only be sold when it’s appropriate to a business’ needs. Bankers (and other executives such as media moguls, politicians and the like) will, all of a sudden I’ll wager, ‘take’ a far more knowledge-based approach to management. Still confused? How can someone all of a sudden be guilty when they have managed to get away with playing dumb for centuries? Either we call it ‘being negligent in high office’ and make it a criminal offence punishable by prison, or we treat it like murder in the United States, with different degrees of culpability. That is to say a charge of ‘second degree culpability’ whereby there is no actual ‘smoking gun’, but on the balance of probability the top brass should have known. Ignorance of the law is no defence, so why the hell should ignorance of your own corporate crimes be one? We could even instigate a plan where certain bankers would be designated (and remunerated suitably) as official scapegoats, in advance of the discovery of illegal activity. These persons would, in case of scandal, go directly to jail, and therefore I suspect also keep a keener eye on what their underlings are up to. Funny really, since they already claim they are paid for the high risk of their jobs. In one respect it sounds crazy, but on the other, it’s just taking responsibility for their business decisions – like the rest of us. Charlie Mullins is the CEO and founder of Pimlico Plumbers.
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