Rewriting history: sometimes the truth catches up.

It is an old and famous saying, often attributed to Mark Twain, that a lie can get half way round the world before the truth has finished putting it's boots on.

Sometimes the truth catches up - or does it?

Hat tip to Mike Smithson at Political Betting who, during an article posted earlier this morning about whether the 2004 knighthood for Sir "Fred the Shred" Goodwin might hurt Labour in the 2015 election, suggested that someone was trying to rewrite history by editing the Wikipedia entry on Sir Fred Goodwin.

His knighthood was originally given, according to the BBC at the time as you can read here, for "Services to Banking."

And the original Wikipedia entry said the same. But on 11th October an anonymous editor changed the Wikipedia entry to give the reason for the knighthood as "services to the community."

By the time I followed the link to the Wikipedia entry for Fred Goodwin here, the description of his knighthood in the main text of the entry had already been corrected to match the BBC report. But interestingly, the quoted source had not. The footnote for the knighthood, number 32, refers to the London Gazette here, which does indeed describe the knightood as being for "Services to the Community" as stated by the anonymous editor.

And then you look a bit closer at the Gazette entry and see that the recommendation is described as follows (my itallics):

St. James’s Palace, London SW1
12 June 2004

The Queen has been graciously pleased, on the occasion
of the Celebration of Her Majesty’s Birthday, and on the
recommendation of the Ministers of the Cook Islands
, to
give orders for the following appointments to the Most
Excellent Order of the British Empire:"

With Frederick Goodwin's name following. Confused? Wondering what a banker had to do with the Cook Islands? Read on.

And then we find that in March 2009, as Paul Waugh records here, Harriet Harman tried to claim that the knighthood was

"for his services to charity and work for the Princes Trust."

But Waugh says that the London Gazette at the time records: "Frederick Anderson Goodwin, Chief Executive, Royal Bank of Scotland. For Services to Banking."

And indeed, Harriet Harman soon retracted her statement, as follows:

"The Leader of the House is happy to correct what she said at Prime Minister’s Questions today regarding Sir Fred Goodwin’s knighthood.

"It was, in fact, the case that he received his honour for services to banking but no doubt his contribution to the Prince’s Trust would also have been taken into account.".

But at length we learn the cause of the confusion in Wikipedia, with thanks to Richard Gadsden, again at Political Betting.

"There were two Frederick Goodwins given knighthoods in the 2004 Birthday Honours. Really:

Frederick Anderson Goodwin, Group Chief Executive, Royal Bank of Scotland. For services to Banking.


Frederick Goodwin, J.P. For services to the community."

Yes, sometimes the truth eventually catches up. There is an old saying,

"Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence."

It seems reasonable to assume that the people who tried to amend the records to show that Sir Fred Goodwin the banker got his knighthood for community service did so, not because their attempt to rewrite history was a deliberate lie, but because they had mixed him up with Sir Fred Goodwin J.P, who really did.


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