At the start of the week, there seemed to be a general consensus among politicians that Stephen Hester was right to turn down his £1m RBS bonus but the treatment of Sir Fred Goodwin has sparked unease even among the political class, unsettled that due process has been cast aside to make a populist point.
If that is how the politicians are feeling, imagine how his de-robing has gone down within business circles. The hounding of Hester and demonisation of the former RBS chief has unnerved other chief executives of big FTSE companies, frustrated about the anti-business vernacular emerging from government as well as the opposition benches.
One FTSE chief executive said government’s handling of Goodwin had been akin to a “political drive-by shooting” and played to the gallery. Another said that this sort of “personalised, totemic targeting” was vindictive and would serve only to make business leaders withdraw from public life.
Surely, that is the last thing government wants. It was only last year that Francis Maude, the cabinet minister, made a great play of putting business leaders on departmental boards in an effort to inject some business acumen into Whitehall.
Big names from Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline to Sam Laidlaw, head of Centrica, have signed up. But if the open season on bankers spills into a broader attack on business, the government could see such goodwill evaporate. Hester may not have walked but it doesn’t mean that other commercial figures fulfilling public duties will not if they feel under seige.