This is what Harriet Harman had to say in today's Telegraph about former RBS boss Fred Goodwin's pension:
"The Prime Minister has said it is not acceptable and therefore it will not be accepted. 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."
The public, with its outraged opinion, has just walked into some very dangerous ground. Reports suggest that the government might be thinking of retrospective legislation to grab back Goodwin's pension. If this is the case, we should all be very afraid.
Goodwin's payoff is absolutely reprehensible; but it is either legal or it is not. The only place where this can be assessed is in a court of law before an independent judge, and not "the court of public opinion". The government can not retrospectively decide that a contract is not to its liking and arbitrarily pass legislation negating previously legally binding contracts.
Harman's comments reflect the deep contempt New Labour have for civil liberties. Goodwin may be a deeply despicable character, but he has rights. He is only a failed banker. Insofar as we know, he is not a thief, nor a fraudster, and he is not accused of breaking any laws.
Goodwin deserves the full protection of the law. He must be protected against the dictatorial tendencies of people like Harman, Straw and Brown. If the law can protect Goodwin, then the rest of us can sleep a little easier.