The Blog

'I am a villain. Yet I lie. I am not.'

Bob Diamond has been publically mauled again this week. I'm not for one moment suggesting that anyone should feel sorry for him - the £100m in salary and bonus he took from Barclays since 2006 is probably enough comfort for him without me rounding up sympathisers. But the latest instalment to his tale this week is a great example of how the vanquished never write their own history - in a week when a collection of twisted bones has got a shot at doing just that.

Antony Jenkins has gone for the jugular of Bob - telling a committee of MPs and Lords that he will "shred" the tarnished reputation of Diamond and his legacy. He goes on to describe the bank as aggressive and self-serving (I thought all banks were?) and pledges to build a socially useful bank. Good luck to him, but he'd better hurry up - he's only got the slain body of the 'wicked king' to point at and say "remember how bad it was" for a short while, until someone hauls it off and sticks it under a car park (metaphorically... I'd assume).

So one deposed ruler falls and another one returns, literally from the grave, and sets the world abuzz with talk of "oh, he wasn't so bad". Turns out it wasn't a hump; it was a curve, which would could have been concealed by clothing. Shakespeare, we are all reminded, played fast and loose with history and portraying Richard as a villain built his favour with the ruling monarchy. As to the murder in the tower - the jury's out on that one.

This reminds us that we all really do love a villain - Richard III still one of the most popular, entertaining characters on stage. Paintings of him after his death became almost comically evil in their depiction, with some artists even re-touching earlier portraits to get in on the act. Alan Rickman demonstrated this love perfectly (with the aid of a spoon) when he stole the show from Costner in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

The quite plain features revealed by the facial reconstruction of the recovered bones wouldn't really have lived up to Shakespeare's version - a bit too ordinary. There's plenty of evidence that he was accomplished on the battlefield and a fervent lawmaker in favour of commoners - but we didn't, until recently, want to hear that.

But what we really love is a villain that turns out to be OK in the end. Popular fiction is full of them: Darth Vader, the Terminator, Severus Snape... Emperor Zurg in Toy Story. And now, perhaps, Richard - even if only briefly as the excitement around his discovery gives him a rosy glow.It's always a jaw-dropping moment when bad turns good; the plot twist that sheds new light on the whole story.

Where does this leave Bob Diamond? It's probably too early for his own redemption, particularly as Barclays is gearing up for further fines. It's likely he'll be the black king for some time, taking the rap for many more of the bank's problems. Did he do any good in his tenure? I don't honestly know - as with Richard, there's little appetite to talk about the positives when we are having such fun with the negatives. However, I wouldn't advise him to sit for any portraits any time soon.

Bob's got a long wait, my list above of villains-turned-good is about fiction, and Richard III's story has long sunk into that genre. For Diamond the facts are still around, and the figures that are still stacking up won't help at all. The reality for many leaders in business is that being the 'bad guy' can be a necessary part of the progression of power. The rise of the incumbent is enabled by stepping on the failures of the departed.

We all know that, when moving on from a job, you're, rightly or wrongly, the temporary scapegoat for those left behind. Richard III and Bob are great examples of this - but for most of us it doesn't take more than 500 years to stop (well, that's probably what Bob's hoping).