Does Mark Carney really deserve his reputation as a super-banker?

The new Bank of England governor shouldn't be given so much credit for Canada's economic success.

Super-banker Mark Carney negotiated an impressive 30 per cent increase in remuneration, in the form of pension contributions, providing him with a total of £624,000 a year for the Bank of England job. This was not agreed by the remuneration committee but was negotiated by the Treasury (George Osborne) and agreed by the bank’s non-executive directors.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1938 in Cleveland, Ohio, and be in the room when Joe Shuster created comic book hero Superman. I don’t have a time machine, but I was in London in November 2012 when super-banker Mark Carney was invented. So since we’re all having to put our hands in our pockets and pay this man his extravagant salary, maybe we should dispel a few myths before going any further. Gushing Osborne describes him as an "outstanding candidate" in the press release. He loves Carney for "avoiding big bail outs and securing growth." So is that what super-banker really did?

Canada has always had a conservative banking industry and its banks were not over-exposed on entering the credit crunch. The country avoided the crisis in every way except for being the neighbour of the USA, which did cause a short term shock. Carney arrived at the Bank of Canada in February 2008, when the world crisis was already in full swing. It would be impossible for him to have implemented policy that retrospectively saved Canada from turmoil. He was simply there when nothing happened and is happy for people to believe he is a genius as a result.

As for Osborne’s comment on "securing growth"? The fact is that countries like Canada and Australia are rich in resources at a time when the expansion of China has created massive demand for them. Carney didn’t arrange for the rise of China, although if someone had attributed it to him, you can bet he’d allow the myth to perpetuate.

For Canada, the last five years have been so benign that Carney could have turned up to work and played ping pong all day. Yet, here we are, pouring praise on him. We know how Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown would respond to a major financial crisis, because they were there, for good or ill. We don’t know how this guy would be in a crisis, because he’s never been in one. Yet he’s a genius, according to George Osborne.

Osborne has returned regulation to the Bank of England, in the bizarre belief that it can do a better job. This obviously ignores BCCI and Barings. Carney is supposedly qualified as a regulator as he has private banking experience at Goldman Sachs. However, it seems that he advised Russian on their 1998 financial crisis while Goldman was simultaneously betting against the country's ability to repay its debt. This bloke doesn’t know what’s happening right under his own nose, yet he’s in charge of London?

The US has much more experience of capitalism than us, and they always, rightly, have a lawyer in charge of regulation. In a recent TV interview Adair Turner, another economist, didn’t know whether Libor cheating would constitute fraud. He was in charge of City regulation at the time. Yet here we have another economist being put in charge of regulation, when the job should go to a lawyer.

For a central banker he does at least have a very smart suit. Maybe that’s why we’re paying him an extra £144,000 of our money each year. Let’s look on the bright side, George Clooney would have wanted even more.

Dan McCurry is a photographer in east London and a Labour activist. He is a former chair of the Bow Labour Party.

The new governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who previously served as the head of the Bank of Canada. Photograph: Getty Images.

Dan McCurry  is a photographer in east London and a Labour activist. He is a former chair of the Bow Labour Party.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder