Mervyn King Q&A: “I’d love to conduct an orchestra: everyone would call me maestro”

The former governor of the Bank of England on remembering rationing, the bionic eye and "Soul Limbo".

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Mervyn King was born in Buckinghamshire in 1948. As governor of the Bank of England, he oversaw the bank during the financial crisis of 2007-08. He has sat in the House of Lords since 2013.

What’s your earliest memory?

Walking with my father to the end of our village to watch the Queen’s coronation on a small, flickering, black-and-white television set, the only one in the village, and then walking with my mother to the local shop to spend our ration coupons.

Who are your heroes?

Harry Burrows, left winger for Aston Villa, and Norman Gifford, slow left-arm bowler for Worcestershire and England. Today I would select Lyndon da Cruz, a brilliant retinal surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital who has been at the forefront of the development of the bionic eye and of the application of stem cell research to the restoration of sight. 

What book last changed your thinking?

Reading always generates ideas but writing leads to changes in one’s thinking.

Which political figure do you look up to?

A difficult question that would take several months to answer.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The theory and practice of monetary policy, especially in the context of uncertainty.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Eighteenth-century London would be exhilarating, but I prefer to be where I am.

What TV show could you not live without?

None. The choice available today is so extensive that I would not single out one show. But I admit that I would not want to live without television and broadband. 

Who would paint your portrait?

My portrait for the Bank of England was painted by Diana Blakeney, a talented British painter who trained in Florence.

What’s your theme tune?

“Soul Limbo”, adopted by BBC Cricket, and I use it, too, as my ringtone. It encourages me to answer the phone – after a suitable lag to listen to the tune.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

There are two kinds of jobs: the ones that appear prestigious to accept; and the ones that you look forward to doing every day when you wake up. Do not confuse the two; so many have accepted the former only to discover that they are not the latter. 

What’s currently bugging you?

That so many economists seem to believe that even lower interest rates would solve the problem of slow growth.

What single thing would make your life better?

Almost certainly something of which I could not at present conceive. That is the reason we should embrace uncertainty.

When were you happiest?

Looking out of the window this morning.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

The conductor of a great orchestra. I could select and interpret the score, the players would make me look good, everyone would call me maestro, and I would never be expected to retire. 

Are we all doomed?

No – provided we jump off bandwagons and start to think carefully and imaginatively for ourselves. 

“Radical Uncertainty” by John Kay and Mervyn King is published by the Bridge Street Press

This article appears in the 19 June 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The History Wars

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