Earlier this year I drew a comparison between the Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey and the Metropolitan police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick. When appointed, both were hailed as head-and-shoulders the best qualified internal candidate for the job. Yet both have subsequently attracted volleys of flak for everything that has gone wrong on their watch.
That’s a peril of the media age for any high-profile public servant. But Dame Cressida, hugely respected by fellow officers, seems to rise above it. Bailey, by contrast, is beginning to look beleaguered, a recent fiasco over interest rates having followed the rattling of several skeletons in his record as a former regulator. Many in the City now wonder whether he was ever the right man for the top job.
Let’s look first at the office, then the man. The governorship dates from 1694 — Bailey is its 121st incumbent — and is one of the three most important central banking posts in the free world, alongside the chair of the US Federal Reserve and the presidency of the European Central Bank. London is still a global finance hub: post monetary union and Brexit, the governor has a permanent top-table seat while his opposite numbers from the once-mighty Bundesbank and Banque de France sulk at the back of the hall.
So the job demands stature as well as competence. Mark Carney, Bailey’s Canadian predecessor, was a fish out of water in Threadneedle Street but an A-lister on the international monetary circuit. Before him, Mervyn King was recognised as a world-class economist and Eddie George as a technocratic master of markets. Further back in living memory, Robin Leigh-Pemberton, Gordon Richardson and the 3rd Earl of Cromer exuded the kind of patrician self-confidence that enabled them to rule the City the old-fashioned way, by a mere raising of the governor’s eyebrow.