Don’t stop at the Bank of England most of our institutions could do with a foreign touch
From Her Majesty’s dominion of Canada, a fiscal Mountie rides to the rescue of the British economy. Preparatory to taking up the sinecure in July, the Bank of England’s next Guv’nor, Mark Carney, nipped over this week to chat with the Treasury Select Committee about inflation, interest rates and his generous salary package, and seemed a self-effacing, humorous, intelligent kinda guy. A typical Canadian, in other words, if such crude national stereotyping may be excused.
There was a time when the importation of a central banker, even from a land as chillaxed about sharing our head of state as Canada, would have inspired some anger. So it is an encouraging sign of a growing realism that it aroused no more than some muted harrumphing along “why can’t we produce a competent governor of our own any more?” lines.
The explanation for this tolerance can only be the knowledge, painful as it is, that (with the exceptions of pageantry, one-off £9 billion events such as the Olympics, and quality newspapers) we cannot produce a competent anything any more. In which case, who could object to handing positions of great power to people from countries that can?
The Britain Mr Carney will rediscover, on returning to live here for the first time since his Oxford days in the Eighties, is one in which almost every institution and cornerstone of public life is compromised, loathed or riven by crisis. In a 24-hour whirlwind tour through scandal and failure, a person could be reminded of the BBC Savile disaster over breakfast by a Sun report about a newly arrested celebrity, written by the colleague of someone latterly nicked on suspicion of bribing a bent copper; lunch on finest horse lasagne; slip on an ungritted icy pavement on the way to complain about the equine pasta at the surgery of an expenses-fiddling MP; and die from neglect in an NHS ward after having a massive inter-cranial bleed misdiagnosed as a bunion. Any film-maker tempted to remake a 20-year-old Kafkaesque movie classic working title: Groundnag Day is welcome, for a fee, to the idea.
The police, the political class, the media, the NHS, the food chain, the banks… Much as most of us love the place to bits, isn’t it a stroke of luck that one of our more successful national sports is luxuriating in the foaming bubble bath of despair?
Poor Mr Carney. Coming here from a country where things by and large work will be such a shock to the system that he will be forgiven if, after six hours at Threadneedle Street, he resigns to take the post of a junior teller at a bank in Medicine Hat instead. But assuming he has the gumption to stick it out (and £800,000 per annum buys a bit of stoicism), I hope his example opens the floodgates to a torrent of foreign appointments.
There are precedents for what we might call insourcing from our former possessions, of course, and these are mixed. But Canadians have a splendid record. Lennox Lewis and Greg Rusedski made us proud in boxing and tennis, while Lord Beaverbrook’s wartime work overseeing aircraft manufacture went well. We’ve always liked Canadians, possibly because they seem to like us, and patronised them accordingly.
Americans are another matter. Although Bob Kiley did fine as the first commissioner of London’s transport system (despite, or more likely because of, being a raging alcoholic), there was more resistance to the Government’s ambition to bring in a US police chief to sort out the Met than to Mr Carney running the economy while George Osborne plays party politics with all his fabled acumen.
Since countless sporting exiles from other former colonies have represented England (though nowadays, the Test XI sometimes features as few as seven South Africans), and they are usually Anglophone and from the Commonwealth, the major obstacle to the drift towards insourcing becoming the longed-for avalanche will concern non-Anglophones, as the England careers of Sven-Göran Eriksson and “Don” Fabio Capello perhaps suggest.
It is one thing raiding the English-speaking world for solutions to endemic British uselessness, and another turning to continental Europe. While at this moment in the relationship with the EU one appreciates the reluctance, which of us can glance across the Channel without suffering pangs of envy at French health care (as if horse meat ever did them any harm), the Dutch and Scandinavian knack of teaching children to speak perfect English, or the German gift for long-term economic planning?
The ultimate dream, with apologies to those who understandably feel that they didn’t fight Hitler for this, is to insource somebody calm, competent and unimpeachably Teutonic as prime minister. Forget the trifling matter of nationality, and ask yourself this. To whom would you rather entrust the future? Cameron-Osborne or Miliband-Balls? Or Angela Merkel?
Many will suspect that it has been too long since a tough, no-nonsense, self-styled housewife, with a clear notion of where she wanted to go and how to get there, held the reins of power. But anyone still unconvinced by this drastic proposal is respectfully reminded of the most compelling precedent of all. One national institution, and one alone, has avoided the reputational ravages lately suffered by the others, to become more respected and secure now than in memory… and we handed the monarchy over to imported Germans in 1714.