Golden-boy banker, eco-warrior wife, how the Brits see Mark Carney

The Brits were clearly caught off guard by the appointment of Canada's Mark Carney as the next governor of the Bank of England. Perhaps that is why they keep likening him to some of their better-known soccer coaches, Don Murray writes.

Forget Lord Black. Think big, think Beaverbrook.

In banking terms, the appointment of Canada's Mark Carney to head the Bank of England is the new revenge of the colonials. A new Beaverbrook on Threadneedle St.

Beaverbrook started out as Max Aitken from Canada. He rose to become a British baron and a newspaper baron: Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express, the biggest, richest paper at the time in the English-speaking world.

He was also an influential minister in Winston Churchill's wartime cabinet. He was huge.

So was the surprise in Britain that greeted the appointment of Carney as the next governor of the Bank of England, otherwise known as the Old Lady of Threadneedle St., the bank's headquarters since 1694.

Sadly, for Canadiana, no British commentator reached for a Beaverbrook comparison. The Brits preferred soccer.

Is Mark Carney the next Lord Beaverbrook, Canada's Max Aiken, shown here exiting a RAF plane at Gander, Nfld., in 194? (National Archives of Canada)

The BBC business editor said Carney was the central banking equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United or Pep Guardiola of Barcelona.

This is stratospheric praise. These two coaches are considered the greatest of the modern European era.

Another commentator made a much more barbed comparison with the English national soccer team of a dozen years ago.

Then, like the chancellor of the exchequer (Britain's finance minister) this week, the bosses of Britain's Football Association reached out and picked the first foreigner to run the country's team: Sven Goran Eriksson, a Swede.

The barb here is in the tail. Sven's team did no better than English teams under English managers. And the Swede became notorious for his torrid and tortuous love affairs as well as his huge salary, becoming a staple of Britain's tabloid newspapers.

Mark Carney has much to live up to.

Outlook grim

The surprise appointment, however, was almost total, much to the delight of the chancellor, George Osborne.

He had pulled a banker out of a hat, his own personal choice, and his smile was large.

Osborne hasn't much else to smile about these days. He has to give an "autumn statement" to Parliament in a week, a sort of mini-budget, and the economic outlook is grim.

The debt is growing, the economy has shrunk by three per cent since he became finance minister in the spring of 2010, and economists are now talking of a "triple-dip," a third British recession in three years. Grim, grim.

But at least Osborne now has " prize catch" in "the golden boy of central banking," two of the terms used to describe Carney by British commentators.

And there was much bowing and scraping in the press about the performance of the Canadian economy, and the banking sector in particular under Carney's watch, since the crash of 2008.

Carney carries his briefing papers differently. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

"Osborne has succeeded in hiring one of the best-qualified of all the Queen's 137 million subjects — from a country that knows a thing or two about economic crises and how to handle them." This is the verdict of the editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson.

Canada hailed

"Carney hails from a land of (comparative) fiscal sanity," Nelson went on.

"The crash was global but there were no bust banks in Canada. Its troubles stand no comparison to those of the United States — and the secret was better regulation and a stronger commitment to sound money.

"There was no purblind regulation, no central bankers looking amazed at what the merchant bankers had been getting up to right under their noses."

That sort of praise also explains why no British candidate was selected.

British banks are still beset by scandal and bad management and the leading British candidate for the Bank of England job — the deputy governor, Paul Tucker — was apparently purblind to one of the biggest of those scandals, even though it was discussed in a meeting right under his nose.

This is the so-called Libor scandal, Libor being the inter-bank interest rate that leading British banks are said to have manipulated to increase their profits. Exit Tucker, the favourite of the British bookies.

'Be very afraid'

Today, the Bank of England itself is under the gun. It has pumped more than $500 billion into the economy and nothing has happened.

The commercial banks have simply taken the cheap money to enlarge their reserves and fatten their profits while consumers and businesses cry out in vain for loans.

That has led to this warning note from Brendan Barber, the head of the TUC, Britain's trade union council.

Carney, Barber said, has an almost impossible job: "the chancellor seems to have outsourced the job of getting the economy moving to the Bank of England but the bank is now running out of monetary ammunition."

Others are even more critical. From the left-of-centre Guardian newspaper commentator Ann Pettifor offered this prophecy of doom. "So be very afraid. Business-as-usual will prevail. And nothing will be done to constrain the City, and therefore to prevent the next collapse of the financial system."

Some British papers think he might be the next coming of Sven Goran Eriksson, the former, foreign-born manager of Britain's national soccer team.

That's because Carney is — shock, horror — an alumnus of Goldman, Sachs, about to establish a sort of European financial axis of evil with other alumni such as Mario Draghi, now head of the European Central Bank, and Mario Monti, prime minister of Italy.

According to Pettifor, Carney, a Goldman, Sachs champion of free markets, will only tinker while British banks and the British economy burn.

And his wife!

The Daily Telegraph, once owned by Lord Black before his problems with American justice, chose to concentrate on Diana Carney, the British wife of the newly chosen governor.

"An eco-warrior who says banks are rotten," was its headline the day after the announcement.

"She is a strident environmental activist who says people should spend less money on possessions," the paper explained to its readers.

So take your pick — Pep Guardiola, Sven Goran Eriksson — or Beaverbrook, with an eco-warrior wife. Life for the Carneys could be a little different this side of the pond.