James Ashton: Luck and timing drive the fortunes of BBC and the Bank’s new generation


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The Independent Online

For the life of me last summer I was trying to write something intelligent to link the twin successions that were occupying two of London’s most important institutions.

The warm glow that surrounded the BBC after its Olympics coverage made for an obvious time for director-general Mark Thompson to step back, while over at the Bank of England the search for Sir Mervyn King’s successor was in full swing.

I concluded that the Bank needed an insider at the top as accrued wisdom must be crucial to pilot it through great changes in regulatory role and monetary policy remit. For the BBC, it was time for an outsider to shake up the organisation.

Wrong on both counts. BBC lifer George Entwistle landed the broadcasting job and the Chancellor saw fit to go as far afield as Canada to source Mark Carney to lead a Threadneedle Street revolution.

I suppose the lesson from both appointments is that luck plays as big a part as judgement in any leadership role. Entwistle was out on his ear after 54 days because the Jimmy Savile scandal broke. The opposite has been true for Carney, who this week pledged to keep interest rates low until the jobless queues shrunk.

Not only is the Canadian benefiting from a renewed feelgood factor as the sun shines, Britain enjoys some sporting success in the Ashes and Wimbledon and economic indicators including car sales, manufacturing and GDP start pointing upwards.

But by taking the reins for a five-year term when the job was advertised for eight, he might see us neatly through the second half of the “lost decade” before heading back to Ottawa and probably into politics. Timing is everything.

If he really is leading a revolution, one test of Carney’s mettle is the refreshed organisation he will leave behind. He has opined on bank lending, female economists, where Japan went wrong and cricket this week in his tour of the broadcast studios.

I still think there is a greater chance of a woman leading the Bank than there ever is a female at the helm of the Tardis, but perhaps Lord Hall, Entwistle’s replacement, has different ideas once another new appointment, Peter Capaldi, has served his time.