Profile: Opinion shaker steps into shadows

Click to follow
MOST people who do not know Rupert Pennant-Rea will wonder why he should exchange the editorship of the Economist for the deputy governorship of the Bank of England.

The first is a world-class job, for the Economist almost certainly carries more clout with government and business leaders around the globe than any other publication, certainly any British journal. In common with Mr Gorbachev and Lady Thatcher, it probably has more impact abroad than at home. The number two slot at the Bank, by contrast, is largely a domestic chore. Not only does the Bank have less influence over British economic and social policy than the Economist, it has no influence at all over policy outside the UK. Eddie George anyway will wield whatever power there is.

If the fact that Mr Pennant-Rea should accept the position looks odd, so too does the fact that he should have been offered it - and not because of the embarrassing apology to the Bank in this week's edition. The choice is odd because one of the few areas where the Economist has been uneven has been in its advice to the Government. It failed to warn vigorously about the dangers of the Lawson boom, and then neglected to warn of the likely depth of the recession.

Mr Pennant-Rea said he was 'gobsmacked' when told the news on Friday. He should not have been so surprised, for not only does he have a much wider background than most journalists - including a spell with the Confederation of Irish Industry, the General and Municipal Workers Union, and in the Bank itself before he joined the Economist - he has long believed in the dangers of inflation. He has also been convinced of the ineffectiveness of incomes policy to control it. His instincts are those of a central banker.

So too is his style. He has been an orderly and successful editor of the Economist, which has continued to increase its sales since he took over in 1986, but colleagues sometimes feel he might be more comfortable in the formal surroundings of the worlds of business or the civil service than in the cut and thrust of journalism.

Why take the job? Part of the answer may simply be that he has been in his present post for seven years, and it is time for a change. Part may be a desire to go back to the corporatist world. But most must surely lie in the lure of the British establishment to outsiders. He was brought up in Rhodesia and went to Trinity College, Dublin. Besides, he is still young - 45 years old yesterday. There should be further steps ahead.

(Photograph omitted)