The Ken and Eddie show goes on tour

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The Independent Online
It was a historic occasion when Kenneth Clarke and Eddie George held their monthly monetary meeting in a tax office in Nottingham yesterday. Not only was it the first time the meeting had been held outside central London, but it could also turn out to be the last episode of what has become known affectionately as the Ken and Eddie show.

For if Labour does win the election, Gordon Brown has said he will take the personality out of interest rate policy, replacing the one-on-one discussion with a clash of two committees, the Treasury team and a new Monetary Policy Committee at the Bank of England.

It is a proposal that has not found much favour in the City of London, where the current arrangements are seen as relatively transparent. Although the outcome of yesterday's meeting will not be known until after the Bank's money market operations this morning, and the minutes not published until the end of May, the views of the two protagonists are well known.

Mr George is thought to have advised an increase in interest rates, as he has every month since November. Most economists think Mr Clarke will once again have rejected the advice because of the closeness of the general election.

The pleasure of sending mortgage rates higher will probably fall to the next chancellor.

The monthly chancellor-governor meetings were introduced at the end of 1992 as part of the new regime established to shore up policy after the ERM debacle. They replaced earlier meetings between Bank and Treasury officials, presumably in a bid to show that, with the two leading actors replacing the understudies, interest rate policy was now being taken seriously. The minutes were published from the start of 1994.

Labour's planned Bank of England policy committee is presented as a means of overcoming the inevitable focus on the personalities of the chancellor and governor - especially when they are as colourful as Ken and Eddie - and any clashes between them.

However, City analysts fear it will reduce the Bank's freedom to recommend unwelcome courses of action, and would have preferred a commitment to an independent central bank.