Simon Carr: His magic isn't working – so he tried a little sleight of hand instead

Sketch: He told us what the committee's best guess was and then told us it almost certainly wasn't going to happen
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The Independent Online

What the Governor of the Bank of England needs is a long, black wand with stars streaming out of the end. A visible symbol of his mysterious office that he can point at people. Would he be overdoing it to have New Age music, a stage set and dry ice for these Inflation Reports? It's hard to go too far, there's actually a case for the Monetary Policy Committee wearing cowls and speaking only in medieval French quatrains.

The art of the central banker has been to project a sense of occult knowledge. They know the unknowable. They have the Inner Eye which sees through the veil of time. That fiction of omniscience had a terrible effect on our political leaders.

The current arrangements are more modest. Mervyn King is so modest he may be counted as a revolutionary. He told us what he thought was going to happen and then undermined it with: "There are large risks in both directions." What did that mean? "The chances of the results being above or below are broadly equal." Broadly equal? "The chance of the central projection being met is almost zero."

So, he told us what the committee's best guess was and then told us it almost certainly wasn't going to happen. The explanation for this was: "The risks are broadly balanced around the central path."

It may not be reported this way, but the Bank of England has confessed that while it has an immense amount of data, it has no knowledge whatsoever of what is going to happen. That is a very important contribution to the public discourse. The journalists were very clever and asked very clever questions – usually with a second question immediately following. Most of them, I suspect, had rehearsed an acceptance speech should the Governor ask them to join the committee.

The Newsnight economist made an impassioned plea for the Man in the Supermarket whose wage packet was being eroded by inflation. He didn't quite sob, "Will no one speak for the children?" but he was well on the way. The Governor deftly returned with: "Would you have had us raise rates to create an even deeper recession?" Others demanded he admit he couldn't control inflation, and that the 2 per cent target was a fiction, and that the target had been so consistently missed we were "way beyond the short term" now. The Governor chided this fellow gently with the words: "You're young."

He said missing the 2 per cent target had been "going on for longer than we'd hoped but for reasons we can see". That felt oddly reassuring, even without a cowl. Maybe the markets will find it so as well.