When Mervyn King was the Governor of the Bank of England, there was no shortage of accusations of political bias. His public support for the new Chancellor’s austerity programme, in particular, caused no little furore. Lord King’s successor – whose poaching from the Bank of Canada was quite a coup for George Osborne – has come in for similar scrutiny.
Only this week, Mark Carney, who took over the top job in Threadneedle Street in July, was forced to fend off charges that he was “too close to George Osborne” from a Labour member of the House of Commons Treasury Committee – an allegation that the new Governor said “more than mildly offended” him.
Actions speak louder than words, however. And actions there are. First, at that same select committee hearing, Mr Carney issued a thinly veiled caution about the Government’s much-vaunted Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme, pointing out that there has been no marked improvement in the supply of new homes. Given the chorus of warnings – including from this newspaper – that the Chancellor’s flagship scheme is simply pumping up Britain’s already inflated housing market, the Governor’s comments cannot go unremarked.
Yesterday, the Bank went further still, scaling back the Funding for Lending programme. From January, it will apply only to business loans, not to mortgages. Why? Because, although there is no immediate danger of a bubble, it is, in the Governor’s words, “no longer appropriate to have our foot on the accelerator; better to shift it to neutral”.
Mr Osborne was purportedly party to the decision. But for all the Chancellor’s supportive comments about shifting the Bank’s focus to still-flagging business lending, there is no disguising the fact that Mr Carney’s aims most certainly do not accord with his own. After all, the whole point of the reckless Help to Buy scheme was to ratchet up house prices, bathing property-owning middle England in a warm glow of rising (if theoretical) wealth in time for the 2015 election. The Governor of the Bank of England appears to have other plans – and what a relief that is.