Mark Carney's leap to the top of Britain's banking elite jolted awake Londoners who consider themselves global finance royalty. But for all of their class wars, Brits from every walk of life found themselves united in one head-scratching question: "A Canadian?"
"The new Bank of England governor comes from the colonies!" Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow announced, firing off an e-mail to his 35,000 online "followers" before softening the blow. "Not just any old colony, but one which has pioneered the best banking regulation anywhere in the world."
Graphics and carefully prepared video packages heralding Bank of England deputy governor Paul Tucker as the Bank's new head were swiftly replaced in newsrooms across England on Monday afternoon as reporters scrambled to figure out who this Mark Carney fellow was: "Is he one of those French-speaking guys?"
Britain's disbelief was wiped away within minutes, however, as British Chancellor George Osborne broke the news to Parliament, Mr. Carney held a simultaneous news conference in Canada and the U.K. Treasury fired off e-mails trumpeting the news. As the reality set in, there were a few grudging positives. "Well, he's in the Empire, sort of," said one reporter, followed by: "And, at least he's not one of those dastardly Americans."
"I think the little Englanders here will feel that, 'Couldn't we have come up with our own Brit?' and seem to need to be reassured that a) firstly, he's married to a Brit and b) he's applying for British citizen," Mr. Snow said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
The initial shock was followed by universal praise from virtually all quarters – even those who pride themselves on disagreeing with everything Chancellor George Osborne says or does were impressed by Mr. Carney.
"I personally think this is a very good appointment George Osborne has done and I normally disagree with most of the things he has done," said David Blanchflower, professor of economics, Dartmouth College.
Alistair Darling, ex-chancellor of the exchequer, was directly behind him with smooth praise for Mr. Carney. The two have worked together and Mr. Darling seemed momentarily stumped to find Mr. Osborne had a chosen a governor for the Bank of England whom virtually nobody could disagree with.
"He's getting nearly universal acclaim but I think that's because he's a pretty good candidate," Mr. Darling said. "This is one of the most important jobs in all of the United Kingdom and we simply had to get the best."
Chris Roebuck, visiting Professor of Transformational Leadership at Cass Business School in London, said the idea that only a blue-blooded Englishman could run the Bank of England was shattered today.
"I think it is a good appointment because it does emphasize that we are dealing with what is an interconnected global financial system and we have to make sure it operates and the regulation and risk and leadership of that system has to operate in that way in the perspective of the central bank," Prof. Roebuck told The Globe and Mail. "Otherwise they will never be at that point where we can ensure we will never have another financial crisis."
Even more unusually, the British seemed also to agree on what Mr. Carney needs to do next.
"Mr. Carney's prepared to think outside the box. He understands what the box is and where the weaknesses are – and small firms are not getting money and banks are not getting lending – so we really have to fix that," Prof. Blanchflower said. "The British economy is in trouble. It is in the doldrums and it is not growing. That is his first task to focus on."
Prof. Roebuck concurred about the number one priority: "Work effectively with George Osborne to try to get the economy moving."
Even Mr. Snow, 65, a veteran newscaster who recently made history with the first long-format live sit-down interview with Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, seemed to warm to the idea of a Canadian in charge of Britain's interest rates and finances.
"Just over a decade ago, there was enormous shock when the England manager, Sven Goran Ericson, who had come from Sweden via Italy, became the England football manager – a job that most England football supporters would have said would go to an Englishman forever and a day," Mr. Snow said before adding dryly: "So, this speaks genuinely to the fact that London has become an even more globalized centre – rather than that we've all lost the will to live."
Special to The Globe and Mail