George, Eddie

George, Eddie
▪ 1996

      Governors of the Bank of England had always been powerful people, but traditionally they exercised their power in private. When Eddie George, a hard-line advocate of low inflation at all costs, was appointed governor in 1993, he quickly proved his determination to retain that power. The difference was that he was prepared to be more forthright in public than his predecessors, both about economic policy in general and about his differences with the U.K.'s chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1995 a decision to start publishing minutes of George's monthly meetings with Chancellor Kenneth Clarke revealed the scale of a dispute about interest rates that was at the heart of the government machine.

      Edward Alan John George was born on Sept. 11, 1938, at Carshalton, outside London. After studying economics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he served briefly in the Royal Air Force. He joined the Bank of England in 1962 and worked mainly in its international section. He was seconded to the Bank of International Settlements in the mid-1960s and the International Monetary Fund in the early 1970s. George was promoted to executive director in 1982 and to deputy governor in 1990.

      During the 1980s George came into regular contact, and conflict, with government ministers. In 1984, when he was responsible for the money markets division, he warned then chancellor Nigel Lawson to keep out of market operations. In 1991, as deputy governor, George faced criticism for his role in the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. An official inquiry uncovered a series of failures in the Bank of England's systems of supervision and communication. George retrieved his reputation by his adept handling of the U.K.'s embarrassing withdrawal from the European Communities' exchange rate mechanism in September 1992. Withdrawal—which amounted to a forced devaluation of sterling—was a political disaster for the Conservative government, but George managed the technical side of the crisis with consummate skill.

      His reward was promotion to governor in July 1993. In that position he lost no opportunity to expound his view that the U.K.'s economy could sustain more rapid growth only if it kept inflation down by keeping interest rates high. By the end of 1995, as signs of an economic slowdown became clear, George acknowledged that Clarke had been right to overrule him and hold rates down. This setback did not deter George from his longer-term aim, of securing full independence for the Bank of England, along the lines of Germany's Bundesbank. (PETER KELLNER)

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Universalium. 2010.

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