BY ALEXIA JAMES
Christine Lagarde – the French lawyer and politician who has been the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since July 2011 – tends to snap up top jobs. She is an inspiration to women everywhere, especially those who complain about the glass ceiling for women in the workplace.
Previously, Lagarde was the first female chair of the international law firm Baker & McKenzie between 1999 and 2004. She held various ministerial posts in the French government. She was Minister of Economic Affairs, Finance and Employment, Minister of Agriculture and Fishing and Minister of Trade in the government of Dominique de Villepin. Lagarde was the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 economy and is the first woman to head the IMF. In 2014, Lagarde was named the fifth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine. In 2017, Lagarde was listed by UK-based company Richtopia at number 1 in the list of 100 Most Influential People in Multinational Organisations.
This week I read in the Sunday Telegraph that Mme Christine Lagarde is a candidate to succeed Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England. I really hope that this was a misprint or far-fetched gossip from a journalist short of a story. Surely, Lagarde is not in the frame?
First, Lagarde has a long history of showing contempt towards Britain. In recent years the IMF with her at the helm has predicted doom and gloom for Brexit Britain, before and after the vote, alongside damaging downgrades. At one point last year Lagarde was forced into making an apology, conceding that the IMF had been wrong about the short-term apocalyptic economic impact of voting to leave the European Union. Now that she has seen that Brexit is unstoppable and the will of the British people is not for turning, she has focused on her version of a positive trade deal over Brexit to be agreed to with the EU, which invariably involves staying in the customs union and single market. Mark Carney is the first non-Briton to be appointed to the Governor role, but made a commitment to the Prime Minister to take up British citizenship – not something you’d ever expect Lagarde to commit to.
Second, she’s a meddler. She’d use the Bank of England Governorship to meddle in British politics. In 2012 she sided with Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, supporting Labour policy on a fiscal stimulus for the UK economy, but then climbed down to soundbite her friend George Osborne, saying she supported austerity. Someone capable of that swift a volte face, and so close to European power brokers, cannot be trusted.
Third, in December 2016 she was found guilty of negligence by a French court for approving a massive pay-out of taxpayers’ money to controversial French businessman Bernard Tapie during her previous job as French finance minister, though no penalty was imposed. While Lagarde somehow clung to her role as IMF chief, events have served to remove much of the lustrous French polish that had hitherto coated her impressive career.
Fourth, she’s too close to Osborne.
Fifth, Lagarde has been an impressive totem for women everywhere but feminists are not really that sold on her. In January 2015, on the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Lagarde said “he was a strong believer in pushing forward women’s rights”, prompting several observers to comment on the life of women generally in Saudi Arabia. The week before Abdullah’s death, a Burmese woman had been publicly beheaded.
And finally, there are better, home-grown candidates. Arguably Mark Carney has been too high-profile and many would describe his Governorship as lacklustre because he became a Brexit target and because the last years have been marked by rumours swirling of his imminent resignation. Why not go for one of the Andrews? Dr Andrew Bailey is well respected, tough and has the gravitas for the role. Andrew Haldane is likewise supremely capable.
It would seem far more likely that Mark Carney takes Lagarde’s job at the IMF than Lagarde heading in the other direction to Threadneedle Street. In these divisive times, the Bank of England could do with someone who buckles down and gets on with the job rather than hiring a master or mistress of political intrigue and soundbite as Governor.