Never apologise and rarely explain is a principle that has served rulers well in the course of time. Central bankers have always applied it liberally, for to admit a failing is to undermine authority. As Howard Davies arrived yesterday for his first day at the Bank of England as deputy governor, it emerged that Brian Quinn was likely to bow out quietly next February at the end of eight tough years as a director and a 15-year involvement with banking supervision.
You can bet that Mr Quinn will retire with full honours, as befits a senior member of the Bank's court. Supervision is the unglamourous part of the Bank's work and also its most thankless. It was Mr Quinn's unlucky lot to have been involved in supervision during all of the last big banking collapses - Johnson Matthey Bankers, BCCI and Barings. If past form is any guide, nobody at the Bank will make any public comment about Mr Quinn's retirement, which might remind us that he held office during a period when the Bank was criticised in the report on Barings by the Board of Banking Supervision.
When Johnson Matthey Bankers was ripped apart by fraudulent clients under the Bank's eyes, the debacle was serious enough to prompt a new Banking Act. But all that visibly happened at the Bank was that the executive director responsible for supervision was moved blamelessly sideways - to take charge of the Bank's input into new international supervision rules.
After the BCCI collapse and the report on it by Lord Justice Bingham, the only detectable change at the Bank was an early retirement of a manager in the supervision department, to denials all round that there was any connection between the two events.
There has been one resignation at the Bank as a result of the Barings report - Christopher Thompson, a middle-ranking manager in the supervision department. You could call that progress, since this is the first time the buck has publicly stopped anywhere. But while the Barings report did not criticise senior people at the Bank, it contained enough material on the weaknesses of supervision to justify the buck stopping rather higher.
When Mr Quinn goes, expect to hear that his decision is entirely personal, in the belief that after a long and difficult stint in the same job it is time for a fresh eye. The Bank's closely-knit culture being what it is, that claim will be true. Mr Quinn is such an old hand that he will be the first to know when his time is up, without any prompting from his colleagues.
The people demand consumer champions
Those who want to see North West Water's bid for Norweb referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission will not, it seems, be getting much help from the two industry regulators involved. Consultation documents are rarely what the name implies. Most of the time the ministers, civil servants and regulators involved in their construction have already made up their minds. It might be possible to make changes at the margin, but that is all.
So it appeared yesterday with a joint consultation paper - a first, this - from the water and electricity regulators Ian Byatt and Professor Stephen Littlechild on North West Water's bid.
In essence, what this document amounts to is an admission that even had they wanted to do something about this bid, they are powerless to do so. No wonder Sir Desmond Pitcher, chairman of North West, was so confident of regulatory clearance when he launched his bid; yesterday's document amounts to virtually that. …