Maybe it's because they're not Londoners ...

By Christopher Walker
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The Independent Online

There are 32 moving parts in a lipstick. That's what the marketing guy said. His eyes widened with excitement as he explained the movements. I could see why his enthusiasm had rocketed him from a back street on the Rive Gauche to a high place in Fifth Avenue's fashion jungle. It was in London, though, that he first made his name, so as we stood in his 50th-floor roof garden, the cross-comparisons became endless. He handed me a drink telling me it was a "Cosmopolitan".

There are 32 moving parts in a lipstick. That's what the marketing guy said. His eyes widened with excitement as he explained the movements. I could see why his enthusiasm had rocketed him from a back street on the Rive Gauche to a high place in Fifth Avenue's fashion jungle. It was in London, though, that he first made his name, so as we stood in his 50th-floor roof garden, the cross-comparisons became endless. He handed me a drink telling me it was a "Cosmopolitan".

He is a by-product of globalisation - part of a growing cadre of international executives whose whirlwind lives encompass stints in different countries and an endless getting on and off planes. Some even divide their working (and per-sonal) lives between two cities - like the banking world's fabled NYLons. Address books started to cater for them by having "New York" and "London" sections, before "palm pilots" made this all unnecessary.

These people are different to their ancestors - the old international managers in manufacturing. They are overwhelmingly concentrated in fewer and fewer locations. The information revolution, combined with the extraordinary resurgence of the finance and services industry, has given a handful of cities truly global status.

At this time of year we get lots of statistics comparing different cities. The Economic Intelligence Unit last week published its annual league table ranking the cost of living in 133 cities around the world. Thus I learn that Tokyo remains 60 per cent more expensive than New York and is an astonishing four times more costly for an executive to live in than Delhi. You also see the growing competitiveness of many European cities thanks to the cheap euro. Paris slipped from eighth slot to 25th.

But the fact is that these sorts of comparisons were important for the old-style international executives who were inextricably linked to manufacturing industries and so widespread. In the world we live in now, dominated by the two great twins finance and information, it is increasingly the case that only two cities count - London and New York.

You can measure the dimensions of the "new" New York by the telecoms yardstick. Bell Atlantic makes an astonishing $7bn (£4.8bn) from the New York City area and ATT $500m from the New York- London route alone. The value of the New York stock exchanges is now many trillions of dollars (say around 20). A huge proportion of its population is involved in the finance sector. Equally, the city has an astonishing six million internet users.

If anything, the effect on London has been even more dramatic. The UK has recently been cited as the place to start an internet business, but it is the old finance sector that is transforming the city, not just by growing so large but by taking on an increasingly international hue. London is the world's largest centre for foreign exchange, metals trading, insurance and inter-bank lending. London now has more American banks than New York, and more Japanese banks than Tokyo.

This increasing hub role feeds on itself. Service industries spin off each other, lawyers rub their hands. London has become the centre for arbitration of international disputes. When a Bolivian company fell into dispute with a Californian one last year, it was here that they came to settle their differences. Around 5,000 major international arbitrations and med- iations are handled each year. That is 10 times as many as New York (and probably 100 times as many as Frankfurt or Milan).

We must be careful about the side-effects this creates. The boom in the financial and communications industries has meant that London has been growing at more than twice the rate of the UK as a whole. It has thus dramatically increased the wealth of its citizens compared to that of other UK cities. Another league table published last week showed that some 1.3 per cent of people earn more than £100,000. But the figure is around 10 per cent in London's wealthy core (the stretch from Piccadilly Circus to the King's Road, favoured by the new "Global Set"). This is causing problems for the rest of the population, pushing average house prices in London up to an astonishing £200,000.

The advantage of London increasingly being the Global City is that it is pulling away from the Continent to enjoy real pre-eminence. It is becoming increasingly diverse in terms of population, and it is the expectations of this population that are changing the way we live.

For the lucky few who can afford this lifestyle, London has become the most exciting place. If we can all open our minds to this advantage, we can seek to exploit it for the benefit of the whole of the UK. I don't get offered "Cosmopolitans" in Frankfurt.

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