Howard Davies in Davos: Whatever you do here, don't mention the war

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The Independent Online

Until Klaus Schwab began to bring the world's corporate elite to Davos, with their attendant press legions (big fleas and little fleas come to mind), the town's most famous visitor was Thomas Mann. A brief stay in a sanatorium above the valley inspired him to write The Magic Mountain. The anti-hero, Hans Castorp, spends 900 pages debating the future of the world with his fellow patients, then descends to Flanders fields to fight in the First World War.

Ninety three years on, Iraq is the elephant on the slopes that dare not speak its name (if you catch my metaphorical drift). Blair's preambular message to the summit - his gig is on Saturday - refers to a "critical moment" for the world on trade, climate change and Africa. The war, it seems, is just not worth a reference, whether in Davos or in Parliament. Climate change is an altogether safer topic.

Blair's Saturday appearance will be his snowy swansong, a remembrance of things past. The Belle of today's ball is Angela Merkel, who just happens to be chairing everything in sight - the G8 and the EU come together for once. So her agenda will be ours for a while. The German economy is picking up nicely, too - just in time.

She is big on the global imbalances. Her message is that they have to be reduced. And she piled straight into the delicate issues of the US budget deficit and the value of the Chinese renminbi by linking trade imbalances with distortions in public finances. Quite how she plans to make progress on those problems while Bush has his mind elsewhere is less clear.

If Merkel is in pole position for the best actress award, who are 2007's other nominations? The Queen of Jordan (played by herself, not Helen Mirren) will be there or thereabouts. King Abdullah will be on stage, too, interviewed by Charlie Rose - the anchor, executive producer and executive editor of the The Charlie Rose Show. It's nice to know the company have such confidence in him.

President Calderon of Mexico will feature too. He is a new kid on the block, and must be relieved to be out of range of his troublesome shadow Senor Obrador for a couple of days. Talking of shadows, David Cameron is expected, looking for ski-booted hoodies to hug. Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are here as leaders of the forthcoming Scottish government. Oddly, though, most of the top ranks of the US administration are otherwise engaged.

The output of all these workshops, webinars and brainstorms, did someone ask? Watch this space. The Magic Mountain famously ends: "And out of this worldwide festival of death... will love someday rise?"

Unlikely, perhaps. The corporate folk are all far too busy for love on the slopes. (Though who knows what happens in the icy hovels where the Fourth Estate retreat at night?) But, so far, one thing is clear. In Davos, as in Torquay, don't mention the war.

Sir Howard Davies is the Director of the London School of Economics