Er... that's Gordon who?

People and Business in Washington

IT'S OCTOBER, which means it's time for champagne, caviare and civilised conversation. Yes, it's the annual International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings in Washington, an excuse for the world's leading bankers and finance officials to live it up, network like mad and gossip about Bill Clinton's love life.

Oh, and discuss the little matter of the world economic crisis.

The UK was well-represented at this cocktailathon, with Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England, and Mervyn King, the Deputy Governor, all present and correct.

As usual the UK contingent was holed up at the Watergate Hotel, renamed the "Swissotel Washington Watergate" since the Nixon years.

Disappointingly, our chaps just don't get the recognition here in the US that they do back home. One hapless journalist tried to phone Charlie Whelan, the Chancellor's chief spin doctor, at the Watergate only to be told the hotel had never heard of him.

Undeterred, our intrepid reporter asked to be put through to Gordon Brown.

"Is that Gordon Brown of Norway?" the receptionist inquired. Er, no ...

TALKING OF the Chancellor, the great man could not make his keynote address at the Marriott Hotel with Jim Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, because he was otherwise engaged with the G7 summit.

Mr Brown was scheduled to speak at 5.30pm, but the deadline came and went with no sign of the Chancellor. So what to do?

There followed a torrent of nervous phone calls and intense scurrying around by UK officials. Was the substitute speaker to be Mervyn King, the guests wondered? Or would the British Ambassador step into the breach?

Step forward Ed Balls, the Chancellor's special economic adviser. Mr Balls passed the test with aplomb, I hear.

Which is just as well, as he undoubtedly wrote the speech in the first place.

THE DEEPENING global economic crisis does not seem to have damaged bankers' appetite for the finer things in life. Neither was the mood spoiled too much by the hundred or so protesters who gathered outside the IMF building to heckle the arriving dignatories.

The demonstrators' favourite song this year was "Hip Hip, Ho Ho, the IMF must go" (sung to the tune of "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go", from the Walt Disney classic, Snow White.)

CERTAINLY THE presence of the mob didn't put the bankers off from turning up in big, fat stretch limousines.

Squeezing past one of the biggest, fattest, stretchiest limos outside one of Washington's top hotels, I was startled to read a sign in its window saying: "George Mathewson, chief executive, Royal Bank of Scotland".

What would the folk back in Edinburgh make of it all?

THE COCKTAIL party frenzy kicked off on Friday evening with the "Women in Finance" reception. Not too many women were present. There were quite a few "Men in Finance", however, who had turned up in the hope of meeting a woman or two.

Jim Wolfensohn, the World Bank president and long-term buddy of Bill Clinton, was in his element. Mr Wolfensohn, a silver-haired, snappily- dressed smooth talker, was obviously having a whale of a time. His reception speech, which criticised the "male chauvinists" of the international financial community and stressed the need to listen to women, went down a storm.

Later in the evening, the World Bank president seemed to be practising what he preached. He was constantly surrounded by the few Women in Finance at the reception, who hung on to his every word, tittering at regular intervals.

When I asked one of Mr Wolfensohn's colleagues why he always seemed to be wearing foundation make-up whenever I bumped into him, the colleague snapped: "Because he's always doing interviews on TV. He's just been on CNN." Of course, silly of me.

MR WOLFENSOHN, along with Michel Camdessus, the IMF managing director, and their wives, were among the star attractions at Sunday's main IMF/World Bank reception in the glittering ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

Hundreds of bankers and financiers were in attendance - albeit most for only the requisite 20 minutes or so. Among the revellers was Sir Evelyn de Rothschild of NM Rothschild and George Mallinckrodt of Schroders, whose charming wife was wearing a beautiful black cocktail dress.

There was only one moment of panic, when the barman poured a glass of (horrors!) corked white wine. Thankfully a colleague was on hand with a fresh bottle and the gathered throng could breath again.

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