The men in suits gather for another sort of competition
London on full schmooze alert as foreign investors arrive and face the Big Pitch
So if you’re a rich, overseas investor, this is what modern Britain looks like.
Manicured hedges in tubs. Tannoy announcements in received pronunciation. A quaint courtyard where a silver Range Rover and a blue Jaguar XKR-S are being given a last-minute polish. The national anthem wafting in on the breeze.
Into the sumptuous Lancaster House they filed: the money men of Brazil, China, Azerbaijan and India. Where were their suitcases of cash?
This, after all, was the Government’s big pitch to the world’s tycoons as they wait for the Games to begin. The message was: don’t just spend a few days here cheering the medal winners, splash a few billion on a water company or new rail link as well.
Waiting on the tip of the red carpet was the Trade Minister Lord Green, who has so far survived a buffeting over HSBC’s alleged money laundering past. No mention of that as he glad-handed Japanese dignitaries.
Next came Sir Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, looking suspiciously jolly the day after more gloomy GDP data. And then Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, clutching a gold folder. Maybe it contained a cheque from Brussels? Only Lord Jacob Rothschild, the wiliest of financiers, seemed to dodge the praetorian guard of twittering ladies that latched onto every delegate.
They were greeted inside by a 200-year old John Nash staircase clinging to the walls of the atrium, overlooking a couple of Thomas Heatherwick’s extruded aluminium benches that had been incongruously plonked down. This is Britain today: where the old meets the new.
David Cameron kicked off, making it clear that some people might think it grubby to mix money and diplomacy, but he wasn’t one of them. Tax breaks, an infrastructure plan, an educated work force: our attributes were reeled off in short order.
“It seems the single language is going a little better than the single currency,” he quipped, while pointing out that business is done in English too. Next came King to assure the audience he was “quietly but effectively” getting to grips with regulating Britain’s banks.
Alexandre Tombini, governor of Brazil’s central bank, was mindful of the competition that would emerge from Europe a couple of years out. Off the back of Brazil generating 1.2m new jobs in the last year – almost half of Britain’s unemployed ranks – it looks as though he could do with some.
At lunchtime, a booming Boris Johnson gave an address on the lawn, thanking the Mexicans for the kidneys and tripe they sent over to feed athletes who competed in 1948 at the London’s ration book Olympics and saying that in Britain, “such is our ingenuity” that we have managed to export Piers Morgan to America.
On a day that should have ended with closing remarks from Barclays’ Bob Diamond, only the London mayor could have elicited a round of applause for “the largest financial services sector in the world”. From somewhere, the Chariots of Fire theme tune burst into life.
Could it be a case of nice idea, shame about the execution? That seems to be the Government’s problem. Let’s sit back and watch whether the money rolls in.
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