Our Man in Davos: Government lobbying gets slicker

Actis boss Paul Fletcher reflects on the unreal world of Davos - and bemoans some missed opportunities.

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Last Updated: 31 Jan 2011
Monday morning and we're back to normality. Out of the bubble, the regular pattern of information flow resumes; ‘Egypt’ was a word uttered infrequently in the conference chambers of Davos. It's reassuring to be back on the IV drip of real time data.

My lasting impressions of Davos this year? The best description I can find for the meeting still comes from a Lorrie Moore short story: ‘The hustle for money met the hustle for virtue and everyone washed their hands in one another’.

What is striking, year on year, is how the lobbying efforts of successive government delegations have become ever more professional and slick. Davos, whatever else it may be, is clearly the lobbying opportunity par excellence for countries vying for capital, attention and goodwill on a world stage.

The American perspective was muted, almost lost, from this meeting. In previous years, Condoleezza Rice was a regular feature of the event. While senior folk from the Treasury were represented, the US touch post-WikiLeaks was so light as to be almost ghost-like. For a global meeting where so much of our security in Europe and beyond continues to be tied to the US, that felt like a missed opportunity.

On the specific issues of Sino-American relations, what's clear is that there is a united effort to be on message with regard to the new superpower, a through-gritted-teeth sense that 'we are all in this together', matched with some predictable frustrations around what distortions in currency are doing to the manufacturing base. (Again, back in the real world I pick up today's Financial Times and see that despite the estimated US$17bn China invested into Brazil last year, there are tensions around appreciation of the Real and its impact on competitiveness.)

The President of Colombia gave an impressively direct and candid briefing to a small delegation of business leaders on the aspirations of his country. He said, with refreshing bluntness, that he welcomes investment from all over the world. He places only two conditions on the capital: first, that it is environmentally friendly; second, that it is socially responsible. "That’s it!" he declared.

I travelled back to London in a huddle of people that grew more British the closer we came to UK borders. Amongst the party was John Major. Typically low-key, straightforward and contained, he said that he had gone for one meeting and then turned his shoes homeward. After our brief exchange, he opened a book of poetry and settled down for a good read. No-hustle Major. It’s good to be home. 

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