UK Politics

Best of British in Olympic shop window

Wallace, Victoria Beckham, DH Lawrence, Downton Abbey

Perched on a table, complete with blurb to explain their significance, stand Wallace and Gromit, a Vivienne Westwood handbag and a copy of DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Welcome to the British Business Embassy at Lancaster House on The Mall in central London.

Think the early 20th century world of Downton Abbey meeting the early 21st century world of a trade show.

Parked up outside, a gleaming blue Jaguar XK R-S and a grey Range Rover Evoque.

Perhaps chosen as the only symbols of British engineering and style that could out-snazz the fleet of snazzy cars dropping off today's delegates.


It is quite a cast list turning up. The prime minister gets things going. Next up, a quartet of central bank governors.

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, or should I say, fellow competitors," announces Sir Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England.

"I am sure all of us are used to the feeling of waking up and wondering what the rich tapestry of life will bring us today," he adds, with a wry smile.

In just two sentences, he sums up what the event is all about. The world economy may be struggling, but Britain is open for business.

The British Business Embassy is all about grabbing a deep-pocketed captive audience that is in London for the Olympics anyway, and tempting them to have a longer term relationship with the UK than just a hotel room for the next fortnight.

Corporate speak

Not all the lines from the conference floor appear entirely designed to guarantee our undivided attention. There are lots of references to "new infrastructures" and "tough environments".

Envelopes need pushing and skies need blue thinking. You get the gist.

But strip away the corporate speak and it is all about that central message.

Image caption David Cameron is hoping for an economic boost from the Olympics

Britain is open for business. Invest your money and bring your jobs here.

With everyone from the Nigeria's minister of trade to Google's executive chairman mingling around, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised security is pretty tight.

Not just the usual ritual of the airport style scanners, but a chaperone to accompany reporters from the front door to the press room.

And, as I was learn a little later, a chaperone for when one requires a comfort break too.

Thankfully, my new friend's diligence didn't extend further than the lavatory door.

So, the press finds itself voluntarily incarcerated in the state dining room, watching proceedings in the next room on a big screen.

Think one of those main rooms in a stately home where visitors stare endlessly up at the intricately patterned ceiling thinking of something intelligent to say.

Elsewhere, flat screen televisions put up near the press tea bar also play their part in what this is all about.

'Proud to be British'

Victoria Beckham pops up on screen at one point. "I am proud to be British. David is proud to be British," she says, proudly.

The fashion designer Sir Paul Smith also appears, as does the Olympic gold medallist Daley Thompson.

Reporters pay them a passing glance whilst helping themselves to pieces of shortbread, complete with icing sugar shaken on the top to represent the Union flag.

The glossy handouts too are groaning with facts: Statistical viagra to buff up Britain's economic capabilities.

"UK technology is in orbit around Saturn, Mars, Venus and the Moon," says one of the "fast fact" bullet points.

Another handout suggests the British Business Embassy "will generate over £1bn of benefit for British businesses over the coming years".

It is, of course, pretty much impossible to put a value on the business these sort of events generate.

But there is no doubt ministers are trying to make the most of the potential passing trade.

There is no doubt too they are keen on keeping their visitors safe.

As I leave, I find I've managed at least a quarter of the journey to the front door unaccompanied.

"Where are you going?" comes the inevitable barked question as an official leaps out from behind a pillar. One small step for this journalist, soon stopped by one giant leap from Olympic security.

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