LAST DANCE IN DAVOS; Saving the World? Gordon Brown Will Make a Speech at an Embattled Davos World Economic Forum

Daily Mail (London), January 30, 2009 | Go to article overview

LAST DANCE IN DAVOS; Saving the World? Gordon Brown Will Make a Speech at an Embattled Davos World Economic Forum


Byline: Richard Pendlebury

THE SCENE is a bar in a chi-chi Alpine hotel, with snow falling prettily outside. A besuited executive is explaining over a whisky sour how he arrived here.

First he flew from Dallas to New York.

Then from the Big Apple to Frankfurt. From the German financial capital, he took a jet to Zurich and from there he was able to relax in a limo for the two-hour, gloriously beautiful drive to the hotel in which he now sits.

The point of his story seems to be this: for once, he had resisted the temptation to take the [pounds sterling]3,300 half-hour helicopter connection from Zurich.

Times are hard relatively speaking. Some 72,000 jobs had been cut by multinational companies in the previous 24 hours.

Poverty looms for tens of millions.

However, those difficulties seem a very long way from Davos, the ski resort high in the Swiss mountains; the main drag resembles an alpine New Bond Street.

In shop windows, handbags retail for [pounds sterling]1,400 apiece.

The jet-set hit the pistes each year at nearby Klosters. If any sackcloth and ashes are to be found here, they are very upmarket ones supplied courtesy of Hermes and Davidoff.

This week, some 2,500 financial and political movers and shakers have returned to Davos for the annual World Economic Forum.

For almost four decades, the resort has been a temporary Mount Olympus for these Masters of the Universe. During the halcyon years of multi-billion-pound bonus pots, the Forum was the ultimate schmoozefest.

Some [pounds sterling]20million would be spent on entertaining the 'fat cats in the snow', as Bono, who often attended, sneeringly described them.

But then came the reckoning.

As one of the hot- shots glumly intoned: ' More than 40 per cent of the world's wealth has been wiped out in the past five quarters.'

SO THE Masters of the Universe have been exposed as greedy pygmies but how do they respond?

The last time the Forum came down from this gilded mountain was in 2002, when it relocated to New York to show solidarity after the 9/11 attacks.

The current meltdown is arguably even more significant. Yet the Forum has remained at Davos although it has been recast.

Of course, it was never going to be an openly shame-faced gathering.

But this year's meeting has been billed as 'vital' crisis management.

And so we have the event's twin, touchy-feely, mottos: 'Committed to Improving the State of the World' and 'Shaping the Post-Crisis World'.

Weasel words, surely, from those who brought us the crisis in the first place.

Some have suggested that, in the circumstances, this year's Davos is a 'toxic ticket'. Certainly, a number of leading financiers want to avoid being seen at an event synonymous with excess.

Barclay's president Bob Diamond has dropped out, for one. Even Bono, a repeat visitor despite all his lofty disdain, has decided to busy himself in the recording studio.

Martial arts star Jet-Li is as A-List as Davos 2009 gets.

Nor is there anybody here from Britain's own RBS (rescued with huge amounts of money from the British taxpayer), which is a shame because 'zombie banks' is a new buzz phrase around the conference hall.

It refers to those institutions which should be dead and buried but still walk the Earth, having been given artificial life by government handouts.

One eagerly awaited panel speaker, who also cancelled at the last minute, was John Thain, the former chief executive of the once-mightynow-fallen Wall Street investment bank Merrill Lynch.

Last week he was fired by his new Bank of America bosses, having presided over a $21billion loss in the fourth quarter of last year, before signing off $4billion in bonuses. …

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