28 Jan 2010

The second most anticipated Cameron at Davos

In 1997 a triumphant Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made their debut on the world economic stage here at Davos.

I’ve just been in the congress centre when David Cameron and George Osborne swept in. I happened to be chatting with an Indian businessmen and old Etonian schoolfriend of Mr Cameron’s, who literally chased after him as the man of the moment.

It’s difficult to say whether he is the most anticipated Mr Cameron here in Davos, given this evening’s hot ticket is a screening of Avatar with its director James Cameron.

Nonetheless, Britain’s Mr Cameron knows that if he is elected in the coming months, his role in the world is substantially different to that of his predecessors. He appears to believe he will have a selling job to do as regards international confidence in the UK economy as a result of the public debt surge. That severely undermines Britain’s economic weight in the world.

The Conservative leader will actually be able to see it in the halls and the hotel lobbies of Davos. The excited, optimistic chats are being had between Indians and Brazilians or Russians and Chinese. “South-South” trade is the watchword. Western politicians and bankers seem to be arguing about the credit crunch fallout.

On the home front, I’m wondering if this week’s poor GDP figure has shaken any of his resolve to start cutting spending this year. On last night’s news one man claimed by Cameron and Osborne as their own adviser, former IMF chief economist Ken Rogoff, said that “It’s difficult to say exactly the timing but the stimulus needs to get withdrawn, at least slowly. I wouldn’t do it too fast, we just don’t know what it might do.”

And as the Tories try to outflank the government, at least rhetorically on bank reform, another Tory adviser Bob Diamond, said that the Obama plans backed by Cameron, “would have a very negative effect on jobs”.

So for Mr Cameron, Davos is a window on a different role for Britain in the world.