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For the last ten 10 days, and with extraordinary intensity last Wednesday and Thursday, Londoners have lived out triumph and deep grief with the eyes of the world on them. A spontaneous city-wide outburst of joy at winning the Olympics, the tragedy of the bomb attacks, the implacable resolve to bring to justice those responsible, and immediate determination from millions of Londoners that the city will would not shift from its chosen path all passed in days.
An anonymous Londoner put in it best on a wreath. I quote it not simply for its eloquence but because in my opinion it expressed how virtually every Londoner responded.
The wreath read: “If you are looking to boost morale, our pride, then you have succeeded. If you want to ensure our commitment to our way of life you have achieved much. If you expect people to crawl out of smoke-filled tunnels, head to work and otherwise get on with their daily lives you were right. If your aim was to raise our strength and defiance, congratulations. Burning with fear? Not bloody likely.”
Put in its own way Libération, the French newspaper, headlined: “said: “Never has such calm been seen faced with such an event.”
London responded in its own way. It was no better than the people of New York or Madrid. There is no competition in the face of barbarity. It was simply different. Particularly to an international business audience I want to explain that difference because it will help them understand the nature of London.not now but in the future.
London’s character was indelibly marked by being for centuries the world’s greatest port. London simply had more physical connections with the rest of the globe than any other place on the planet. Shakespeare was born in Stratford but he worked in London, and his paying audience was those who made their living by trade. Three hundred years ago, a one-quarter of those invited to celebrations of the coronation of George II already were foreigners living in London.
Around this nucleus developed the world’s greatest international financial centre. New York now handles even greater financial volumes than London. But that is due to the weight of the US domestic market; in terms of a truly international centre London still exceeds even New York.
There are 1.2m people in London working in financial and business services. Many tens of thousands of them do no work connected to Britain’s economy. London is frequently more affected by the movements of the economies of east Asia or the US than it is by that of the UK.
Around this gigantic port and financial centre grew what else made London the international centre it is today. To follow global financial operations London required a truly international press and media – this newspaper is a product of it. London’s exposure to innumerable cultures gave its creative industries a fuel of ideas, and therefore a drive, that has made it one of the greatest entertainment, architecture, media, music and advertising centres of the world.
Simultaneously came people. One-quarter of London’s senior and middle financial management comes from abroad. Nearly one-third of Londoners are from ethnic minorities.
Naturally, only a relatively small fraction of London’s citizens understand about its position as the world’s greatest international financial centre. But what they have come to knowabout and appreciate deeply is having the greatest international lifestyle on the planet. From those executing high finance in the executive suites and trading floors of the Square Mile or Canary Wharf, through London’s prosperous suburbs of Richmond or Southgate, enjoying the most varied and internationalentertainment in the world,to the curry houses of Brick Lane, Londoners thrive from on the global character of the city.
Those who propose we cut themselves ourselves off from the world do not understand it cannot be done. London without its international character would not be London.
A commentator on recent events said London had become the world’s first “transnational city” – an exaggeration with an important element of truth. The world’s journalists and business people already know it.
A year ago London ran an exhibition celebrating the first contact between Europe and Asia – the Silk Road. A leading Indian software company gave London the type of publicity you cannot buy in the Times of India. “London is a place where you are not only close to the market but you feel at home after a week.”
But that is the top. I knew again how deep that feeling had penetrated for Londoners when I saw their response after last Thursday. I do not know.I do not know Marie Fatayi-Williams, a Muslim who flew to London from Nigeria because her son Anthony was missing. But she understood London. “Anthony is a Nigerian, born in London, worked in London, he is a world citizen. Here today we have Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus all united in love for Anthony.”
There are no words to follow that. In business and life, Marie Fatayi-Williams understood London perfectly.
The writer is mayor of London