Monday 10 January 2011

Boris' Indian flip-flops

Boris Johnson is in India. And the London Mayor and top Telegraph columnist is on good, funny form when it comes to telling onion jokes in The Telegraph as a way of explaining the political and economic pressure on the Indian government over food prices.

He's finding his trip a mind-blowing experience - but he's simply mystified as to why British policymakers don't do so much more to grab the opportunity to benefit from Indian growth.

He writes today:

Surely we can lasso that rampaging Indian bullock and get some more traction for Britain ... According to my MP brother Jo, an India buff and former FT Delhi man, we are continually underselling ourselves out here, mystifyingly failing to capitalise on the advantages of language, history and culture.

If Boris thinks that, how well has he done as Mayor to put it right? It seems to have been quite a twisty rollercoaster ride.

Scrap ...

Well, candidate Johnson began with a campaign pledge declaring that he would close the GLA's offices in India - branding the small offices as "Embassies" and a waste of money.

But it turned out that neither business and nor, on reflection, the Mayor himself, agreed with this in the end. With the India offices costing £370,000 a year and the China offices under £600,000, this relatively modest expenditure was widely considered a sensible investment.

The London of Chamber of Commerce and Industry told the review: "Closing the offices in India and China as part of a cost-cutting exercise would be short-sighted and send entirely the wrong signals to potential investors and importers in two of London's most important potential markets."

Save ...

So Boris then changed his mind, with a u-turn in January 2009, as he announced that his review had concluded that a review had found the case for the offices being good value for money was "fundamentally sound".

The Mayor set up a review to see if five international offices set up by his predecessor Ken Livingstone offered value for money. He has concluded the GLA operations in Delhi, Mumbai, Shanghai, Beijing and Brussels are vital in helping the capital through the recession.

Which does rather imply he promised to keep them open.

But he didn't.

Close ...

It then emerged in February 2010 that the Mayor had saved the Indian offices by closing them.

mothballed the Mumbai and Delhi offices in 2009 without telling anybody. The Delhi office was unstaffed shortly after the review concluded it should be kept open, with its functions carried out by Mumbai, which then stopped when the staff left and were not replaced later the same year.

That the offices had been closed in 2009, despite the public pledge to the contrary, was not announced - and only emerged in a written response to GLA member Murad Qureshi asking as to whether they had been closed.

Review (again) ...

So Johnson wrote to Qureshi at the end of January 2010, one year after his public u-turn, following a review, to save the offices that he was reviewing the position:

We are currently examining options for the most effective method of promoting London’s position overseas, including India, and this may involve the option of having overseas representative offices.

The position in India currently is that the LDA’s representatives in Mumbai and Delhi resigned last year and have not yet been replaced pending the outcome of this review. However, the LDA has maintained the necessary licences and registration to allow the recruitment of new officers should we conclude that that is in the best interests of London.

A year on, I assume Boris must have hit the ground running again after this was reported in the Standard last February.

He would surely be daft as a brush to write his column today if he forgot to do something about it pretty quickly. (I tried to search the GLA website, but couldn't turn up any reference to the India offices since Qureshi's question; international promotion is cited as an LDA activity which will be folded into the GLA when it folds).

No doubt somebody will ask the question today as to how speedily Boris moved "lasso that rampaging Indian bullock and get some more traction for Britain", as Boris colourfully puts the challenge in the Telegraph, assuming he "conclude[d] that that is in the best interests of London" (as he rather said he had!).

As an example of riding the tail of a tiger, I suspect Telegraph Boris (and his MP brother) might be unimpressed by the dithering and delay of Mayor Boris on this one.

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