Bashing Johnny Foreigner, the pejorative British term for anyone else, was supposed to have gone out in the 1970s, when punks stopped crowding London’s streets. Lord Mandelson doesn’t seem to have heard.
The UK business minister’s already infamous outburst—“who the fuck is he?”—wasn’t pure jingoism, but it was directed at a foreigner, the US head of Starbucks Corp.Howard Schultz had blamed the UK economy for some of the coffee chain’s troubles.
This kind of talk—as Mandelson of all people should know—isn’t just bad manners, but bad policy. It threatens the global nature of business and is rotten for the economy and culture. Worse still, the former EU trade commissioner seems to have caught on to an anti-foreign trend.
Business threat: UK’s business secretary Peter Mandelson. His already infamous outburst isn’t just bad manners but also bad policy. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg
Anecdotal evidence in London, from those being fired and those who remain, suggests that non-native workers in banks, law firms, and even architecture studios, are getting fired faster than Brits. In the US, discrimination against foreigners has been written into the Tarp law. It puts tight limits on the hiring of high-skilled foreigners by recipients of federal funds. In tough times, such belligerence may ring true to many voters. But it is still wrong. The financial, media and business service hub of London, as well as pretty much everything in the US, have thrived as melting pots. The 300 languages spoken in London and the quarter of the population not born in the city were critical to its financial and cultural renaissance.
Click here for breakingviews.com
The economic turmoil has already thrown into doubt the City of London’s forecast that business done on its turf will grow by another $80 billion (about Rs4 trillion) by 2015. Take away the engine of cultural diversity and the target will be even harder to reach.
Internationalism in London wasn’t a multicultural plot, but a side effect of a conscious desire to get the best people, wherever they come from. Today, all countries will need the best brains and professionals they can find to claw their way out of the downturn. But crush cosmopolitanism and meritocracy will soon take a bashing. That slippery slope is well documented. After the brightest foreigners leave, the home-grown smarts soon join the brain drain.