When the Labour government launched its Cool Britannia campaign in the nineties to get people enthused about being British, it went down like a lead balloon. The sight of Tony Blair frolicking with Blur outside No. 10 did nothing for public confidence.
More than a decade on, there’s still a desire to celebrate being British; an idea has even been mooted to teach lessons in Britishness in schools. But at this event Caan pinpointed another major failing in British patriotism: “We have no national export!”
“If the world was a high street, and the UK was a shop, what would be in the window?” he asked a roomful of journalists and business brains. There was a resounding silence. “Exactly,” he said. “That’s the problem.”
Caan believes that in order to achieve greatness on a global scale, the UK needs to have a national industry. “China has an identity,” he says. “We need to be branded for what we’re good at: innovation.”
It’s not a view shared by all. Graeme Leach, chief economist at the IOD, was sceptical about this approach. “I don’t think it’s that simple. There are many sectors that we excel in: pharmaceuticals; defence. We are one of the world’s biggest exporters of services, be that legal, advertising or financial.
“I understand the need for an identity, but surely we should brand Britain with great transport links around the country, or reduced red tape for small businesses. Or brilliant university links. Not just a single national export.”
RB has to agree. The last few months have seen our financial sector, one of our strongest British exports, in tatters. Suppose our entire economy was reliant on financial services!? It’s never a good idea to put all one’s eggs in a single basket. The risk would be huge.
“But what’s in our shop window,” Caan persisted.
“I don’t know,” piped up Clodagh Hartley from The Sun. “But it’s on sale.”
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