In a month when the UK parliament has been riven with debate over cutting the country’s foreign aid budget, it might be useful to consider a hypothetical experiment. Imagine that you were a country that “had form” in the hard power stakes and decided, in the language of today’s business schools, that it was time to pivot. Over the centuries, you had created the most extensive and technologically sophisticated an Empire as the world has ever seen, and now you want to put bombs and gunboats away and concentrate on the means by which the world is charmed into cooperation rather than muscled into compliance.
On a checklist of the capabilities you would need to draw upon and then skilfully deploy, what might be identified as the most promising market sectors? Our key consideration must be that these sectors are proven to be vital everywhere in persuading and helping: bringing people to a higher regard for so skilled and beneficent a provider that your influence with the recipients can only be enhanced.
Inspired by the history of the area of central London celebrated by Cradle of English, with the cultural advances reflected in the product of its printing presses over 500 years, the advocate for Fleet Street would simply recognise what it took to take the English language over those five centuries and turn it into the world’s premier language, not only in the context of banking and financial services, science, research, and medicine; but in the language “of the street” – absorbed in today’s world by the multimedia sectors, fashion, computer games, literature, the performing arts and cultural curation.
The UK has a market-dominating position in all of these sectors and, through the momentum established by English having become the world’s premier language of the street, these contributors to the service economy deserve all the encouragement and investment they can get – all the more since the depredations inflicted on the economy by Covid.
Higher up the slopes of language, educational exchange, and professional regard, the UK also exercises a degree of influence in the world second only to the 5x-bigger USA, largely through established centres of excellence in our universities – four in the global top ten; Artificial Intelligence labs – three in the global top ten depending on your source; health and biosciences and engineering technology research bases in London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh. On it goes.
And last though far from least in the cultural profile stakes, there is one of the world’s oldest, long-established legal professions: eight centuries of practising and now very largely serving the world from a London base – including 50k+ solicitors and some 15k barristers in London alone. This will be a blog on its own before long.
Given the long and good work of the (now-named) Commonwealth Education Trust and The British Council, the UK remains mindful of the need to keep promoting its strengths in a rapidly changing world. It only remains to maintain vigilance in ensuring the continued cooperation of the visa-granting authorities.