Fraser Nelson's Davos diary

Also in Fraser Nelson’s diary: a minister in economy class, and how to do your bit for social mobility

30 January 2016

9:00 AM

30 January 2016

9:00 AM

For years, I’ve wondered why so many clever people go to Davos to discuss topics as meaningless as ‘the new global context’ or ‘shared norms for the new reality’. It has always struck me like a massive game of Just A Minute, in which contestants compete on how long they can talk about a theme that makes no sense at all. But as I found out when I visited last week, the real game is far more sophisticated. No one at Davos cares too much about the gabfest. The debates are, in effect, a front for the biggest networking event in the capitalist world.

For one week, this ski resort becomes a fortress guarded by the Swiss army. Venture capitalists chase chief executives, who chase the politicians while the journalists chase everyone. There are so few decent hotels in Davos that there’s nowhere for anyone to hide. Much of the talk was about the stock-market crash, which is troubling the attendees. One of them, I found out, is Sir Richard Branson. ‘My God,’ he said, as he sat down for breakfast on a table behind me, ‘a lot of net worth down the drain in the last few weeks. But not to worry, I suppose it will come back eventually.’ His visitor arrived, and started a Dragon’s Den-style pitch for a business plan. I averted my ears.

On my first evening, I ended up in a funicular railway car next to Chuck Hagel, until recently US Defence Secretary. I asked him about the bombing campaign against the Islamic State and he wasn’t optimistic. Their greatest weapon, he said, was their ability to recruit — not just bored idiots from Bradford, but qualified doctors and gifted computer hackers. When will it end? ‘Not for years,’ he said. ‘The Islamic State is an ideology. And you can’t bomb an ideology.’

Prices at Davos are adjusted to suit the customers: I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from paying £52 for a burger. A search for cheaper food (and beer) took me to a tavern on the edge of town, where I was served a hideous white sausage. I got talking to a German policeman who works part-time as a chauffeur, driving Swiss billionaires around. His story was more interesting than any I heard at the summit. ‘The Islamic State is everywhere in Germany,’ he said, and it was his job to spy on its sympathisers. He was, in effect, a member of a new Stasi. Each jihadi in Germany is monitored by a team of 12 officers, who check on their suspects for about a day a week. It works so well, he said, that the chances of a terror attack on German soil are almost nil. He cites two factors: the ‘stupidity’ of German jihadis and the quality of German espionage (‘As a country, we do surveillance very well’). Forget Deutschland 83. It’s clearly time for a remake of The Lives of Others.

On the flight back from Zurich, a strange sight: Robert Peston enjoying the first-class luxury of seat 1C while Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development, shuffled past him on her way to economy. ‘I’ll send you back a glass of champagne,’ said a passenger in business class. ‘Only if it’s a full glass,’ she replied.

FOR THE FIRST TIME in its history, St Andrew’s School in the east end of Glasgow is about to send a pupil to Oxford — quite a feat, given that it serves one of Britain’s most deprived communities. There should, of course, be no link between poverty and attainment, but an iron law governs our state schools: the kids from the poorest neighbourhoods always get the worst results. It’s a formula that keeps inequality running through the generations, and one which the Social Mobility Foundation is trying to do something about. The foundation offers help and mentoring to super-bright kids from deprived backgrounds — such as Jack Wands. Thanks to the SMF, he spent two weeks with JP Morgan, then was sent to Oxford for a day in the hope that he might apply. He did, and was offered a place reading politics, philosophy and economics.

I hear about Jack’s success at an SMF meeting. The Spectator has been taking its brilliant interns for years (we’ve hired two) and I’m now a trustee. But as I found out, there’s a problem. The SMF has teenagers of incredible quality, but there are not enough businesses willing to offer internships — especially in the worlds of finance and science. So what to do? How to pull in the favours on the behalf of those with no contacts?

The answer is simple. Readers of The Spectator are perhaps the best-connected and most warm-hearted people in the world. Together we can nobble anyone we might know in any position of influence and persuade them to welcome a few SMF interns for a week or so. It may not save Britain from being run by PPE graduates, but it may help ensure a better quality of PPE graduate.


Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Fraser Nelson is editor of The Spectator. Details of the SMF internship scheme can be found at spectator.com.au/smf

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • Frank

    Davos, Bilderberg, etc, just another cosplay conference!

    • flipkipper

      Matey, you are so badly informed it’s untrue.
      You forgot to list the real events, two of which are MIPIM (remember sub-prime?) and of course the Monaco Grand Prix.
      If you have never been to either of them then you haven’t lived.

  • seangrainger

    Mr N the bookends of my life are my first visit to Schweiz as a scout in 1960 when I got 14CHF for my pocket money pounds and my last skiing jaunt to Davos when it was near parity. I don’t care about economic arguments in this case ,,, those stark figures tell,us just how good Cripps to Osborne have been. But hey the price of a stanger in The Parsenn hotel is the same in weff weeks as others and you can slum it and get perfectly good food in the Bahnhof caff for but a few francs.

  • Todd Unctious

    Fraser the arch apologist for the 1% and their tax havens.

  • davidshort10

    Instead of internships, how about jobs? Paying jobs. The word ‘intern’ was not used ‘in my day’. You either had a job or you did not.

  • Ingmar Blessing

    Aha, German spies are protecting us to more or less 100%. Well let’s see what our awesome Stasi apparently overlooked:

    – the silenced terror attack in the unimportant town of Garbsen, where a gang of Muslims burned down a Protestan church after a German djihadist called for things like that (it was also silenced by the church, only news resource: an alternative blog and two articles in a local newspaper)
    – the terror attack in Frankfurt, where two US soldiers have been murdered by a djihadist
    – the Cologne “incient”, which was also happening in half a dozed other cities in the country

    All that for just (12 officers x 50.000 Euro x 1.000 known djihadists =) 600 million Euro!

    Oh, and who is paying for all of that – well apart from the billionaires who need fancy drivers? Well it’s me, the idiot German taxpayer.

    And who is paying those djihadists social security check because work is aparently unislamic? Well, that’s only me, the idiot from above.

    And who is responsible for that? Oh yeah, it’s politicians I haven’t elected (impart ones, no one has elected -> “Nahles”) and who have bodyguards in case they have to leave their spaceship…

    I can’t eat enough as I’d like to vomit! (Max Liebermann)

  • davidshort10

    In the end, if ITV wants to splash out on business class for Peston, it’s their money. At least it’s not the BBC licence fee taxpayers’ money. It might also have been that economy was full. It is normal for public organisations to put staff in economy if the flight is under a certain number of hours, six hours, for instance. I once saw Prince Edward in economy on the way to Cannes when he was pretending to work in the TV business. The boss of MTV refused to believe me that a member of the Royal Family travelled in economy. And this was before easyJet and Ryanair, in which Prince William, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition travel. Of course, they don’t live in the sort of houses or areas that the other passengers do.

    • post_x_it

      Using the words “first-class luxury” is faintly ridiculous. No such thing exists on European short-haul flights. There is a business class where you pay more for the privilege of sitting in front of a curtain and being served a minute portion of chicken salad. The rest (including the seating) is no different to economy.

      • davidshort10

        I agree in general, but the seats are different. The seat set up can be the same but they get rid of the middle seat by an adjustment. This is why some airlines, BA in particular, can move the curtain up or down the cabin according to demand. It means you don’t have to fight for arm space with a large German businessman. When I first started travelling a lot around Europe I usually travelled business class because someone else was paying. The best thing was having the use of a business lounge. Now you can travel economy and still use a biz lounge but you now run the risk of wandering businessmen noisily using a mobile phone.

        • post_x_it

          That’s true on the A320 where there is a middle seat. On the ERJ fleet the configuration is 2-2 and there is no difference whatsoever between club and economy seating.

          • davidshort10

            Amazing. I remember when I used to fly a lot on Tarom to Bucharest for free in biz class and there was a permanent difference to biz class. Big seats. and you could smoke too!

  • Sean L

    “There should be no link between poverty and attainment.” Eh? That’s more or less what poverty *is*, a lack of attainment. Or do you imagine that wealth drops from the sky?

    • post_x_it

      You know what he means though, right?

      • Sean L

        Yes I think he means that if people weren’t what they are, and the world not what it is, then education would mean something other than it does.

  • Hamburger

    The German policeman is mistaken. The chances of Germany being attacked are very small. It is due to some horrible activities here some 70 years ago. Radical Moslems are still thankful.

  • 5Rozel

    The exception to the ‘iron law which governs our state schools’ is Church schools, which select by faith not residence when oversubscribed. Thus a poor child from a Church going family has an alternative to the local underperforming school. This enrages the Humanists, who want selection by faith to be banned but are reticent on what should replace it. Presumably residence, thus entrenching the ‘middle class kids get the best schools and vice versa’ scenario. In my area a new Catholic state school opened on a road of £1.3 m houses. The Humanists were incandescent that it would not select by residence, and took kids from further away if they could prove baptism etc. Like (virtually) all Church state schools, it has no reserved quota for Catholic children, but it prioritises them if it is oversubscribed. Anyone can apply. In its first Ofsted it was rated Outstanding in every category. If there were more schools like this they could provide places for children from non faith families. Many people like a Church school even though they are not religious, and for those that don’t there are always the local ‘community’ schools.