Why Davos has had its day: Gathering has become a byword for the absurdity and narcissism of the elite, says RUTH SUNDERLAND

Monday, January 21, 2019
By Paul Martin

20 January 2019

Theresa May is not planning to attend Davos this year – and if she were to turn up at this week’s jaw-fest, she might not want to be reminded of the speech she made at the gathering two years ago.

Then, she lectured her audience on how Brexit had given the UK a ‘unique opportunity’ to step up to a ‘new leadership role’ as the strongest champion in the world for business, free markets and free trade.

She was, she declared, speaking as the Prime Minister of ‘a country that faces the future with confidence.’

It hardly needs saying that it doesn’t feel like that now, with businesses in despair at the utter chaos in Westminster and millions of ordinary people seething in disgust at the self-serving antics of politicians.

Mrs May herself commands admiration for her fortitude and integrity, and she probably won’t miss Davos, which doesn’t seem her scene. The earnest round of conferences are, for many delegates, an alibi for shameless sucking up and showing off.

It’s just as much a networking event and recruitment fair for chief executives, as it is a forum for solving the pressing economic issues of the day, as it purports to be.

Mrs May is not the only high profile absentee. Indeed, the list of people who are not expected to show up – Donald Trump, President Xi Jinping of China and French president Emmanuel Macron – is at least as significant as those who are: an eclectic mix including David Attenborough, Prince William, the musician will.i.am and illusionist David Blaine.

It’s become a staple to attack Davos for its elitism, but it is losing relevance, as the high profile no-shows suggest.

The grand Davos belief in globalisation is facing a profound populist challenge.

Emboldened by the election of Trump and by Brexit, populist parties are gathering strength in Europe. In the face of this turbulence, the Davos get-together looks and sounds hopelessly out of touch.

The World Economic Forum, which organises the event, has this year fixed upon the theme of ‘Globalization 4.0: Shaping a New Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.’ What? That piece of gobbledegook, which would have most normal people scratching their heads, sums up the problem.

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