London Essays – Issue 1: Soft Power


Welcome to the first edition of London Essays, our new London journal. Each edition will be focused on a particular theme or challenge of relevance to London and other cities.

Like Centre for London itself, we want the journal to be broad in focus, and to explore connections between different challenges and opportunities; and to speak to the widest possible range of Londoners. We want to give space to new authors and emerging ideas. London Essays will include interviews, book reviews and short articles, as well as longer features.

Centre for London is extremely grateful to Capital & Counties Properties PLC for supporting London Essays, and to Robert Phillips of Jericho Chambers, whose idea it was. Robert also suggested the title; I was surprised to discover that there appears never to have been, in London’s long history, a journal with this name before.

This first issue explores London’s changing place in the world and, in particular, its reputation and influence. It’s long been recognised that nations depend for their success not just on hard military muscle or economic clout, but on their soft power – their ability to draw on the goodwill of governments, companies, and ordinary citizens all over the world.

Indeed, soft power is in some ways more fundamental than military or economic power – a nation that is liked and admired is much more likely to find political allies, secure trading partners or draw in talent, tourists and investors, than one that is not.

But it is not just nations that depend on soft power. Cities do too.

London’s star is shining particularly brightly at the moment. Both the expansion of the global economy and the economic travails of the last decade have given London’s allure a boost, with foreign companies, wealthy families, poor migrants, and tourists beating their way to the capital in ever greater numbers. The essays in this volume explore how London’s reputation has changed over time, what has driven these changes and what more London can do to bolster its soft power and use it well.

As Simon Kuper points out, back in the 1970s no-one was predicting that London had a great future in front of it. Kuper traces the forces that transformed London from a down-at-heel former imperial capital to perhaps the world’s leading global city. He welcomes the transformation but like many of the contributors, he worries that the dynamism and creativity that is such an important part of its appeal and success could easily be undone by ever-rising living costs.

In my interview with him, Benjamin Barber suggests the UK is fortunate to have a city like London as its capital. The world is urbanising fast, and cities are becoming ever more important forces on the international stage. The UK is no longer a superpower among nations, but London remains a superpower among cities. As Barber suggests, that might mean the UK rethinking its foreign policy, and better appreciating the assets that London and the UK’s other large cities represent.

In a pioneering essay, Danny Sriskandarajah explores London’s role in global civil society. We hear much about London’s character as a centre of finance and business services, culture and creative industries, and so on. But Sriskandarajah suggests that it plays just as important a role as a centre of global NGOs, media organisations and developmental expertise. He is surely right to argue that a new mayor should adopt a more deliberate plan for building on London’s role in global civil society.

Deyan Sudjic writes about London’s long role as ‘design studio to the world’. He points in particular to the important role that the capital’s design schools, museums and festivals have played and continue to play and calls for London to do more to make sure that it is a welcoming, affordable place for young creative talent. In a similar vein Peter Bazalgette describes the capital’s extraordinary cultural reach and sets out a manifesto for maintaining and extending it.

John Dickie concludes that while London has an extraordinary amount to offer the world, other competitor cities are spending much more on their international promotional agencies and campaigns. If the capital wants to remain successful and influential it will have to invest more on promoting itself overseas.