The Blog

Boris Discusses Smart Cities and Economies of the Future

Day two of the 9th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) has passed - and delegates are loving London. But what 'brand' should we be pushing - cities, countries, or islands?

Day two of the 9th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) has passed - and delegates are loving London. But what 'brand' should we be pushing - cities, countries, or islands?

Andrew Marr's documentary on Mega Cities presents an interesting argument - hailing the age of the city as a unit of analysis. Prospect magazine explored the differences between London and rest of the UK. Alan Yentob's Jimi Hendrix documentary highlights the counter culture cool in London, which welcomed Hendrix and housed The Beatles. And of course Tony Blair waved the flag of Cool Britannia.

In fact more often than not, saying that I live in London, and am Manchester born and bred means more and carries more brand equity when I travel overseas to the East - especially post 9/11 and during Bush's 'War on Terror'.

Now at WIEF, Messrs. Cameron and Johnson are communicating the value of the UK and London. So which carries more weight? There are several UK Universities that have opened London campuses, especially to target overseas students. We had a successful London 2012 Olympics, but a British athletic team. Then there's the roaring British and Irish Lions rugby team. And were the Beatles Liverpudlian or English?

This is now becoming a brand nightmare, unless we begin the task of positioning our portfolio of brands.

The Sovereign city-state Republic of Singapore and Dubai Emirate operate a blended brand identity, which allows them to behave like branded nations and cities as the occasion arises - so does it make sense to start building the same architecture around our cities? Branding starts with creating a concept, a compelling narrative, and the art of storytelling.

Let's fast-forward back to WIEF and look at our two leaders. A crazy thought, but imagine Cameron and Johnson are white-collar rappers jostling to get their points across. To get you warmed up, here are some lyrics from New York' finest, rapper Mos Def, taken from his 1999 joint, 'Fear not of man':

It's a lot of things goin' on y'all. 21st century is comin'. 20th century almost done. A lot of things have changed. A lot of things have not, mainly us. We gon' get it together right? I believe that...

Well, from my understanding people get better when they start to understand that, they are valuable. And they not valuable because they got a whole lot of money, or cause somebody, think they sexy - but they valuable cause they been created by God. And God, makes you valuable. And whether or not you, recognize that value is one thing, You got a lot of socities and governments

tryin' to be God, wishin' that they were God. They wanna create satellites and cameras everywhere and make you think they got the all-seein' eye.

David Cameron's WIEF speech deals with facts and stats:

We've got 1,800 political and business leaders from over 115 countries here in London - the most open and inclusive capital on the planet - and the greatest centre for Islamic finance in the Western world...From the Huguenots in the 16th century - to Lloyds of London, the world's first insurance market for trading in the 17th Century, from the first international trading companies owned by shareholders in the 18th century - to the development of global foreign equities trading, time and again, London has led the way.

When I talk about the City of London I also mean the 20,000 jobs in financial services in Bristol and in Glasgow; the 25,000 jobs in each of Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham; and the almost 35,000 jobs in Edinburgh.

Now Boris Johnson has bags of swagger, metaphors and wordplay.

Who? Offa, King Offa...He knew his people would flourish by trade with people in the Muslim world...and indeed it was that Muslim world in that period of the middle ages that preserved so may of the glories of western civilization...I want to renew the offer of Offa, Offa's offer I make again. Let's build up trade, let's build up co-operation, and let's do it in a city that I'd like to think has grown considerably since the time of Offa.

The Muslim world loves the spoken word and our leaders can rap. Analogies, allegories, and metaphors punctuate Muslim poetry, philosophy and the Qur'an. Islam is a religion that celebrates the romantic link with stories of Bedouins and nomads, withstanding harsh conditions and the austere sands of the desert, moving to create urban centres of excellence and opulence - the gulf being a recent case in practice, embodying this mind-set of shifting cultural sands. The transition, which has been described as moving from the camel to the Cadillac, has transformed the region into a globally recognised hub of activity - ranging from finance, sports, tourism and education. Looking forward, are we witnessing the end of iconic Mad Men and the dawning of Ahmad men? The Muslim world is less about nations and more about tribes.

So should the UK get more tribal? Is this what Boris Johnson means by smart cities and economies of the future? His reference to the historical growth of London and its development from a 'ruin' to the 'best city in the world', based on Islamic interactions in the 8th century during the reign of King Offa (of Mercia), lays the foundations.

Actually, we've always been tribal and I think that the key to our global success is going to be creating branding and storytelling which is less about UKIP and the Tebbit Test, or even selling the idea of a cultural melting pot - but is more about a fluid nomadic identity. This is not a branding zero-sum game, where we worry about whether we lead with one branded identity, but rather wealth creation through preserving and celebrating the multiple tribal identities that we have in our islands. Some of our greatest exports like football clubs and music groups tread that line. The next phase is to make the transition from hosting Muslim tribes of trade and industry and to join those nomadic tribes - robes and all.