London's (not so) 'Dirty Laundry'

Thursday, March 20, 2014
Amani El Sehrawey

On March 7 New York Times writer Ben Judah published the piece London’s Laundry Business  bemoaning the British position on Crimea after a British civil servant was photographed with exposed documents indicating Britain should maintain financial relations with Russia. The article addresses this complex issue and looks at the intersection of economic and trade policy and diplomacy.

The City’s dependence on foreign investment from countries such as Russia and Qatar certainly raises questions not only about the wisdom of growing dependency on these revenue sources in maintaining a slowly recovering British economy, but also security concerns. Furthermore, these financial relationships raise interesting questions on the direction of British foreign policy, and the morality of supporting regimes such as those found in Russia, which hold questionable records in regard to human rights and respect for international law. We see from the Crimean case that political economy will be an increasingly relevant source of conflict and discussion in today’s society.

Unfortunately, in Judah’s piece a fruitful area for productive discussion was buried under alarmist and exhausted rhetoric that has been used time and time again in British public debate. Judah rightly points out that there is a tension between corrupt money from Russian investors in the City and a government seeking to enact a morality-driven, liberal interventionist approach to foreign policy. However rather than dissecting this issue Judah instead bizarrely links this to a lament to the loss of empire and the dissolution of the British ruling class.

The author also raises the problem of the ghost towns that Belgravia and Mayfair have become due to property investments by financiers who never actually come to reside in them. This issue is addressed at length in an excellent article by Sarah Lyall. However, in this instance, London’s Laundry Business overlooks the main issue: not the fact that the property market is saturated by foreigners, but that people are buying properties simply as assets and creating ghost towns.

It is surprisingly imbued with insular and borderline xenophobic comments regarding this influx of foreigners in the British economic ecosystem. The end the article, in which Judah states “Here, in their capital city, the English are no longer calling the shots. They are hirelings”, is particularly telling.   

The article makes accusations and blanket judgments on the state of British society and economy using the Crimean issue as a prop piece. Moreover it sadly does not actually explore the real legitimate issues in a substantive way. London is indeed facing serious problems in its future development and economic sustainability. However the line of argument taken in London’s Laundry Business does not take us closer to a solution.


Amani El Sehrawey recently completed her Master's degree in European Public Policy from King's College London, and is currently working at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Executive Education. Her research interests include British immigration and integration policy, domestic and EU governance, and foreign policy.