18 July 2012

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

I've been planning this post for weeks, if not years, and I feel confident that some of it will (unusually for my posts) draw sympathy from all sides of the political spectrum who read this blog. As the title is based on an episode (the final episode in the Penultimate series) of the Original Doctor Who, let me take you back in time to when I was struggling in London, stuck in an impossible job and commuting upward of 3 hours every day from one benighted part of the Capital (Hanger Lane) to another. (Hackbridge)  The date, specifically is 7th July 2005, and the Metro Freesheet I pick up from the newsagent outside my house contains the nauseating spectacle of one of the most hated figures of the last 30 years, Ken Livingstone pictured alongside David Beckham celebrating Britain's victory in its bid for the 2012 Olympics. Screwing it up in disgust, I threw it on to my car's front seat and, set off on the drive, not to my normal workplace but to the far nearer Greenford site, for a session on my then employer's new appraisal system. About thirty minutes into the session, a New Zealander working at the office said that the Underground had been shut down due to 'unspecified power failures'. The rest of the day's events will for anyone in the UK at that time need no further redaction, my abiding memory is of trying about 20 times from the smoking shelter at the site to get through on my mobile phone to find news of one my relatives, and when finally making contact via a free landline learning that he had stayed home and the feeling of relief washing over me, mixed with a degree of guilt that the families of 56 other people hadn't been so lucky.

Home to the News and obviously the news that we had won the Olympics was relegated to at best, the front of the Sports Pages, together with various prominent politicians expressing their regrets and sorrow over the incident. It is indeed, unfortunate that these two incidents happened in such quick succession, as the horrific impact of the bombings had a tendency, completely understandably, for the 18 months following it to overshadow the ongoing Scandal of the Olympics themselves being awarded to London. To fast forward the story nearly two years: A close Friend's wedding in Mexico presaged from me, having read innumerable horror stories of Travellers' ordeals at the hands of the USA's Transport and Security Administration, on an almost frantic search (as Direct flights had run out) to find a way to get to Cancun, in Eastern Mexico without going through the United States. After an increasingly desperate trawl of almost every European capital (I even looked at Moscow!) like Newton being struck by an apple, it dawned on me what language the Mexicans speak... and I was easily able to find direct flights from the moronically not until that point checked Spanish capital of Madrid. This was one of two cities (the other being Paris) which had narrowly been beaten by London to host the games. Upon my arrival in Madrid in April 2007, it was clear that the government, even having lost, had carried out much of the work outlined in the bid. Getting round the city, even as a non-Hispanophile using a Collins mini-guide and bastardised French-pronounced Spanish seemed effortless. Coming (and at that time mercifully having got out of) from three years in London, it seemed incredible that the Spanish Capital could have been viewed as inferior, and it seemed well ahead of where London's preparation at that point was, even having lost out on the bid to host them!

Ever since the link between the Bombings and Olympics bid has been made more distant by the passage of the time, I have been a staunch opponent of them being awarded to London. It transpired within less than a year, that the Bid organisers, at best naively, and at worst fraudulently though that the Construction costs of the games weren't subject to VAT, leading to an increase in the cost of an estimated £2.5 billion. In fairness, in the wake of this, a variety of UKIP bloggers (this was before the near-universality of Facebook and Twitter) estimated the cost overruns would run into £20 or £30 billion. Mercifully for the organisers, these figures have turned out to be exaggerated, but independent research still has the cost at a staggering £9 billion, which makes them the most expensive Games ever.

So like the Timelord himself, let's come crashing into the present, and as the helpful Official Site points out, (and probably by the time this post is finished it'll be less) there are now 9 days until the Opening Ceremony, and the 'Greatest Show on Earth' begins. My abiding memory of the last Olympics, held in Beijing, was the by then London Mayor, Boris Johnson, shambling on to the stage behind a Retired Routemaster as China 'handed the Games over' to the UK, and thinking, it'll come around sooner than I think - and here we are, or aren't as later paragraphs will reveal.

Of course between that point in 2008 and 2012, there has been a hell of a lot of water under the bridge: A huge economic crisis, and a change of government (Indeed it's two Prime Ministers since we first got the games!), and also a sea change in media reaction and the inexorable rise of Social media. I might have just made it onto Facebook, I think when the Beijing Olympics were on, but I had certainly barely heard of Twitter, and of course thought it basically a tool for following the meanderings of Stephen Fry, rather than a genuine revolution in the way the news is now filtered.

So here we are in July 2012, with the Olympics now days away, and as though outlining the Dramatis Personae of a play, let's introduce a la Romeo and Juliet, the two key 'factions' in this little drama - On one said, we have the sinister sounding LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) and on the other the oft mentioned here Coalition Government. Suffice it to say, the play, thus far looks like being a combination of comedy and tragedy.

1/ Revenge of the Trolls

Anyone writing on Twitter or indeed any Social networking site will be familiar with the existence of Trolls: Indeed entire websites are devoted to following the best of them. A troll is defined (quite loosely) as someone who writes deliberately inflammatory, provocative or offensive comments on a blog. I've even been described as one myself by several prominent Left of centre bloggers. Nevertheless, they are a fact of life out there in cyberspace, however much people dislike it. I even follow a number of them on Twitter. Into this dangerous minefield LOCOG stumbled like a drunkard enforcing the highly contentious Olympic Games Act 2006, one of Blair's last before he yielded to Brown. It gives LOCOG the power to potentially prosecute people:

'using prohibited terms. Under the OSPA (1995), these include but are not limited to...'the Olympics', 'Paralympics' and Olympic Rings... but also under the Olympic Games Act 2006 ... the terms 'LOCOG' , 'London 2012' , 'Team GB' or any images, logos or graphics relating to them.'

'As well as these terms prohibited from use by anyone other than official partners but also companies that produce unauthorised products bearing similar words – plurals, translations, deliberately misspelled etc. – are likely to be fined with directors of the firms liable to prosecution.'

Now, whatever my or your opinion of the Trolls, as the Kernel Mag article linked to above points out, they tend to be libertarian or anarchic in nature. As well as being often bigoted and profoundly offensive to many people of delicate sensibility,  they also don't take kindly to be pushed around by nameless, faceless bureaucrats. Their reaction was a fairly predictable one as seen here, here and here. Don't forget this is also based on my extremely limited exposure to about 300 users - god knows how many other Trolls have got similar Spoof avatars! So LOCOG have made the classic mistake of using a 'Sledgehammer to crack a nut' and have merely succeeded in at best looking antagonistic, and at worst, like total chumps.

2/ Give them a sporting chance, surely?

I think anyone who thinks the Olympics are any longer about the Sport can only be under 16 or possessed of a staggering naivete which would suggest they won't survive long in this world. On a trip back to the UK I was watching a Daytime TV programme wherein an 'Anti-Olympics' protester was being interviewed by former Relay Silver medallist Iwan Thomas, and was outlining the reasons behind this movement - Watching the 'face of the protestors' it seemed I was transported in my mind to a UK Uncut group destroying Fortnum and Mason - the same stale, Marxist claptrap, almost enough to make me sympathetic to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and LOCOG. I was instinctively on the side of the Athletes, who it must be said are not entirely culpable for what has become a modern-day circus. however, in the cold light of day, the anti-Olympics people, including such luminaries as our Old friends Richard Murphy and Owen Jones, prove the old adage 'Even a blind squirrel stumbles across the odd acorn': As the quite disparate figures of James Delingpole in the Telegraph and Nic Cohen in the Spectator make clear, it is truly nauseating to see the following examples:

Olympic Gold medallist Sally Gunnell forced to switch Tracksuit colour and remove the Union Jack flag from the photoshoot of an advert promoting EasyJet's new London- Southend service

Hanley's Florist  in Stoke- on - Trent threatened with prosecution over putting a display of Flowers in the Shop Window in the shape of the Olympic logo - as the Florist himself rightly says 'Who in Stoke- on - Trent gives a stuff about the Olympics?'

Stopping a London bound bus for four hours on security grounds because someone had sparked up an electronic cigarette - An interesting choice of weapon for potential terrorists to be sure.

I'm sure other people could add Legions of examples - The truth is that the Olympics have now become so dominated by Large corporations that the sport is entirely a secondary, some might even say tertiary consideration.

3/ The idiots themselves

And so on to our next Primary player in the drama - This Coalition government, which is against stiff, (and I must confess, I thought insuperable) competiton from its predecessor rapidly leading the field when it comes to fiascos and incompetence. The week began with Theresa May breaking the news of a Security scandal involving PFI beneficiaries GPS. Apparently the firm had no idea how many guards it could provide for security, pointing to a lack of trained personnel. The upshot of this is that the already overstretched army and Police force have had to supplement the security. Then on Monday, following the news that the M4, previously closed for two weeks following revelations that the main elevated sections had serious defects , the hated M4 Bus lane, the brainchild of John Prescott , was reopened as a ZIL lane for the Olympic duration. This caused the expected 28 miles queues going into London. Combined with the revelation that the Olympic Park isn't even ready, the impression is, however hyped up by the Press, of a government, and by extension a country, in total disarray.

Thus my initial anger, that Madrid, which I know would have been both more than capable of holding a superb games, and was fraudulently denied by either incompetence or wilful deception on the part of the Original bid team, has now turned to slight depression that the Eventual denouement of the Olympics themselves will confirm Britain's collapse to Third World status, and that the abiding memory of the Olympics will be that like their predecessors in 1948, they were characterised by austerity and 'muddling through'. The difference being in 1948 we were holding them in the wake of the worst conflict the world has ever seen. What is the contemporary excuse? it's a truism that no-one likes a smartarse and I hate to say I told you so, but the truth is 3 years of living in London (2003 to 2006) when the population was half a million people lower than it is now convinced me in no short order that London was an entirely unsuitable place to hold the games. It's sad that that conclusion is being borne out in the unforgiving glare of the new Social Media world...

1 comment:

Andrew Zalotocky said...

The 2012 Olympics is a classic example of corporatism. It's Big Business and Big Government acting in concert to further their own interests at the expense of the public. But that's the nature of politics in Britain today. Socialism and free-market capitalism have both been defeated by corporatism (and the anti-market "crony-capitalism" of bank bail-outs is simply corporatism in action). Therefore the real political division in modern Britain is not between left or right, or between Conservative or Labour, but between insiders and outsiders. The insiders get wealth and power, everyone else gets the bill.