So we’ve banned cars from using main roads since January, paused the construction of Crossrail and the Shard, closed down the London docks, and yet the smog cloud continues to hang over the capital. An athletics reporter from the New York Times checked into her hotel today, she’s handed a mask with her room key, and when she mentions she has asthma, the concierge suggests with a polite smile that she probably shouldn’t spend too long outdoors. After bumping into a reporter on the Evening Standard, she hears that local media have been “encouraged” by an adviser to Jeremy Hunt not to report on the planned protests over the politically sensitive Falklands dispute, being whipped up by Shakira’s call for Latin American solidarity. While the Evening Standard reporter would say this much, he simply shook his head when asked about the missing National Trust activists, angered that the government is supposedly ignoring an outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in Gloucestershire.
This Olympishambles hasn’t happened. But Beijing’s Olympics experienced dangerously high levels of pollution, plans for a celebrity-led boycott and media blackouts over human rights and Tibet. Yet the 2008 Olympics were broadly seen as a great success, remembered for the impressive Bird’s Nest stadium and Usain Bolt. Meanwhile Athens faced a last minute race to open a half-finished stadium and the basic but essential tram line was only completed with weeks to go. And yet, despite the long-term damage to the country’s economy, Greece managed to pull it off.
And Labour’s legacy of London Olympics will be a great success. The stadia have been constructed, and Stratford has been transformed, on time and on budget. Everything about Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, celebrating everything from the nation’s sheep to the campaign for women’s suffrage and British rain to the Windrush, sounds fantastic. And I am planning to make the most of my £20 tickets to see the Greco-Roman Wrestling.
The fact that the government only just noticed the flaws in its security arrangements and didn’t pay sufficient attention to the repair works of a major road points to one of its larger failings. As the Financial Times recently observed, Cameron’s pride in governing like he is Chair of a company board means that he fails to notice problems until they reach the front pages of national newspapers.
While there is always the temptation to kick the government when it’s messed up, Labour would be wrong to be too critical about Olympic difficulties. This morning, the M4 re-opened and whether it’s G4S or our world-class forces, unless we wheel out the Special Catastrophisation Unit London’s security arrangements won’t look shambolic.
Britain has a deeply unattractive tendency to claim failure before we’ve even tried.
In government, Labour fought against this cynicism, and Blair’s bid for the Olympics represented that confidence in what we can achieve.
The voters will remember London 2012 as a success.
And we shouldn’t be joining the Daily Mail brigade in damning the Games before they’ve started.