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Olympic politics

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Roger Mosey | 11:12 UK time, Monday, 10 May 2010

The precariousness of life in politics was brought home to me the other day when I was chatting to someone from the Greater London Authority about the Olympic Games. "I may not be in a job by then," was their rueful line.

And there is, of course, the rather significant matter of a Mayoral and Assembly election in London scheduled for May 2012 - just over 2 months before the start of the Games. It may not be Boris Johnson brandishing the flag in the opening ceremony; and yet most of the big decisions from London's point-of-view will have already been taken. The "one amazing year" the Mayor has talked about will be five months old when the capital's electorate gives its verdict.

So the outcome of last week's General Election has added another layer of uncertainty to the London 2012 planning. There are massively bigger matters at stake like the future of the economy and the shape of our political system which are being reported brilliantly by Nick Robinson & Co; but during the campaign I bumped into one of the nation's great and good who said he was looking forward to the outcome because we'd have a settled government that knew it would be in power in 2012 and beyond, and that would help all the projects. Which made me think he hadn't been looking at the polls.

A few observations, then, about the world we find ourselves in. First, the Olympic organisers are pleased that London 2012 wasn't a feature of the election campaign. That means, in their view, that it's seen by all parties as making good progress - and it's not the political hot potato it might have been. The people who underestimated the original budget have been flame-grilled for their sins, but now there is a political consensus about the costs and the organisation of the Games. This message has been sent out internationally by the organisers.

The Olympic venues under construction
The Olympic Park is taking shape in east London

But I saw the former Home Secretary Dr John Reid on ITV saying that the Olympics and especially having a strong approach to security would be key for a new government, and our understanding is that London 2012 will be a significant part of the briefing documents for incoming ministers. And amid the challenges are opportunities too: whoever's in power in 2012 can expect a rosy glow of approval if the year goes well. I've spoken to a number of politicians who recognise that in a time of austerity, and with tough economic challenges ahead, London 2012 is potentially the one very good news story for the UK if it's delivered successfully.

If you were a betting person, then, it would be surprising to have a UK general election in the spring of 2012 unless it's absolutely unavoidable. The combination of the frenetic pace by then of Olympic planning with the Diamond Jubilee would be a powerful reason not to have an election too; whereas speculation about an autumn poll would allow another chapter to be written about the relationship between sport events and politics. I spotted again recently the discussion about the link between England's exit from the World Cup in 1970 and Harold Wilson's defeat at the ballot box shortly afterwards.

For all the current consensus, though, the emergence of a new government will have a discernible effect on the tone and style of London 2012. Different politicians see us differently as a nation. And there will be even more tangible consequences for the Olympic legacy. The argument has already started about what impact spending cuts will have on sport.

So if you were drawing a conclusion about where the Olympics stand at a time of uncertainty, it would be a pretty simple one. London 2012 is as well-placed as it could reasonably expect to be, but like everything in the UK it won't be immune from the political cross-currents. The Olympic rings won't protect any sacred cows.


  • Comment number 1.

    Well the first thing I'd like to say is that I hope Boris Johnson and Ken L. agree that, no matter what, that they'll both be part of London 2012. Both do/did a lot toward it and it's simply too petty to think that both shouldn't bask in the glow of something they contributed to. Ditto for Tessa Jowell, who probably won't be in power then. Lord Coe should use his clout to make sure it's done properly. It was a team effort to win the thing, a team effort to prepare for it, so it should be a team effort to enjoy it and bask in it.

    I suspect that the new administration will, if they are wise, not cut things entirely, but really be tough on costings and ensure that only good projects get funded. That's healthy. It'll make people think carefully about what they want to do, design programmes optimally and take responsibility for frugal cost management. It can be done. In sport like in anything else. It should be a great opportunity for young go-getting administrators, who can show lazy fat cats what can be done on half the budget. A great 27 year old can do as much as a mediocre 55 year old you know. Although a great 55 year old will do more than almost anyone. I guess we'll find out who's in what for the money and who's in what for the long haul.....

    There's also a unique opportunity for people to think out-of-the-box on legacy at Olympic Park. The old rules don't apply any more. So 'don't think earthquake, think opportunity' is the phrase which comes to mind. Hopefully lots of people are doing precisely that right now......

    Life is, ultimately, what you make of it.

  • Comment number 2.

    So now we have Jeremy Hunt confirmed as the new secretary of state for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. In his first BBC interview he said the Olympics would be top priority:

    And the appointment has been welcomed by Seb Coe:

    But on Newsnight, the secretary of state confirmed that the Olympics wouldn't be immune from the spending review.

  • Comment number 3.

    Roger, - will start with a disagreement - I dispute your view that Nick Robinson reported on the election brilliantly. He was full of assertion and very little facts. He gave us his opoinion far too often and not enough hard facts. Some of his knowledge and explanation was decididly dodgy.

    But back to you !

    Whilst it would (in your own word) be 'surprising' to have a General Electiion in 2012 it could still happen. the coalition could break down over all sorts of isses. As you say there will be the GLA and Mayoral elections in May 2012.

    I suppose it is possible that the Government could make a decision to delay the elections to either later in the year even to 2013 and give Boris an extra year in office but its not really the sort of thing we do in this country. There was an outcry on 2001 about delaying the local elections by only a month because of foot and mouth.

    Besides the Mayor is not organising the games - thats down to Lord Coe and LOCOG and petty election squbbles won't affect them but they will Boris.

    There will have been all sorts of test events by then and the Mayor could find himself on the end of critisism if they don't go well.

    I'm not sure where the new minsiter will find any cost savings. Didn't Bopris go through the budget when he came into office in 2008?

    I dont think he found any flab and excess. In anycase the busget has been settled and any attempts to re-open now i will only cause concern to the IOC.

    Thats not to say LOCOG and the Delivery Authority etc have free reign to spend spend spend like Viv Nicholson but they appear to have a strong grip on spending - and have been commended by the Public Accounts Committee for that.

  • Comment number 4.

    Magnificentpolarbear: yes, I agree there *could* be a general election in May 2012. My point was that it would be an additional risk given the state by then of Olympic planning, and also it's not thought great to have politics overhanging an historic Jubilee - which is being celebrated at the start of June 2012.

    Everything I've heard suggests the mayoral election in London will go ahead as planned in May 2012. The mayor and his team are heavily involved in planning the Olympics because the mayor sits on the LOCOG board and key issues like city-wide planning and transport land at his door. So it's not ideal that there's such a close promiximity between the London election and the Opening Ceremony, but I can't see that being avoided.

  • Comment number 5.

    Tories then already going back on any commitment to the Olympics - let's just hope that this coalition collapses and they'll be out of power by the time the games come around, unless of course Cameron can get his Mugabe style proposition through to make it impossible to oust him and his 47% share of the house by upping the threshold to 55%.

    Anyway Roger - do you know if the Diamond League events will be on the iPlayer. The BBC seemingly decided not to bother telling anyone they had the rights, hid it away on the red button and opted to show the likes of Murder She Wrote rather than highlights of the event on Saturday afternoon.

  • Comment number 6.

    Not 1500+ comments to wade through here then!

    So £27m cut as the Tories go back on yet another pledge and completely fail to see the connection between saving tax-payers money and making thousands of their employees unemployed, meaning they'll end up paying people not to do jobs instead!

    In reality though after a £6billion rise a £27m cut isn't a disaster, but plenty of questions to be asked about how such events are budgeted - not just from a UK/political point of view, but how the IOC encourage bidder to undervalue the true cost of their games in the bidding process.

  • Comment number 7.

    Yes, Brekkie - just you and me down here! I'm not going to venture into the politics despite your kind invitation, but simply to note that there are effectively two budgets: one is about building the Games, and the other is about running them. I'm sure we're going to see that difference with greater clarity in the coming months.

  • Comment number 8.

    The cuts are a signal that there are no holy cows - but it is intersting to watch the economic and financial situation at the bidding process in 2005 in Singapore which has been pretty well - then the unexpected happened with the economic recession that rose the question "Were we right to bid?" with different answers from the former Olympic minister Tessa Jowell that replied: If we had known the recession to come, we would not have bid, and the LOCOG chair the other way round "Why we were right to bid" - other uncertainties like the weather that played an important role at the Vancouver Games with too warm weather occurred - that has been the reason for the London organisers to establish a team that deals with weather forecasts for the times of the Games in 2012 - then the Icelandic ash has been another threat of unforeseen uncertainties and now the cuts that had been rejected by Tessa Jowell that demands that former volume of the budget...
    Who did expect this all to come when London won the bid in 2005?


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