Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Olympics Is Wrecking So Much Of UK Life

There was an article in 'The Guardian' on Saturday 21st July, by Caroline Davies entitled 'World awards UK gold medal in whingeing'.  It reported how foreign commentators have noted how irritated much of the British population appears to be at the Olympics.  I doubt that it is something unique to the UK.  I remember all the complaints around the financial mess which were the 1976 Montreal Olympics and the fact that facilities for the 2004 Athens Olympics were incomplete.  I certainly imagine Greece regrets the cost of hosting the Olympics now that it is so short of funds.

British complaints are not about the Olympics per se, but how they have been handled by the government.  You can certainly see enthusiasm for the games wherever the Olympic torch has been run around the UK.  People have been standing outside largely in pouring rain to watch a matter of seconds of a person running by with an Olympic torch, most of the time a person that they have no idea who they are.  Yet, they are still cheered on.  Tonbridge in Kent which was missed out by the incredibly winding route, had Dame Kelly Holmes a champion British athlete bring her torch (each of the 8000 runners gets to take their own torch home) to a specially organised event so that town did not feel left out.

Enthusiasm does not seem to be missing.  In the sport, I follow, cycling, the sense of anticipation following not only Bradley Wiggins winning 2 stages of the Tour de France and the race overall, but 3 stage wins by Mark Cavendish and one each by Chris Froome and David Millar in that race, given that these are 4 of the 5 men who will be on the Team GB road racing team, is at a very high level.  I am sure among fans of other sports featured, there is similar anticipation.  The problem for the average British person, whether a fan of any sports or not, is how badly this has been handled by the government.

The ticket process looked to be a shambles from the start and continues to be.  No-one seemed to know anyone who got a ticket.  The websites kept crashing at the time.  Yet, despite massive demand, it appears lots, literally hundreds of thousands of tickets have been left over unsold.  Thus, the view for fans is that they were somehow barred from getting tickets due to the process, with corporate buyers winning out over the average public and yet it has now resulted in loads of empty seats.  I do not know how it could have been handled any better, but there must be people who know.  Have the British not gone and talked to the Australians who ran the 2000 Sydney Olympics which are often rated as the most successful in recent years?  The way the tickets have been handled set the tone for what followed.

In the weeks running up to the Olympics, it has been as if there is an impending disaster is about to hit the UK.  I am sure that if it was known that a meteorite was heading towards Earth or very vigorous solar flares were anticipated, the information would be commuicated in exactly the same way as the approach of the Olympics has been.  Months ago there were warning notices at service stations and across London, about how companies needed to change their delivery times as they would not be able to get supplies into London.  Now ordinary drivers are being told to stay clear of large parts of southern England.  In a country where the train service is now often beyond the income of ordinary people to use, this simply adds to the sense that this is an event for the elites not the average UK citizen.  This is accentuated by the special lanes which have been carved out of London's roads.  Increasingly as a traveller in the UK you get the feeling that you are in a replica of medieval Japan where the ordinary people were expected to vacate the road and bow down in obeyance if a samurai wanted to ride by.

In Swindon in Wiltshire there are warnings about traffic disruption if you are going even in the direction of Weymouth in Dorset where the Olympic sailing events are being held, let alone trying to visit that town.  Swindon lies 142 Km (89 miles) from Weymouth, which suggests the vast area over which Olympic disruption is impinging on the ordinary public. South West Trains which runs the trains that go to Weymouth  have said that they cannot cope with the extra 80,000 passengers per day expected to use their services.  Contrary to the official advice not to attempt to drive to Weymouth and to use public transport, the train company incredibly is advising people not to attempt to use its service and to go by car instead! They have had years of time to prepare and yet they have failed.

The failure of the companies which make millions in profit but provide a declining service makes up a great deal of the problem and a focus of complaints.  South West Trains are not alone.  The G4S scandal has already attracted parliamentary attention and I imagine they are not going to be the last company to be called to account.  However, the problem has its roots further back.  During the Thatcher era 1979-91 and under her successors Major and Blair, there was a faith that private provision would always be better than anything the state could provide.  There was a lazy assumption that companies are interested in quality of service as well as profit.  Yet, year after year and now decade after decade, in those semi-monopolies, we find that in fact prices rise and service deteriorates.  I quite expect to hear that the companies supplying water and electricity to the Olympic site will soon be saying that water and electricity supplies in the surrounding area will have to be cut in order to supply the games.  It is no surprise that G4S could not supply enough security staff despite 100,000 applicants and unemployment at the highest level for years.  Their services are appalling all of the time anyway, especially handling prisoners.  Giving them an expensive monopoly for the Olympics was not going to change how they approach business.  Too many ministers feel inhibited from challenging companies employed by the government, despite paying them so much to be inefficient.  New Labour would not do it, nor will the coalition.  They are all brain-washed by the Thatcherite view that 'private, for-profit is best' so mentally cannot handle the fact when yet again this actually turns out not to be the case.  The current government loves to monitor and direct all aspects of life apart from companies making vast profits.  You only have to look at the lack of ability to curtail the immoral behaviour of the Murdoch press to not be surprised that it keeps happening.

The security situation is a key one for the UK because we are such a paranoid, militarised state.  It has been noted by 'The Guardian' how much the military has come into the foreground of British society, see: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/where-did-uk-veterans-day-suddenly-come.html  In many ways it has always been there, but the British of the past have overlooked this because of our feeling that to be a militarised state is to resemble the Prussians.  The UK is constantly involved in wars, in a way that our neighbours in Europe generally are not.  To support such activity we have given the military a raised status.  The implication is that unless you blindly support whatever military action the government (or the US government) has decided on, then you are betraying the service people injured or killed in these conflicts.  Ironically, many of the people Help For Heroes and Military Wives support would not need such help if the government did not keep shoving them into wars that had no chance of any British victory particularly with decreasing numbers of soldiers available and chronically under-equipped for over a decade now.

Paranoia is patriotic in Britain something we learnt from the Americans especially during the Bush era.  If you do not rush around screaming about the potential, often simply imagined threats to your country, then you are not patriotic:  http://rooksmoor.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/be-patriotic-be-paranoid.html  This is a bitter development in the UK if you remember back to how much better we handled actual, regular terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s and is very ironic now that the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' slogan prepared for use in the Second World War has become such a fashion accessory.  That would probably be a better attitude for handling the Olympics that the various flavours of paranoia reaching from panic about traffic jams to the myths around people being excluded to attending events if wearing branded items not provided by the Olympics' sponsors.  The militarisation and the paranoia has nicely bisected with the fact that troops are now being used to fill the gaps left by G4S's inability to employ enough staff.  I do not know if anyone can tell me if there will be more troops in uniform at the London Olympics than there were at the 1936 Berlin Olympics or the 2008 Beijing Olympics; maybe we will only get the Bronze in that competition.  Do not even get me started on the missiles stationed on rooftops across East London.  Anything being shot down at that stage damage the area anyway.  I guess it is more about pushing the incoming missile towards areas of East London like Hackney or Bow or Stepney(of course not to The City or Docklands where too many elite people will be) or Barking or Dagenham, rather than Stratford, so as to cut down on the policing costs next time riots come to London.

So, what have the Olympics done for us?  Well, I have not even touched on the laughing stock that featuring the moronic buffoon that is our Mayor of London, Boris Johnson makes of absolutely everyting he is involved with.  I think we should have simply had him appointed Chief Jester by the Queen in addition to his duties and then have one of his sinister and less comic deputies appear as Acting Mayor of London.  At least then there would be a gramme of gravitas.  Even George Bush Jr. could pull off looking suitably serious at serious events even if he would fluff his lines; Johnson cannot even manage that.  The other thing that is worth criticising is the impact on the internet.

The impact on the internet and the consequences for British business were highlighted a couple of weeks back by the BBC.  It has not been discussed much partly because the coalition, as noted above, tries to pretend it is a government which actually helps business, and not simply those companies that contain its friends or give generous donations to the Conservative Party.  Yet, having been in areas where the Olympic torch has been passing, I know that even that impacts on the internet connection.  At first I thought it was an attempt to compel us to abandon our computers and get out to watch the parade.  I did that for the sake of the 10-year old who lives in our house and saw tens of metres of procession which simply summed up many of the problems I have commented on.  There were tens of police either in standard uniform on motorbikes or in the natty grey running kit; there were numerous corporate sponsor vehicles and then lost amongst all this was an individual carrying the torch.  It perfectly summed up paranoia and corporate greed all in one.  I did wonder about the runners.  They receive high level protection, with four police staff runing with them, but what happens once they have handed over the torch?  Suddenly they transmogrify back into ordinary people.  If they are such a target while running with the torch, why not some minutes later?  Again, to me this seemed to sum up how narrow the perspective has been of the organisers at every single level.

Anyway, we have been warned by BBC News Breakfast programme to expect a similar fall off in internet service during the Olympics.  It will be interesting if some econometrics specialist can subsequently tell us how much damage that will do to the British economy.  Every bank holiday we are told how many billions of pounds are lost because people have one day extra off.  I would guess, on the same scale that more will be lost through damage to the internet connections over two weeks than is gained through money brought into the UK.  There clearly is already a loss given that troops who already had a job are being used for security rather than 3000 unemployed people getting a job however temporarily.  Increasingly, it is apparent, that the disruption to the UK which is of a scale far greater even than the recent flooding, is going to damage it at a time when its economy and society are already at a low ebb.  Britain is not going to come out of the Olympics unscathed.  The legacy is pretty illusory.  Yes, some people might take up some sports they might not have done before, but you could have pumped the money spent on the Olympics into local authorities into reducing the charges at leisure centres to achieve that, without all the traffic disruption, missile sites and paranoia.

The best way for the UK to have handled the Olympics is to have held our hands up and said, 'no, we are incapable of doing this without disrupting the UK economy and having to try to terrify much of the population; we have no companies that can deliver what they are promising' and then in the spirit of international friendship offered to help Dublin or Paris or Brussels actually host the games with British troops (out of uniform given sensitivities) along with Boris Johnson, packed off to the new host city to run it all.  Then Britain could get on without the disaster warnings, the militarisation and the paranoia and without the damage to the UK economy which is going to follow in the wake of this fiasco.

P.P. 31/07/2012
Since posting this I have been reminded by people about how poor the logo for the 2012 Olympics was, almost entirely illegible and also that the 'mascots' were so alien as to frighten children, a major failure when you are trying to peddle millions of soft toys.  These things do not damage the every day life of most people, though may have had an impact on some retailers grasping for any sales in this recession.  The error over the North and South Korea flags was typical of Britain.  David Cameron must be the only world leader who has been compelled to apologise to North Korea.  Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the US Presidency made an utter fool of himself, though apparently he has no foreign policy advisor.  Saying that even Michelle Obama made fauxs pas when she and her husband visited, but that was simply about the snobbery of the Queen, rather than what Romney has done, offend one of his country's prime allies and the only one which has stood by it when the last Republican President, George Bush Jr. decided to go to war.   You do wonder if there is anyone left in the USA who is white and works in business and has any brains.  Perhaps they have all emigrated; clearly they are not going into politics any more.  If Bush and Romney are the best the Republicans can produce you wonder what the men they beat are like.  The UK has been a close ally of the USA for over sixty years so to be able to offend it takes some really misguided talent.  The concern is, when he travels to countries who are more sensitive to such things and whose displeasure can have an impact on the USA, that he may actually provoke violent attacks, maybe even a war.  This may is a danger to world peace.

P.P. 03/08/2012
One thing that I was only alerted to recently was the impact that the Olympics have had on postal services in and out of London.  One form of special delivery has been suspended for the duration of the games and letters posted first class in London will now take a day longer than usual to arrive.  Despite this, the post office guarantees to make available stamps featuring gold-medal winning British competitors a day after they have won their medal and to paint postboxes close to where the competitor lives.  I do wonder about their sense of priority.

P.P. 05/08/2012
The detrimental impact on the economy of the Olympics, especially in London continues.  Shopping centres across the capital are deserted.  This is not really suprising as if you drive towards London, even 25 Km (15 miles) out you see flashed up on the motorway 'Avoid Central London until 15th August' as if there is some immense natural disaster occurring across the city.  These signs were up even before the games began.  It is in fact a great time to visit Central London, as many of the attractions are deserted.  'The Guardian' reported yesterday that you could get on the London Eye after only 10 minutes of waiting rather than the 1 hour of queuing which is usually the case and museums and other attractions are empty.  The British are excellent at panicking as was seen earlier this year when even talks about a potential oil tanker drivers' strike drove people to rush to fill up with petrol, often at risk to their health.  The strike never occurred.  With the Olympics, the organisers' assumption has been that London would be in chaos and the warnings that have been hammered into us for months now, have made many people simply assume London is a no-go area.  It has impacted across the locations.  I have noted above that there was an assumption that Weymouth would be a no-go area, so people are simply avoiding that town and the surrounding countryside too.  Apparently as a result, attractions in Weymouth are closing down due to insufficient people turning up.  By making it appear that the infrastructure of the UK was going to collapse under the weight of the Olympics, the government has insured that it will not simply by scaring hundreds of thousands of people away, at a time when the tourist industry actually needed a boost.  It is sickening to see how many empty seats there are at so many Olympic events, because corporate guests cannot be bothered to turn up.  They should simply go into the streets of Stratford and hand out tickets to people.  The people of East London have to put up with enough on a daily basis anyway, they deserve something free.  Even if they sell the tickets on, it will stimulate the grey economy of the region which is actually a key factor there.  The UK could probably not have run the Olympics any more ineffectually than it has.  However, it has shown that fear is a key drive in British civil society, constantly fanned by the government for its own purposes.  Consequently in this situation we are reaping what has long been sown.

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