David Cameron has doubled the budget of the London 2012 Olympic ceremonies
in a bid to advertise Britain to the world. What does the prime minister think the
UK is going to gain from feigning financial might?
Sports minister Hugh Robertson considers the £81 million now being sunk into
the ceremonies as a no-brainer investment, estimating the ‘advertising value’
of the games to be in the rather large region of £2-5 billion. I have no qualms
with the fact that Britain will be portrayed in a good light. What I find difficult to
comprehend is how the government can hope to calculate the financial proceeds
of a successful ‘party’ (as Cameron himself likes to refer it).
It would be naïve indeed to not acknowledge that the Olympics provide a
fantastic opportunity for the UK economy. The benefits for tourism will last well
into this decade, and if Danny Boyle’s direction is very cunning we might even
encourage some investment. But, I’m just not sure this is going to be achieved by
spending money on ever more catherine wheels. The original budget would have
sufficed in attracting tourists and a quick flick through the newspapers will tell
any potential investor that no amount of rockets can cut through the sad fact that
the UK is not the dynamic and modern economy, bursting through the walls of
recession, that Cameron would like to portray.
“Not just more Fireworks” was Robertson’s response to the flood of criticism
over the decision. And he’s absolutely right, it’s not just more fireworks. It is the
message that the government’s handling of the situation sends out. This and the
last games have shown that a celebration of sport and athletic brilliance is no
longer the primary function of the Olympics. No, these are merely a means of
bringing 4 billion viewers to the longest TV advert on earth.
Although minor in comparison to Cameron’s latest foreign policy decisions, not
under discussion here, this does represent another case of Britain engaging in
a grand old tradition of penis puppetry. Now that was all fine when we held the
strings of an incomparable navy and sway over a quarter of the globe, but we are
now not the global player our government continues to portray us as.
China spent quite a bit on their ceremonies. But they might be forgiven. They
are sporting some rather large genitalia at this moment in time. If our GDP had
grown at a constant rate of 8-12% per annum over the last fifteen years I too
might approve of spending the small change at the bottom of the national wallet
(circa £200 million in the case of China) on the kind vulgar and unnecessary
fireworks that I’m sure we’ll all sit through this summer.
Perhaps Mr Cameron might have considered that battling through hard times,
as few would deny are facing us now, with poise and determination is precisely
what defined Britain at the times when it did hold sway in the world. The
Olympic budget is a minor issue financially, but an issue where the government
could have sent a strong message to the world about Britain and its position in
the globalized world.