IT’S TIME for a confession: I haven’t always been the Olympics’ greatest fan. I still dislike the Zil lanes, the disruption to business, the restrictions on free speech, the closure of parks and facilities, the immense cost to taxpayers. But it’s time to move on. Even I am now feeling really excited about the Games – and it is clear that the public has finally caught the Olympic bug. There has been an awe-inspiring turnout all across London to see the Torch, with entire streets coming out to watch. Many thousands lined the streets yesterday in the City and central London. Tonight will see Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, which will be spectacular.
So it’s time to forget about all the problems – and no, the Olympics won’t really boost the economy – and embrace this very special national and international moment. Huge numbers of people have made it to London; and millions in the UK and billions abroad are about to enjoy themselves thoroughly. London is at the centre of the world for the next few weeks, and that can only be a wonderful thing. We must all now hope that the Olympics are as successful as possible and a great showcase for contemporary London – and it must be said that our great city looks resplendent in the sun, with the latest additions to its skyline – such as the Shard – combining with the old classics – such as Tower Bridge – to create a stunning, iconic ensemble.
Boris Johnson and David Cameron are trying to use the Olympics as an opportunity to attract investment. Let us hope they succeed as London needs more companies to move here, in established business districts as well as in the new enterprise zone around the Royal Docks (though ultimately it will be real policies, rather than a slick sales job, that will attract genuine, unsubsidised economic activity to these shores).
But the rivalry between the Mayor and Prime Minister is also on display for all to see: the Olympics will not merely be about athletes competing – it will also be about Boris and Cameron fighting to stamp their mark on the festivities and grab as much of the limelight as possible.
So far, the Mayor is well ahead in this very special game. Boris was equally in his element last night at the Mansion House, where he and the Lord Mayor co-hosted a reception for senior business people, royalty and dignitaries, as he was addressing a large crowd at Hyde Park. He gave very similar speeches to both groups (the one to Mansion House was slightly longer) and yet got almost identical reactions from the two, entirely different audiences. “There’ll be enough gold and silver medals here to bail out Spain and Greece together”, he joked, eliciting cheers. Business leaders and young people alike shouted “yes” when asked by the Mayor whether we were ready for the Games. No other British politician has anything like the same appeal, cutting across all ages and backgrounds. Almost incredibly, the crowd at Hyde Park started chanting “Bo-ris, Bo-ris” after one particularly successful gag – as though the Mayor were a pop star, not a politician. The story of the Mayor’s slightly unfair attacks on Mitt Romney, the visiting US presidential hopeful who had the temerity to question whether London would be ready on time, has already travelled around the world, leading several US websites last night.
For the public, however, this is not about politics. It is about a unique sporting and cultural event, a jamboree of international entertainment, the origins of which go right back to the beginnings of Western civilisation. It will be the greatest show on earth, and it’s taking place right here in London. Let the Games begin.