It was supposed to be London that won the Games. But the capital has been the biggest loser...
The following is a speech delivered to a packed meeting organised by the CPBML in Conway Hall on 14 June.
Welcome to a different meeting about the Olympics. You haven’t had to pay to come in, you haven’t had to buy the T-shirt or trinkets, you don’t have to pay to leave though there will be a voluntary collection later. Why our meeting title? Because you cannot say “London Olympics 2012” as it is branded and you have to pay a fortune to the Olympic organisers to use the term.
My understanding of the Olympics was that they were originally amateur, for internationalism amongst people, for peace and friendship.
Are we at war? Woolwich Ferry over the last few months has had Royal Marines in the ever so Royal Borough of Greenwich zipping up and down the river in flash dinghies practising to stop the seaborne invasion coming up the Thames. Last invasion up the Thames was 350 years ago and that was stuffed near the Isle of Grain!
If you manage to walk to work you run the risk of being hit by the fallout from ground-to-air missiles the Ministry of Defence intend hiding on roofs of flats in the East End and parks in South East London. The missiles are to deter flying suicide bombers, and are to be fired on the personal command of David Cameron, our own superman from Poshville, self-declared champion of the free world.
Spectators queue to enter the Olympic stadium for one of the test events held in the runup to the Games.
Missiles with a four-mile range, whatever they are fired at, are guaranteed to come down on Londoners – not on Whitehall, Downing Street or Buckingham Palace but on the likes of you and me. If not missiles, then special services death squads patrolling the streets hunting terrorists on a shoot first, ask questions later basis. We all know what happened last summer in Tottenham in similar dodgy circumstances.
There will be snipers hanging out of army and navy helicopters to shoot down any flying bombs the rockets have missed in the no-fly zones and 10,000 service personnel based on a helicopter carrier in Greenwich. There will be landing craft and submarines patrolling the English Channel, fighter jets, attack helicopters, with billions spent on defence, not bad for a country supposedly bankrupt. And if not bombs then cyber-attacks and computer hacking on an unprecedented scale, probably aliens as well, you couldn’t make all this hype up unless you were some posh public school boys with their heads stuck in their Boys Own comic books.
Why are the Olympics in Britain a terrorist target? Not because of the founding principles of the Olympics but rather because of the behaviour of the British government, British commercial interests, British armed forces across innumerable parts of the world – Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. The billions being spent in so-called prevention of terrorism are really about trying to intimidate London. It is good therefore that people are saying no missiles on my block of flats, no missiles in my park, take your toys off my lawn.
Remember the cost of the opening ceremony doubled from £30 million to £60 million and was paid by Osborne without a murmur? But your housing benefit, now that’s another story. What’s gone wrong?
What do we have in London? A bill for over £9.5 billion to host the games. “Host” meaning the people of London will be repaying this debt for the next 30 years through their Council Tax. £9.5 billion would pay off all London’s NHS debts, rebuild schools, pay off a great slice of building Crossrail and really catapult the quality and standard of City life into the 21st century.
But no, even before the first race has been run, the first medal lifted, in fact even before the stadiums had been completed, the so-called Legacy authority was mired in arguments and dispute as to who was going to asset strip the London sites.
A City hijacked? How?
Every possible aspect associated with the Games has been commercialised, branded or sponsored. You cannot buy a British beer at the stadium because no British brewery won the sponsorship tendering exercise.
As a British resident, getting tickets has been a nightmare not because of supposed computer problems but because the vast majority of tickets have gone to commercial companies or targeted at tourists. Why the companies? Because it generates income, advertising and sales. Why tourists? Because it brings in money. The government have changed shopping hours for the eight Sundays involved because they reckon this will generate £750 million extra for the large supermarkets and high street brand stores. Cynically they refer to the Olympics as “Britain being open for business” and that “longer hours will reduce retail congestion and help tourists spend money”.
Some of the corporate tickets on offer range from £300 to £700. Go along for a prestige pavilion seat, full English breakfast, champagne reception, superb three course lunch with fine wines, complimentary bar, five-star cuisine, take in a couple of hours of sport – don’t take my word for it just read the advertising blurb. An ordinary working class person would need a second mortgage or bank loan to pay for such things, but then again it’s not the ordinary working-class person, is it, who’s attending? It’s just us paying for the jollies of the rich.
What you eat and drink has official sponsors – Coca-Cola, Heineken, McDonald’s. Every trinket, souvenir, item of memorabilia or branded sportswear has been produced in sweatshops in the Far East. Everyone is aware of this but so powerful are these companies that the TUC, though running its Fair Play campaign against such rates of pay and working conditions, daren’t call for a boycott of such goods. There is even an official sponsored sick bag in case you cannot stomach any more of the junk food or media hype associated with these circuses.
Hotels have inflated prices. Estate agents have been running an obscene scam to persuade people to hire their homes out. Thousands of people have been evicted by unscrupulous landlords. House prices have been inflated yet again – for what? An eight-week orgy of money-grabbing once a century.
The media is in a feeding frenzy of hype, diversion and displacement activity to generate a feelgood factor for diverting attention from London’s real problems and of course generate as much advertising revenue as possible. They even diverted the Olympic Torch run from Newham to Tower Hamlets because the organisers and media didn’t want to show the world the real poverty of the East End.
The city has been hijacked over transport – millions of workers are now advised to walk to work, work from home, work extended hours, work unsocial hours, bring a camp bed into the office. London’s public transport infrastructure is at best a miracle on a routine day. 3.5 million journeys on the Tube each day. Add an estimated 5.5 million day visitors and half a million staying visitors during the eight weeks of the Games and London will grind to a halt.
“We want to make sure people know they will be nicked,” is the friendly compassionate attitude towards parking, shown in the obscenely redefined “Royal” Borough of Greenwich in a message sent out to over 112,000 residents. Park in the wrong spot and cough up £130! 24 hour roving parking warden patrols, probably better density policing than the Metropolitan Police, more a city under occupation than celebrating.
But if you are an unaccountable Olympic VIP, official, celebrity nobody, groupie or corporate hanger-on then no worries – elite car lanes, 4000 sponsored BMW chauffeur-driven cars, all to speed you through a permanent rush hour lasting all day, from your five-star hotel to the venue of your choice.
Heavy security: the fence alongside the Lea Navigation Canal. The towpath and canal alongside the Olympic Park will be closed throughout the Games.
London has been hijacked over its public services – only ambulances with blue lights can use the elite road lanes. But how do patients get to hospital if stuck in traffic jams, how do the routine and regular demands on the NHS survive in these circumstances? Leave for staff has been cancelled in the NHS, tough if you have kids during the summer holidays. Extended shifts have been introduced for utilities staff. Gas, water and electricity workers have been told they must maintain supplies to the Olympic sites as the top priority, sod everyone else. Staff in the immediate host boroughs have had leave refused. Transport and rail staff expected to work longer hours and handle incredibly higher demands have at least forced recompense from the private companies.
Vast swathes of the City are to be effectively no-go zones for cars and vehicles. Bad enough is driving on a routine day but now drivers are advised don’t drive at all. Controlled parking zones are being introduced throughout all direct host boroughs and neighbouring boroughs of the sites. There are amusingly named Parking Protection Areas to protect residents and businesses, but backed up with 24-hour ticket-issuing parking wardens specially funded by Boris Johnson’s office.
Fines of £1000
Not only will parking tickets be hiked to a minimum of £130, but there are also proposals to introduce fines of £1000 for parking unofficially in one of these Olympic areas. Fines for unauthorised use of the elite lanes, fines probably for walking slowly or standing still – which is likely to be millions of us if you think about the forecast two-hour delays to get a train or tube at the wrong time of the day at the hot-spot stations. They’ve obviously missed a fund-raising trick there! Even the streets beneath our feet are being privatised.
London is hijacked in a frenzy of distraction and diversion from the real needs of the seven million people of London in the interests of greed, profit, sleaze and phoney prestige. Eight weeks of circuses will vanish as quickly as the 15 minutes of fame in the spotlight. And I’m still waiting to meet anyone who works or lives in London looking forward to this event.
What do we really want from the Games?
What do we really want for London?
The real regeneration of London and the East End, not circuses, distractions, diversions, putting sticking plaster over the problems and poverty of a city crying out for help. One simple action could be stopping the ceaseless flood of people into London overpowering our schools, NHS, housing and jobs market.
The creation of real value-generating jobs not the phoniness and non-jobs associated with the Olympic legacy park.
What happens to the legacy sites? They will be sold off for vast profits, some will be demolished but none will be as were promised to the people of London. The buyers will be those who want to see London as an international sporting venue, flying in ever faster tours of intercontinental sporting leagues owned by the rich, for the rich and paid for by us.
We are for the regeneration of London not for eight weeks but for the next 80 years or more. Regeneration means homes, schools, health, transport, jobs – all the infrastructure society needs if we are to create real culture and sport.
We want a legacy worth remembering –
We are for the reclaiming of London, reclaiming it for the working class of London.
And as a final word, I saw an advert stating “THE GAMES MAY NOT COME TO LONDON AGAIN”, all I can say is, “CAN WE HAVE IT IN WRITING PLEASE!” ■