No time for grumbling!
In adulthood, there are few events which rekindle the childlike excitement and breathless anticipation that Christmas or a birthday party prompted when you were a child. This week, I feel that tingle again as I think about the Olympics. I am beyond excited about the fact that the event that has always kept me glued to the telly even while a brief British summer went on around me is now going to happen in my capital city.
I know there are some who don’t share my enthusiasm, but let me try to convince you.
First, it was our government ‘wot won it’! I can remember the ministerial committee meetings where Tessa Jowell forced those present to lift their heads from our stifling departmental briefings about all the problems to see the opportunity in making a bid. She did this while also maintaining an iron grip on the costs and other requirements.
Didn’t you feel proud when Tony Blair, Tessa Jowell and, yes, Ken Livingstone too, managed to persuade the rest of the world that London could host the greatest sporting event in the world? And their message about London and the bid was fashioned from our values too – that the diversity of our capital is its strength; that we wanted to bring regeneration and investment to an area of the City which the market had left behind; that we could create a legacy of sporting opportunity which went far beyond the elite athletes taking part in the Games. The last of these may have fallen somewhat by the wayside under this government, but I still expect there to be people prompted to get more active and take up sports because of the Olympic effect. Apparently British cycling success has already boosted membership of cycling clubs – and that’s before Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish thrilled even those of us who’ve never watched the Tour de France before.
Second, we have delivered pretty much what was promised so far: the venues built on time and under budget; thousands of volunteers of all ages; a torch relay which managed to touch people who won’t be able to get anywhere near the actual games. Even the crassness of the sponsors’ buses couldn’t dull the community buzz and enthusiasm when the torch went past the end of my road.
As home secretary, I was involved in the earliest stages of the security planning. The G4S ‘contribution’ is a shambles, but I know the security planning and execution overall will be among the best in the world.
Finally, some people argue that sporting excellence is the epitome of individual effort. I disagree. When we see British gold medals in the coming weeks, they will be built on a strong team of support, meticulous planning and usually some public money too. So collective organisation and funding leads to an individual achieving the best they can. That’s our politics, isn’t it?
I was disappointed to read that foreign journalists are making a theme of our grumbling about the Games. I know we have a healthy British scepticism, but do we really want this to translate into an international picture of Britain as a bunch of whingers?
My dad went to the 1948 London Olympics. In a fortnight I’ll be taking him back to the 2012 London Olympics. He’s excited too. For most of us, however, this really will be a once-in-a-lifetime event – let’s make it a showcase for the best of British values and pride. There’s plenty of time for grumbling in September!
Jacqui Smith, Ken Livingstone, Labour, London, Olympics, sport, Tessa Jowell, Tony Blair