UK Politics

Olympian ambivalence

Aaronovitch is right. London is a fantastic city and it has improved beyond measure since the days when Jacques Chirac was probably eating in an Angus Steakhouse.

Although, (some might say ‘because’) I haven’t lived there, I have become a convert to London. I first visited the city as a nine-year-old when my Dad took me round the sights. I was overwhelmed and somewhat in awe of Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the Christmas shoppers but as I grew up, in the North, under Thatcher’s rule, I came to despise the capital. It was the city that had everything while we had next to nothing. And, worse, it laughed in our faces about it.

Southerners will never understand what it was like in the eighties to experience factories closing down, families going bankrupt and entire communities being laid waste while the media rattled on excitedly about new technology, fashion, yuppies, the stock market and why people from Essex were voting Tory.

The media is still remarkably London-centric. Only the French can compete with the UK for being so centralised and so unable to see beyond the capital. The horror that greeted the BBC’s decision to move some staff to Manchester showed that contempt for the provinces remains entrenched among the London middle classes.

But London itself has changed dramatically. I no longer feel like a tiny little intruder when I visit the city but dive into it with enthusiasm. The dominating atmosphere is no more that of stagnant power and cold authority but anarchic creativity and uncontrolled cosmpolitianism. London doesn’t feel like it is looking down its nose at me anymore – it just wants my wad.

But Aaronovitch is wrong. None of this means that London is the ideal venue for the Olympic Games. The last thing London needs is more building and loads more visitors desparately trying to get somewhere on time via public transport.

Sure, if it has come down to London v Paris, I know which side I am on. So good luck to the London bid. But Britain missed a great opportunity with this bid. A chance to use all that investment in areas of the country that could still do with a major boost.

The North West is the heartland of British sport (for starters it has more teams in the Champions League next season that almost all European countries) and there is plenty of call for new facilities and for the ‘boost’ that Olympics are supposed to give to local economies. Thousands of foreigners could have been given an introduction to the too-often ignored tourist pleasures of the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and North Wales. They could have discovered that cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds have also changed dramatically in the past 20 years. With improved transportation there is no reason why a Northern Games could not have extended to the North East bringing in Newcastle and the Northumbrian coast. Everyone in the world already knows about London.

In the end it was London’s ‘prestige’ that the government thought could swing the IOC for a British bid and they surely had a point. It would have been much tougher for a Northern bid to succeed. But the prize would have been so much more worth winning.

If London wins, most Northerners won’t get a chance to attend the games. Those who do will get ripped off on trains and hotels. The huge majority of Northerners will watch the events on television just as they will when they are held in Beijing but this time they will be paying for them – out of their taxes. And worse, while forking out for an event they won’t have much chance to participate in they will have to put up with Londoners complaining in the (their?) media about the increased traffic and pollution, the cost and the general hassle of hosting the games.

London has changed for the better in the past two decades but it is time that the capital’s attitude to the rest of Britain changed too. Time that the politicians and the media realised that the large majority of citizens don’t live in London and time that the ‘provincials’ started to make their voice heard.