Friday, May 25, 2007

Chariots of Ming

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Not very sporting

The Liberal Democrats should have come out against London bidding for the 2012 Olympics. It would have taken courage: in those days Tony Blair still had a little gloss left on him and we did not want to sound like killjoys. So at our Brighton Conference last year we trooped in to listen to Sebastian Coe and watched the Chariots of Ming video.

But it’s becoming clear that London 2012 is the Millennium Dome crossed with the NHS computer fiasco and the national identity card scheme with several more noughts after it and a cherry on top.

Back in 2003 consultants put the cost of the games at £1.796bn. By 2005 this had become a “prudent” £2.4bn. Now it is estimated that the cost is will be £9.35bn and everyone believes that the final figure will be a long way north of that.

All this is having a serious effect on public spending elsewhere, as two of our MPs pointed out at culture, media and sport questions on Monday.

Don Foster said the total cut in arts funding across the UK to pay for the Olympics will be well over £200 million. Paul Holmes said that Heritage Link, the Arts Council of England, the Voluntary Arts Network, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Central Council of Physical Recreation were all concerned about the impact of the Olympics’ smash-and-grab raid. “How,” he asked, “can there be a cultural Olympics and a growth in grass-roots sport if the funding is taken away?”

What are the arguments in favour of the London Olympics? Some say it will regenerate a run-down quarter of East London. But the evidence from other cities is mixed, and there must be cheaper ways of doing it.

Will it inspire a generation to take up sport? That would be great, but if watching sport on television were the answer then our children today would be the fittest ever.

Here’s an idea: instead of backing the Games, the Lib Dems should have proposed giving away that original £1.796bn to organisations like local sports clubs. It would have done far more for grassroots sport than the Olympics will ever do, and made clear our rejection of Labour’s top-down style of politics.

1 comment:

Laurence Boyce said...

Couldn’t agree more Jonathan. Who wants the Olympics? Certainly not me. What a shame the Lib Dems just lamely supported the games for fear of unpopularity.