The London Olympics are already achieving the number one aim of the politicians who brought them here, which is making our politicians feel very important indeed.
The media is quite frenetic in its efforts to make us all believe we should be terrifically proud of the fact we are hosting the Olympics, as though there were something unique in this achievement. If we can’t competently do something that Greece, Spain and China have done in recent years, that would be remarkable. Of course the Games will be on the whole well delivered, sufficient for the media and politicians to declare it an ecstatic success. Some of the sporting moments will be sublime, as ever.
But did it have to be in London? We won’t know the total cost of the Games for months, but it will cost the taxpayer at least £9 billion and I suspect a lot more. I also suspect the GDP figures will, in the event, show that the massive net fall in visitor numbers has hurt the already shrinking economy further.
But to take the most optimistic figure, holding the Olympics in London has cost every person in the country an average of £150 per head in extra taxes. That is £600 for a family of four. Actually it is in the end going to be well over £2,000, as of course the money has been borrowed on the never never, and taxpayers are going to be paying it off their whole lives, along with the sum ten times higher they are already paying direct into the pockets of the bankers through their taxes.
The very rich, of course, don’t pay much tax, so they are not worried.
But to take just the figure of £600 extra taxes for a family of four, the lowest possible amount, and not including the interest. Is having the Olympics here really worth paying out £600 for? If Tony Blair had approached the head of the family and said “We are going to have the Olympics in London, but it’s going to cost you £600, would the answer have been from most ordinary people: “Yes, great idea, this is that important to us”?
People are not disconcerted because they don’t see that they have to pay. There is no special Olympics tax, and they pay their taxes in a variety of ways, and individuals are not the sole source of taxation. But this is nonetheless real money taken from the people in pursuit of the hubris of politicians.
I love sport. I hate the corruption of the International Olympic Committee, Fifa and the rest; I hate the vicious corporatism and militarisation of our capital and absurd elitism of the transport lanes; the sport itself I love. But with the economy contracting, and the NHS being farmed out for profit, is it really worth £600 for a family – and many families are really struggling in a heartbreaking way – is it worth the money to have the Olympics here rather than in Paris?
Of course it isn’t. I think many of us will feel an extra pleasure watching the Opening ceremony because it is British. Patriotic pride will surge. It is not wrong to enjoy the spectacle tonight on TV. The corporate well connected and ruling classes will enjoy it in the stadium.
But after you have watched it on TV, ask yourself this question. How much more did you enjoy it than enjoy watching the Beijing ceremony, and was that margin of extra enjoyment something that everybody in the room would have paid out £150 for?
Because they just did.