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February 28, 2007

Olympics and the Dome: Jeremy Black on why the Tories should attack the government over its financial incompetence

Posted by Jeremy Black

It was refreshing to hear Hugo Swire laying into the financial mismanagement of Olympic preparations on the radio last week because the Tories so culpably failed to sink blows over the mismanagement of the Dome, in part due to the role of Michael Heseltine in launching the project. The Olympics may seem a more laudatory goal than the Dome, but the level of financial incompetence appears to be far more serious. Swire also ably pressed home the charge on Gordon Brown, and this again is a necessary task for Tory spokesmen as Brown has received far less criticism than is his due in recent years.

With the Olympics, one of the charges should be that the government is, in a Mitterrand fashion, pursuing grand projets, rather than concerning itself with the population. If the objective was sport and health, it would be far better to see expenditure on facilities to help people play sport, rather than on staging activities essentially for watching. There is already far too much of an inactive, watching aspect to British culture - "sport" for many is sinking to being about playing with the remote, and this scarcely matches the government's declared priorities over health. So, it is worth criticising Brown, Jowell and Livingstone over their failure to spend money on more public facilities, whether swimming pools, parks, tennis courts, or whatever, and their preference, instead, for stadia. Brown's sponsorship of the World Cup bid threatens to repeat the same folly. That the entire Olympic project seems sunk already in a mire of incompetence and wishful thinking should encourage the Tories to follow Swire's lead. The Liberal Democrats are likely to take the same line, but there is a major advantage in coming first.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter.


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