Olympic legacy should re-ignite British pride
What a game-changer the Olympics have been. When I was born, London was the largest city in the world. Now there are 30 larger – though it is still the largest in Europe and North America.
We agonised as to whether we had made the right decision to host the games in the first place, though we felt a frisson of excitement at the challenge and dared to hope that we could pull it off. We knew we were a prime and juicy target for a terrorist attack and felt it next to impossible to guarantee that there would be no chinks in our armour.
We fretted over a gridlocked city, militant train drivers going on strike, and whether we could hold our nerve at stage managing such a colossally intricate extravaganza before the focused gaze of the whole world. Most of all – amidst the gloom and despondency of the longest recession in living memory – we worried about the sheer cost of it all. Yet every anxiety has been laid to rest in magnificent style.
The world will long remember these 2012 games and Britain has been showcased as it has never been in its long, long history. It was a project of immense and overarching complexity and we could have been forgiven for our worries as to whether we were any longer up to such a challenge. But that too has been laid to rest. We may not be the titan that bestrode the world when I was born – the only one to look Hitler straight in the eye and not blink – but we remain the repository of immense skills, artistry and organisational powers. The challenges that lie before us are daunting, to say the least, but we have proved to ourselves that however big and complicated they may be, we can cope.
In the past we have acquired something of a reputation for being always able to muddle through, but that can hardly be said of the way we have handled these games. It augers well for great projects like the Thames Estuary Airport; the Bristol Channel tidal energy scheme; the high speed rail link and perhaps anything else we might wish to put our mind to like the extraction of our massive reserves of shale gas.
We have been enthused with a renewed spirit of “can do”. Far from being a nation in decline, we can start to believe that we may be a nation on the cusp of great things again. With our massive reserves of oil around the Falklands, we can become energy-independent again and make ourselves indispensable to our European partners by supplying their needs too – no bad thing in the tough negotiations which lie ahead to repatriate many of the powers we have lost.
As we are all well aware, finance rules the world and the City of London rules finance. Of all metropolises, London seems to be the one that the “movers and shakers” most rave about, buying up real estate wholesale. It is cosmopolitan; tolerant; open; a good place to do business; is perfectly placed – time wise – to transact on the same day with both east and west; boasts an unrivalled theatre-land, along with – at last – good restaurants; and as if all this were not enough, it speaks the world’s lingua franca.
Empire gave us links and goodwill that no other country can match. We have our cosy little Commonwealth Club, spread all over the planet, and we play against each other in our cosy little world of cricket. What fools we have been not to maintain the great trading links we developed over centuries with those who were always best disposed towards us. Had we done so we would not now be so exposed to events on the continent as we are today. Even now it is not too late to reverse this shortsightedness. We should be putting together trade missions with the same zeal and fervour as the missionaries of old who carried the Gospel and opened the way for trade.
Having landed ourselves with the Olympics, we knew that we would be watched as never before for our competence and flair (if there was any) and we surprised the world, not least ourselves.
As for the Paralympics, we even set a new benchmark, having pioneered it – like so much else – in the first place. Disabled people have never in all history felt better about themselves and that is wonderful. In so many respects they took our breath away. Their feats would have outperformed most able-bodied people and they showed guts beyond belief.
In my own humble way I too am bionic – like so many of them – with two knee replacements. I’d be happy – even proud – to stand alongside them, if they would have me. Maybe future organisers should think about a 100m sprint for the over 70s with knee replacements. I’d be up for it in an instant, shouting, “Rio here I come!” The training, I promise, would start at once.
Like many of you (I suspect) I am sad that I could not see all of this wonderful jamboree. But I intend to buy a DVD of the highlights. And there you go! There are some of my Christmas presents taken care of already. For once I wont have to rack my brains for something that will not disappoint.
Skivers won’t turn around our fortunes
It is natural that workers in the public sector seek to weaken the law of the jungle in their state-funded workplace as best they can, but it must be remembered that the jungle is still where wealth is created.
It cannot be allowed to open up a gulf in remuneration, security and work conditions which causes resentment in that part of the economy that must produce the wealth to keep things going. It is unimaginable that any private business should say to its workforce, ‘don’t bother attending the office for the seven weeks before, during and after the Olympics. Do it all from home!’ But that is what is proposed for no less than 400,000 civil servants working in Central London.
This kind of disconnect with reality speaks volumes. Not even communist Chinese economics came up with such a ludicrous suggestion at their own Olympics.
There are two worlds which exist within our country: one of them is the closeted world of the public sector and the other is the brutal world of the private sector .
The Victorians had two guiding principles: sound money and a small, non-intrusive state. They ran the civil service with 4,000 against today’s 500,000.
They ran India with 1,000, spent 2% of GDP on Armed Forces which controlled half the world and all its oceans. Such was their power that they imposed the Pax Britannica which lasted a hundred years. It was only the second universal peace since Rome’s famous Pax Roma. They were stunningly successful in almost all their endeavours – except for one: they did not care sufficiently for the poor and disadvantaged. But even here, they began to develop a conscience.
Prompted by the evangelicals and people like Dickens, they began to mend their ways and see that their Christian beliefs did not sit properly with the squalor to be seen on their streets. So little by little, welfare became an issue.
By 1945 it became the lodestar which governed all state thinking. Armies of bureaucrats came forward to administer the new system (armies of what, when I was doing national service, were known as malingerers) also came forward with their hard-luck stories.
So at the very time that wealth creation was being relegated, the welfare state was being elevated. In the end, the welfare state became insupportable.
If this recession has served no other purpose but finally to get us to see all this then it will not have been in vain.
Of course, we must continue to do our duty by the disadvantaged, but we face a hard task in winkling out the malingerers.
Almost all of the third world countries must go down the road we went in taking better care of their people – but if they are wise they will learn from our mistakes.
As it is, at the moment, they enjoy a huge advantage over us competitively in that they do not carry the huge expense of even a limited welfare state. That, together with much lower wages, makes it next to impossible for the West to compete.
But their peoples are already demanding – and getting – increased pay packets; they are also demanding better work conditions and welfare for the disadvantaged – all of which will cost money.
When we have eventually completed the much harder task of convincing all our able-bodied people who presently feel no conscience about not working to work, there will be a meeting point at which we will all be competing on a substantially more level playing field.
This scenario has already been played out in several former third world countries such as Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. They were all once undercutting us wholesale, and it will be the same with China, India and Brazil.
There are penalties with being an innovator – the first in the field in any activity. Inevitably you make lots of mistakes; but those coming later can take advantage of what you got wrong as well as the much greater number of things you got right. Once of the reasons Germany created the as successful an industrial model as it did was because it was able to avoid making the same mistakes we did.
One of those was with its technical colleges and apprenticeships. They elevated distinction on the factory floor; doctors of engineering and the sciences were as highly regarded as doctors of medicine in Britain and the landed gentry. There was not the same prejudice against those who got their hands dirty as opposed to those who kept them clean, as there was in Britain. Your smart boy was as likely to head for the factory as he was for the professions.
It is easy to forget that as little as 10 years ago Germany was being talked about as the sick man of Europe, having taken our place pre-Thatcher. But then she set about freeing up her labour markets and keeping down costs, including labour. Result: Germany über alles. And we must do the same.
The newly released Beecroft Report must be acted on. If we want jobs, we must make it as easy as possible for firms to hire, and that has to include the right to fire. No employer gets rid of a worker who is an asset to their company, and workers must know that their best protection is to be so. Only the skiver needs to fear, and why shouldn’t he? He won’t turn around our fortunes.
The weighty matter of elected police chiefs
Nothing has filled me with despair recently so much as the news that that tired old retread John Prescott is to throw his hat into the ring to become the new Sheriff of Uddersfield. You come up with a good idea, and who leaps in to ruin the whole concept but the man we all thought had been finally put out to pasture: the former prize fighter/deputy prime minister.
The idea of elected police chiefs is for us to get a form of payment by results. That is to say, the chief increases the clear up rate of crime, brings order to our streets and thus enables us to sleep easier in our beds. And in return for performing this valuable service, he or she is awarded (and paid) with a fresh mandate and a continuance of his (or her) £70,000 stipend. It does sound like a good arrangement to me to me! So let’s look at this particular applicant’s CV.
He’s certainly been a busy boy during his long career – although, at 72, I worry a bit that that it’s just too long. His cheeky-chappie approach would undoubtedly go down well with the binge drinkers of a Friday night (the same people he’s promised to sort out). And his beer belly should also appeal to many, allowing him to empathise – always a most important consideration in this touchy-feelie age. But against this there’s the risk that if he’s provoked he might strike out. After all, he has got form in this department and a GBH charge is not something that would sit well on a police commissioner’s record.
But let’s get serious for a moment and look at Two Jags’ actual record. It is acknowledged that he was appointed deputy prime minister not just as a sop to the unions, but in order to keep peace between the warring prime minister and his chancellor… a sort of honest broker. Ten years of backstabbing and plotting between the two made a mockery of that and proved even beyond Prezza’s giant abilities.
Ever resourceful, and looking for something meaningful to do, he came up with the idea of regional authorities. What an ineffectual and horrendously expensive exercise in futility that turned out to be. But not to be deterred, he pressed on.
His next idea was to knock down street upon street of houses right across the land which his office deemed not fit for human habitation. It later emerged that they could have been renovated for a fraction of the cost of replacements and kept vibrant communities from disintegrating. But Two Jags, as he will freely acknowledge himself, was never very good at sums in school.
He wanted more development, so his next ‘Big Idea’ was to allow rejected planning applications (often sent back for good reasons) to be sent to his office where his expert eye could peruse them and tell whether the planners had got it wrong. As a result, large numbers of outrageous appeals were sent back to the planners with instructions to allow the development. Prescott could never leave it – nor for that matter some of his office staff – alone. He could never accept that he was, in fact, a man of limited talents.
It adds to the gaiety of nations for every administration to have its own court jester, and ‘Prezza’ was happy to fulfil that role for New Labour – although he never fully understood how much they were all taking the you-know-what.his own side included.
His opposite number in the Tory Party is Boris Johnson. But there is one very big difference between the two of them: Boris is superbly educated. Plus he comes up with ideas like getting rid of London’s hated bendy buses and returning to the much-loved jump on/jump off version. Then there’s freezing of congestion charges and, best of all, the world-beating, environmentally friendly replacement for Heathrow: the Estuary Airport. Most of his ideas make a lot of sense and are in accord with the public opinion. I’m personally looking forward to Boris stepping forward as Master of Ceremony for the London Olympics. Quite what Johnny Foreigner will make of him I wouldn’t like to guess, but I think there’s a good chance that, like so many of us, they’ll love him. At the very least we can be sure that he’ll create a sensation of some sort.
But returning to the hoped-for revolution in policing: this is a once in a lifetime chance to get the system sorted. The last thing we need is for a plethora of failed has-beens to prove all over again how useless they are; it is desperately important that we have people of proven track record and of the highest calibre if we are to have any chance of success.
We have strayed so far from policing as we would like it to be, and in many respects the Force no longer commands the respect which should be its due. We spent well over a million pounds on a state of the art police station in my suburb of Plymouth just a few years ago and it’s not any longer open to the public. You can only visit by appointment. Many officers, sad to say, couldn’t even give chase to a baddie. With all their Inspector Gadget accessories and body-armour weighing them down – not to mention their Prescott-style waists which so many seem to be developing – it’s small wonder police chiefs recently dismissed a move to introduce compulsory annual fitness tests for serving officers.