East meets Westminster: Politicians hope Games will see their stocks spike

NOW is the time for the negativity surrounding the Olympics to end, writes Richard Porritt.

The London Olympics is upon us and the whole country should be proud of what has been achieved already. Tomorrow when the flame is lit inside that magnificent stadium even those who have derided it from day one will be hard pressed not to have a lump in their throats.

On paper the Olympics is a strange beast – two weeks of minority sports few people usually care about and more tickets for sponsors than the poor locals who have to put up with road closures and restrictions on their doorstep.

But there is no greater showcase for a city or a country. And that is the real reason – as well as a few egos – that London launched its bid for the Games way back in 1997. Yes, it is great for the athletes to compete on their own patch but if big business and Government had not had the appetite for it, London 2012 would not be happening.

When Labour arrived in Downing Street amid a blaze of flag waving and claims of “Cool Britannia” they promised a “golden decade of British sport” culminating now with the Games. And to be fair they delivered – even if our teams and sportsmen did not always do the same.

The impact of the Games in London will long be argued. Many believe that the world-renowned city was already a major draw for tourists and the billions seeing it on their televisions in the coming weeks will not be any more inspired to visit. Even more complicated is the impact on the rest of the UK. There are compelling arguments which claim there will be a financial knock-on effect for East Anglia – but equally a lot of economists are less bullish. Time will tell. But one thing is for sure: Staging the Games in Britain will not have a negative long-term impact.

Some people highlight Greece and the now semi-derelict Athens Olympic village and venues. But Britain is not Greece. Too much is on the line, too many man hours have already been spent – London 2012 will be a success, it just remains unclear how much of one and for who.

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Plenty plan to use the Games to their advantage – and for politicians from across the spectrum it is too good an opportunity to miss. But turning up at the opening ceremony and waving at the adoring crowds as they joyfully cheer the skill of a generation of leaders who masterminded bringing the event to London was a scenario which was only ever going to happen in MPs’ dreams.

In the run-up to tomorrow’s opening ceremony the headlines have been less about sport and more about scandal – not how David Cameron had hoped it would go.

The G4S debacle was the first to break and the Government managed to handle it by sharing the general public’s shock at the events unfolding. Maybe they should have known more, maybe there should have been closer scrutiny but when a firm is employed to deliver you have to expect they will.

Then UKBA staff threatened to strike – which caused universal outrage among politicians with both the Prime Minister and Ed Miliband calling for it to be cancelled. Thankfully peace talks were averted this week but the unions have undoubtedly made hay using the Olympics as leverage for bumper bonuses (exactly why London bus and tube drivers are getting extra cash just because more people will be using their services will baffle some). And you can bet when the Public and Commercial Services – who represent the border staff – get back around the table they will be quick to mention how their kindness “saved the games”.

But it is not just Number 10 that must be now hoping for the Games to be over – without a hitch. Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey has also come under fire for accepting free tickets to the 100m final from telecoms giant BT. The �420 tickets were offered to her because she is a member of the Culture and Select Committee and she is not alone in accepting them. But the general consensus appears to be that although there is no suggestion of wrong doing it simply does not look good. And that is often more damaging to an MP than anything else.

Dr Coffey remains adamant that her attendance at the showpiece event is work-based because BT will also be giving a talk on their involvement in the Games. However it appears not many of her fellow MPs agree – in fact Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley went as far as to say: “I haven’t been offered any tickets and even if I had, I wouldn’t have accepted them.” Ouch.

But for Mr Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson the stakes are even higher – a good Games will reflect well on them both and could lead to a spike in the polls for the PM and a growing momentum behind the mayor’s hopes to challenge the Tory top brass.

But it should not be forgotten that many politicians that worked hard to bring the Games to Britain have long since departed – Tony Blair being the most high-profile. And he is back to make sure no-one forgets his involvement with media appearances booked across the opening days of the Olympics.

But the figure who deserves to get the biggest boost from the Olympics is Lord Coe. As an Olympian himself he always understood the importance of the Games – and he rescued the bid. Back in 2004 when he was brought on board London trailed Paris by some margin. Yet just 12 months later the bid was successful.

London 2012 will be the greatest show on earth and it is thanks countless people who all deserve credit – but for Lord Coe it could well give him a free hand to do whatever he wants whether in the political arena or sport. He claims he would like to become the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations but do not be surprised if his stock rises so high Mr Cameron is clambering to have him back in frontline politics by the Autumn.

Richard Porritt is on Twitter @Twitter.

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