There’s an ad on the Google search page this morning, from Thistle Hotels. It says simply, ‘50% off London Olympics Hotel Rooms’. The first of the great myths about London 2012 has already been shattered by some business statistics released last night: Mayor Johnson’s ubiquitous ‘Don’t Get Caught Out’ has, as it were, caught him out: dare I say even, left him hanging out to dry?
Commenting at the Daily Telgraph last night (beneath a piece about Boris being politically ‘unstoppable’) I posted, “He and Hunt are just one disaster away from being hostages to fortune”. Crikey, that was quick.
So terrified have Londoners been by BoJo’s warnings to stay away from anything going on in London, they’ve snapped to attention and, um, stayed away. Last night, I understand, Basher Boris was locked behind closed doors at City Hall, having a crisis meeting with his commercial ‘advisers’. But it’s hard to know what there might be to discuss: this is a mess the London Mayor got into entirely by his own hand.
The figures are not good. The British Hospitality Association says restaurant takings are down between 40 and 65%, hotels have a lot of spare capacity, and inbound tour operators confirm that “tourists have been put off by the scare tactics of Transport for London”. A further study by O2 demonstrates that Johnson’s dire warnings have had a major effect on Londoners’ work patterns: the research projects that some four million people in the commutable area are working at home during the Games. Thus, tourist attraction Madame Tussauds describes itself as “very quiet”, but M&S sources also say that the store groups usual lunchtime take-away market for London office workers “has all but disappeared”.
But nil desperandum, because you can always rely on Jeremy *unt to be the complete version, just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse. Newscorp majorette Jeremy said that London retailer gripes were unjustified, and that they were “doing very well indeed on the whole”. Oh dear. That’s what comes from spending life in the Zil lane.
Richard Bradford of the Restaurant Association heard what Culcha *unt had to say, and then promptly called the Culture Secretary an idiot. “This is total rubbish. There has been a serious fall in trade,” he said.”They encouraged the British to stay out of London, which removed the regular trade we rely on.” Oh dear. That’s what comes from only worrying about privileged VIPs. But unabashed, Mr Canute waded more deeply into the poo:
“This is absolute nonsense and we have just got to knock this on the head. Anyone who has a business anywhere in London is frankly quids in,” he drivelled. Oh dear. That’s what comes of trying to black out the media, Jezzer: they get their own back before too long.
Three days ago, Boris told the assembled media that “the only problem with the London Olympics so far is the lack of Team GB medals”. Note that this is the only bit he had nothing to do with, by the way: except that this situation has improved somewhat since then: whereas the Mayor has made a complete tit of himself, waving flags about on a defective wire – described by Harris Mooney at the Vancouver Sun yesterday as “just another rickety British innovation showcased at a shabby Games.” Paresh Nath Mukherjee, general secretary of the Archery Association of India, joined other athletes in criticising the Village Quarters: “If the accommodation at the Commonwealth Games was five-star, on that scale the accommodation here at the Games Village is not even two-star,” he said.
The truth is – as The Slog correctly maintained earlier in the week – Hunt and Johnson have taken the classic neocon attitude to the 2012 Olympics: ignore the oridnary citizens, provide a sufficiency for the athletes, sell out to the sponsors, butter up the big multinationals at the expense of local business, and shower the money-men with tickets and go-faster lanes. You couldn’t ask for a better encapsulation of everything logically and ethically wrong with Friedmanite economics.
As long ago as April, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said that ‘irresponsible marketing’ by major food and drinks firms was fuelling the obesity crisis. It called for a ban on firms such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola from sponsoring major sports events such as the Olympics.
“It feels pretty shameful that [the Olympic Park in] London will have the biggest McDonald’s in the world,’ said BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson, ‘The Olympics was a great opportunity for promoting exercise and a healthy diet. The message would not be “eat this because you will be an elite athlete”, but more about making healthy choices, which means you could take part in sports, and you could have fun and be healthy. It is such a major opportunity and it has been missed.”
And the irony is, the ‘commercial’ side of things is – as I predicted from Day One in 2005 – a complete balls-up: costs way over budget, income way under budget, and London’s economy screwed by a manic focus on keeping the Big Money comfortable. But the likes of Boris Johnson never learn: his personal guest today? Why, none other than that tragic Alzheimers victim, Rupert Murdoch. Perhaps Roop can get the Sun and Times to chuck Bojo some nice spin. Maybe Daniel Finkelstein can write another vacuous piece about miserable people slagging off a wonderful spectacle.
Anyway, all is not entirely lost: the man hired at enormous cost to present a sound investment front for the Games, former Drugs-to-Laundry combine boss Lord Green, is I hear hard at working pumping the flesh. But it seems that up until January 2012, he was still troughing with the chaps from HSBC: he dined with the current Chairman Sir Willie Purves in fact….just weeks before the bank fessed up to being charged with money laundering for drugs lords. Green has refused to say what was discussed on that occasion, refused to answer questions in the House of Lords, refused to attend the Lords at all in fact – and refused to accept that he might be under a cloud. Or between Chinese Walls, or something.
Makes you proud to be hosting the Games, dunnit eh? Hands off our Olympic Games, that’s wot I say.