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Sir Christopher Meyer

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Tired of London, Tired of Life

Posted: 14/08/2012 00:00

How long before we all lament the loss of the spirit of the Olympics? Of course, we will all have to come down to earth sooner or later. But, there is bound to be some event which will spoil things and have us saying to each other, "that didn't last long, did it?"

My bet is on the politicians wrecking the warm post-Olympic glow. The leaders of the main parties, including the recently disinterred Tony Blair, are all racing around, seeking subtly and not so subtly, to claim credit for the blazing success of the Olympics. Just as, four years ago, they grovelled and fawned before the newly elected Barack Obama, in the hope that a little of the stardust might rub off on them (my goodness, that seems long ago), so they pray that something similar might happen with the Olympics. It is no accident, as the Soviet newspaper, Pravda, used to say, that a rush of articles by Cameron, Miliband and Blair appeared in the Sunday press, expatiating on the meaning of the Olympics (if there was one by Nick Clegg, I missed it). The competition between them - so coded and disingenuous, unlike the brutal simplicity of athletic contest - is already less about who deserves credit for the Games, more about how to take ownership of their legacy. "Bottling" the spirit of London 2012, as if it were some perfume, has become the cliché of the hour. Cameron, with his habitual opportunism, has already cast austerity to the winds and guaranteed funding for athletes hoping to take part at Rio 2016. He has also proposed apparently a schools "Olympics" next year. This sounds more than usually back-of-the-envelope stuff, especially as it is unclear that the jealous IOC would lend their brand to such an event (bet Mr. Rogge has not been asked).

But, these are tangible things, executive decisions. If we are talking spirit, what about something spiritual, almost metaphysical, as a fitting legacy for the Games? Tony Blair wrote in the Sunday Times about what we in Britain could achieve when we all pulled together. If this true for the Olympics, it is surely true for the nation itself. Our economic troubles have been going on for almost half a decade, with no end in sight. They are the worst crisis to hit Britain since the Second World War. Then we suspended party politics and created a government of national unity. Is it too much to ask that our politicians might do the same today? Is it too much to ask that they should practise what they preach, allow themselves to be suffused with the Olympic spirit, and come together to pull the nation out of its slough of economic despond? Pigs will fly first, I hear you say. But, of one thing I am utterly confident. If our Olympic good spirits have managed to last that long, they will be killed stone dead, come the stage-managed tedium of the autumn party conferences and the ghastly, irresponsible knockabout of Prime Minister's Questions.

The contrast between the uplifting inspiration of London 2012 and the demeaning tawdriness of contemporary British politics could not have been more vividly on display than in the Coalition spat over reform of the House of Lords and constituency boundaries. It plumbs new, uncharted depths of cynicism for Nick Clegg to believe that he can instruct his ministers to vote against government legislation on boundary changes and that afterwards the Coalition can continue on its merry way, just like that, as Tommy Cooper might have said.

Is it any wonder that at the closing ceremony Mayor Boris Johnson received thunderous cheers from the crowd, as he has throughout the Games? No other British politician can get that kind of response with that level of name recognition. What is his magic ingredient? It's that spiritual thing again. For all the calculation in his politics, there is an authenticity and originality about him that fit the temper of the times and are almost wholly missing from today's party leaders. He can get away with dad-dancing, Cameron can't. These qualities are of a piece with the eclectic quirkiness of the Games' opening and closing ceremonies. They are of a piece with London itself. I have had a television documentary series on great cities of the world running for the last five weeks. The final show this week is on London. In its disparate cast of characters, it bears vivid witness to the importance of originality, flair and strength of personality in achieving success in our capital. Needless to say, Boris is at the forefront of the show, larger than life, with a vintage performance.

Meanwhile, let us console ourselves with this thought. When the Olympics champagne finally goes flat, never forget the words of the all-wise Dr. Samuel Johnson (no relation, I believe), the great 18th Century man of letters: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."

Christopher Meyer presents Networks of Power on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on 14 August

 
 
 

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