Step on the Tube these days, if you dare, and you will begin to notice something out of sorts. Something vaguely, but nevertheless intensely, unsettling. Among your usual dead-eyed band of suited brothers, there is always now a handful of surreptitious individuals wearing crisp, purple shell suits pockmarked from head to toe with an ominous duo of logos: the Adidas pyramid and the official London 2012…assorted shapes. The clothing of the converted. The uniform of the damned.
This coupled with the occasional convoy of mysterious G4S vans stealthily snaking through central London, presumably containing sacks of gold and arms, has given London a rather terrifying atmosphere in the already uneasy build-up to the Games. Not to mention high-velocity missiles perching everywhere east of Hackney. And that menacing little mascot Cyclops all over the place.
When did it all become so sinister?
Politicians can grapple all they like with their political point-scoring and nit-picking about security and the Games budget, but these debates are just manifestations of a new, ominous style of Olympic deliverance.
And an ironic one.
During a time of dramatic cuts in defence spending, we draft in more military personnel for security, a measure by underprepared private security company G4S that Theresa May had to defend in the Commons yesterday. And during a time of general economic turmoil, we have had countless concerns voiced earlier this year about the rising Olympic budget from the likes of PAC chair Margaret Hodge to public protest groups such as Our Olympics and the Counter-Olympic Network.
No matter how great an opportunity these Olympian cock-ups provide for Labour to get their own back having had the Games plucked from Tessa Jowell’s clutches, the spectacle is turning out to be symptomatic of a deeper change in British society; a transformation beyond the realms of petty political bickering.
If you look back to the 1948 ‘Austerity Games’, the last time we hosted the Olympics – and a similar time of financial disaster – the occasion played out modestly and with a sense of humour. British competitors flailed behind the Americans because their red meat was still rationed, post-WW2. But 1948 rowing veteran Michael Lapage’s enduring memory is of the fantastic atmosphere at Henley. David Bond, who won a gold in the British sailing, had to take unpaid leave, and chuckles about it now.
Now that everything is so relentlessly high-profile, ostentatious and expensive, hysteria and inevitable embarrassment over security, and chip portions, ensues.
These Games were never supposed to be as spectacular and showy as Beijing, and after all the celebration of Britishness over the Jubilee, why couldn’t we keep that up for London 2012?