Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

What big bills you have.

DO YOU remember 2005?

It was the year Dubya won a second term, and Tony Blair a third. The Pope karked it, Hurricane Katrina killed 1,836 people, women in Kuwait finally got the vote, Saddam Hussein went on trial and a Danish newspaper published a cartoon of Mohammed, which didn't go down very well.

And it was the year that London won the Olympics.

It was going to cost about £2billion, which sounded like a lot even then. Two years later it was upped to about £9bn and a year after that the bottom fell out of the world financial markets.

This was of course no reason to scale back, and today the costs are around £12bn with a strong likelihood that with police, security and transport costs the final total will be nearer £24bn.

To put that into perspective that's 800million trips to the local leisure centre for a £3 swim. It's 240 hospitals, roughly, or 20m nurses on a starting salary of £12,000.

Alternatively you could spend it on 11m new immigration officers on £22,000 to tackle the two hour queues at Heathrow - and yes, we pay more to those who keep people out of the country than we do to people who keep us alive.

It's more money than the total transport budget for the United Kingdom.


It's half the total education budget; and one fifth of the cost of the ENTIRE NHS.

It is, basically, a shed load of money to spend just so that Seb Coe something to do.

It's going to do lots of good things, of course - new transport links, lots of athletes fulfilling a lifetime ambition, world stage, blah blah. But it's also giving us surface-to-air missile sites in the East End, a reason for Boris Johnson to get over-excited and a tempting target for any fanatic with a chemistry book.

None of this was mentioned in 2005. Then it was all property prices, David Beckham in a suit and 10-year-old children saying they wanted to win a gold medal.

Some of those children have strived every day since then, getting up to train while most of us were still asleep, because they've never forgotten the thought of how amazing that would be.

There are lots of things about the games that could be great. But there's no reason you can't do it a bit cheaper, just like we did in 1948 when we were even more broke than we are now.

It's not cheaper if you have it in 30-odd venues around the country which each need policing 24 hours a day. It's not cheaper if you lay on five-star accommodation for athletes who'll spend most of their time not sleeping, BMWs for visiting dignitaries when you've made the transport system so swizzy, or £40m on an opening ceremony when you could just screen a bit of Chariots of Fire, set off fireworks and hand round some lager. It's not cheaper with £300,000 sculptures, cable cars across the Thames between two bits of London that aren't very nice, or corporate sponsors who stop people taking their homemade sandwiches in.

Now we're only three months away I think the organisers are finally starting to realise this too. That, presumably, is why they're charging the 'lucky few' who were picked to run in the Olympic torch relay £240 if they want to keep the torch afterwards, and another £40 for the stand.

I'll bet you anything you like the people who run the security firms, concrete companies, and environmental compliance doo-dahs will be a lot richer now than they were in 2005. I'll further bet you the vast majority of them won't be Londoners, or even British at least as far as their tax goes, and that the long-term legacy of the whole sorry shambles is going to be a bigger debt and trying to convince Seb Coe he really ought to take part in more than eight per cent of the votes in the House of Lords.

I can't help thinking it would have been a lot more productive and fun in the long term to put £24billion in used notes in a big pile and set light to it, but maybe I'm just being pessimistic.

I'm sure David Beckham's still really excited. But then he'd be excited with a new pen.

Not on the walls, please.