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The Olympic flame burns, but the economy’s in the tank

The media-fuelled Olympics hysteria provides a major distraction from our rapidly deteriorating economy, argues Paul Collins

July 27, 2012
3 min read

The alternative London 2012 opening ceremony this evening, hours before the Counter Olympics Network demonstration, reflect attempts to inject political reality amid the media-fuelled hysteria surrounding the Games. This morning the Guardian’s front page image, showing Absolutely Fabulous co-stars Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, enthusiastically carrying the Olympic flame through London, manifested untimely euphoria.

Days after dire financial news and David Cameron’s warning that the British recession could last a decade, such incongruous frenzy over a corporate-fest of sport conjured nothing less than the climax to Carry On Up the Khyber. The movie’s final scenes, in which the UK governor and guests continue their dinner party as Indians attack their compound, seem apposite, with the world’s most populous democracy now set to eclipse our economic status.

I share a Jewish progressive background with Jonathan Freedland, who used the Guardian splash, as well as pages two and three, to pontificate on how the Games will test Britain’s place in the world. The two of us part company over whether the so-called greatest show on earth matters a jot, not to the better-off who can buy tickets priced as high as beyond £2000 apiece, but to those whose fate defines a nation, the most vulnerable. Polly Toynbee’s more critical analysis elsewhere in the paper both slates the Tories’ rich-poor divide behind the Olympics and opines that Labour still fails to represent the nation’s anger or dislocation. Cue the Khyber film again. The Khasi of Kalabar: ‘They will die the death of a thousand cuts!’ Princess Jelhi: ‘Oh! But that’s horrible!’ The Khasi of Kalabar: ‘Not at all, my little desert flower. The British are used to cuts!’

The same might go for Newsnight watchers this week, given no confidence that shadow treasury minister Rachel Reeves would spare the axe. Nor can the Beeb champion itself as defending quality public service broadcasts, with over 800 staff assigned to the Games amid a 20 per cent slimmer budget, and BBC1 and BBC3 viewers offered nothing except the Olympics. Even some journalists north of the border have junked their scrutiny with headlines like the Scotsman’s ‘Nation holds breath over who will light cauldron’. Since jingoistic radio presenters branded Games critics ‘moaning minnies’, perhaps the person best known for the phrase, Margaret Thatcher, will return to fulfil the honour for a curtain raiser costing a mere £27 million.

The alternative party tonight, including comedians Isy Suttie and Paul Sinha, has been organised by the TUC, with philosophyfootball.com, besides the Playfair 2012 campaign and Labour Behind the Label, and supporters including War on Want – the last three demanding Olympic sponsor Adidas stops exploiting workers making its sportswear for as little as 34p an hour. Tickets, price £10, from www.philosophyfootball.com or 01273 472721 – the venue is Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA. Tomorrow’s march assembles from 12 noon in Mile End Park, opposite Mile End Tube station, and starts at 1pm, with a 2.30 pm rally at Wennington Green.

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