The Olympics and the Jubilee distract from the real issues this summer
Unless you have something wrong with you, you will be starting to get incredibly excited about the summer. Things will kick off a few weeks from now with the Diamond Jubilee. Soon after that the Olympics are coming to town; and if you weren’t already, you will soon be salivating at the prospect of what will be the greatest games – alas the greatest summer – ever.
That’s the official line, at least.
Personally I don’t claim to know how anyone feels about the two events because I don’t recall any of us being asked. I am fairly certain, however, that every time I open a newspaper or turn on a television a few weeks from now someone will be only too ready to tell me how delighted I am: delighted at the longevity of our Head of State and delighted at the prospect of the Games. Any suggestion that the establishment’s enthusiasm is not matched by an indifferent public will be about as welcome in the media as water in one’s shoes.
I am exaggerating perhaps, but only slightly. This summer the plastic flags will come out, protesters will face the prospect of a night in the cells for mild expressions of dissent, and London’s social problems will be swept under a giant carpet of smugness. Don’t expect much from the parliamentary opposition, either. As London’s new rich scramble to ingratiate themselves with more established privilege, most of our politicians will be too busy ‘showcasing Britain to the world’ (whatever that means) to raise a critical voice.
Away from the carefully choreographed imagery, however, things in the UK are not quite as harmonious as the Coalition would have us believe. A couple of hundred yards from the Olympic Stadium, the deprivation of Newham should undermine any sense of national ‘togetherness’ the establishment would like to foist upon us. As one of the poorest areas of the country, there is very little the residents of this ‘Olympic borough’ have in common with the future occupants of the Olympic Village, and even less with the Windsors and their accumulated hangers on. Much has been made about the “regeneration” the Olympics will bring to a place like Newham, yet as part of the Coalition’s cuts, the borough’s local authority will see its funding from central government slashed by around £75million over the next four years. As the Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson opened Stratford’s glittering Westfield shopping complex last September (with the usual bumbling get-up), libraries, swimming pools and public parks were being boarded-up or earmarked for closure.
Like Newham, the story of London is increasingly a tale of two cities: the city of the rich and the city the rest of us live and work in. And just as the Conservative Mayor’s ‘charisma’ (is that what it is?) distracts the public from his incompetency, so too the Government is hoping the events of the summer will divert attention from the growing chasm between the city’s haves and have nots.
According to the 2012 Sunday Times Rich List, Britain’s super-rich (most of whom live in London) have defied the recession and increased their wealth. The newspaper’s research found that the combined worth of the country’s 1,000 wealthiest people in 2012 is £414bn – up 4.7 per cent on last year. This at a time when the rate of poverty in London is 28 per cent, according to the charity Trust for London’s Poverty Profile. The Trust also found that over one million Londoners now live in low-income families where at least one adult is working – an increase of 60 per cent in the last 10 years.
Despite the well-documented connection between deprivation, inequality and social problems, the belief that last August’s riots were a freak outbreak of “sheer criminality” has become the widely accepted view. Such complacency, however, has a tendency to come back and bite. As Dutch architectural historian Wouter Vantisphout pointed out during his visit to the capital last year, outbreaks of burning and looting have tended to occur in cities that have started to feel just a little too smug about themselves. And London, or at least the city’s establishment, appears both smug and prepared to look away when faced with the capital’s increasingly festering inequalities. As Vantisphout went on to say:
“The reality of urban riots is that they have always turned out to be the opposite of a learning experience for a city. Riots have nearly always resulted in politicians simplifying the problem even more, and citizens looking away even further.”
In difficult times politicians love a distraction. The message from on high this summer will be not to worry about the privatisation of the NHS, not to worry about increasing inequality and its accompanying social problems, but to clap your hands, smile and applaud; always applaud.
As the US author Neil Postman put it in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: “the civil libertarians and rationalists who are forever on the alert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”.
By all means enjoy the Olympic Games if that’s your thing. Be in high spirits at the prospect of the Jubilee if you really must. But don’t forget that for the powerful these are welcome diversions from more serious issues. And don’t, whatever you do, let any media outlet tell you how thrilled and excited you are. That’s for you to decide.Tagged in: boris johnson, borough, cameron, capitalism, celebration, Clerkenwell, coverup, cuts, dave, games, greed, hartlepool monkey, head of state, james bloodworth, london, mayor, mayor of london, money, Newham, olympics, olympics legacy, pennants, rich list, Riots, sham, stadium, Stratford, street party, summer, summer riots, sun, sunday times rich list, sunshine, swingeing, uk, union jack, Westfield
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