In the third event of our election coverage around the Olympics, we look at how two of the Games’ big ‘unknowns’ could yet influence the mayoral race.
When the July 7 terrorist attacks shook London, a day after the city celebrated becoming the Olympic hosts, it was guaranteed that security would continue to feature in Londoners’ concerns ahead of the competition.
The security services have learnt from that catastrophe and there is no doubting the weight of the operation at the 2012 Games. The ‘finger in the air’ estimate that 10,000 security guards would be enough to keep both local people and visitors safe has since been revised up to 23,700 — including 12,500 military personnel.
Shock headlines warning of extensive and invasive security measures have the potential to dampen the mood of the sporting extravaganza, with unmanned aerial drones, FBI agents and ‘airport-style’ x-ray scanners all tipped to make an appearance at the Olympic park.
More important still could be the continuing speculation about the true cost of the games, with official security estimates doubled to £553m.
With transport infrastructure upgrades complete more than a year ahead of the opening ceremony, Boris should be able to sit back and hope he’s done enough to secure smooth travel routes to the Olympic Park. Yet the threat of disruption persists in the shape of unsuccessful transport union disputes and a row over Olympic road lanes.
Boris promise to negotiate a ‘no-strike agreement’ with the network’s trade unions has been revealed as misplaced, with industrial action a regular feature of his term at the top. Having already presided over more strikes in his four years than Ken saw in eight, Boris’ refusal to meet union leaders is a highly visible failing and shines a spotlight on a perceived weakness in the Mayor’s otherwise celebrated personality.
A Ken & Bob Crow love-in (unlikely anyway) is not the only alternative to Boris’ intransigence, and agreement that forceful but respectful negotiations are the best route has been a rare source of harmony between the other candidates. Boris’ proposed solutions — driverless trains (which still need staff to function) and lobbying central government to curb the groups’ power — have offered few returns. With the eyes of the world on London, Boris’ strong-arm tactics have given the unions the opportunity to name their price during the Games — with an extra £250m already found for security, they might be tempted to test their luck.
Those wishing to cast Boris as a disconnected snob — someone more concerned with international prestige than the interests of average Londoners — were given ammunition by the Olympic Lanes debacle which has seen all but the top brass excluded from stretches of the capital’s road network. Meagre concessions were made to regular road users, but allowing cabs to use the Lanes might have avoided another transport embarrassment.
When voters go to the polls, they will still have little idea whether these concerns are justified. Whilst a degree of comfort can be taken in the heavy presence of security forces, Londoners will recall that heavy handed safety measures are not themselves without risk. Whilst post-7/7 paranoia resulted in one avoidable tragedy on the capital’s transport network, most will trust that lessons have been sufficiently learnt and Londoners can return to worrying about the more mundane concerns, like tube strikes and travel delays.
Whilst the Mayor was handed a uniquely difficult task in marshalling security worries, the solution to his transport headaches has never been out of reach. Boris’ unerring bravado, which has won him favour with even the most apathetic voters, has been his downfall in this case — but a late dose of humility could still save the day, and potentially his job.
Time for the medals!
Gold Medal: Brian Paddick
Nothing says ‘security’ like a policeman as mayor. Olympic organisers should be aware of the opportunity to sneak one more security professional into the city without blowing the budget. He’s spelled out a clear firm-but-flexible stance on union negotiations which will appeal to voters who are not fond of unions, but less keen on strikes. Points scored, then, for officer no. 23,701.
Silver Medal: Jenny Jones
Making Olympic officials use public transport wins our vote. Being chauffeured around in air-conditioned BMWs is nice and all, but for a lot less you could buy them each a Zones 1-9 travelcard — for the whole month. You haven’t really seen London until you’ve sat on the front seats of the DLR.
Bronze Medal: Boris Johnson
We know it’s been said a million times before, but Boris Johnson is the Mario Balotelli of Greater London politics. He’s got some talent, and his madcap arrogance can be endearing, but a cool head and the occasional plateful of humble pie could do him the world of good.
Wooden spooner: Ken Livingstone
It should have been Boris bottom, really, but Ken decided yesterday that he’d lose the personality battle all by himself. Crying might have worked for Hillary but Ken’s crocodile tears only reminded people why they didn’t trust him before. Having seen pre-election Labour leader Gordon Brown bawl — to grotesque effect — you’d have thought Ken would’ve learnt his lesson. Ed Miliband needs to take note: if people think you’re a bit weird anyway (they do, Ed, sorry) keep the feelings bottled up, big guy.
By Matt Ponsford
Photo by cocabeenslinky in the Londonist Flickr pool