Wednesday, August 25, 2004

UKIP does something right

As incontrovertible evidence comes from Greece that the Athens Olympic Games, apart from being a beanfest of emotionalism, cheating and dope stories, are turning into an economic disaster for Greece, UKIP London has sensibly started a campaign to keep Olympics 2012 away from London.

On Monday, Greece's accounting office showed Greece's public debt for the first half of 2004 rising by 10 percent year-on-year to 195.7 billion euros (240 billion dollars) -- well above 100 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

The Greek deficit, already over the required 3 per cent, has risen considerably. Brussels has launched an excessive deficit procedure against the country, though on past record, that procedure will not proceed very far. Some of the deficit was occasioned by what AFP described as:

"building-up of cash reserves and not-Olympics-related spending unaccounted for in previous government budgets …".
Undoubtedly, however, the amount of money Greece had to borrow to finish off all those necessary structures and constructions for the Olympics has turned a serious problem into a real disaster. On present estimate Greece has spent 7 billion euros (c.£4.75 billion) on the Olympic Games. I confidently predict the final figure to be considerably higher than that, not to mention subsequent expenses, that are crippling past hosts of the Games, such as Montreal and Sydney.

All of which makes the London bid, led by the egregious Ken Livingstone, rather odd. Does the Mayor actually want to bankrupt London? He has already announced that once the various buildings are up Londoners will have to support them through ever higher taxes for good many years. This will be like the Dome, only bigger.

Despite all that, Livingstone and the various members of the Olympic bid team led by Cherie Blair and Lord Coe (what a combination that is!) keep talking about all the advantages London will have: new investment, jobs, housing, infrastructure and so on, and so on.

Yes, but, asked UKIP London’s leader, Damian Hockney, if we need all that in East London, why not just build the houses, the schools, the hospitals, the infrastructure? And, he added, in what way will the Olympic stadium, the athletes’ villages and other appendages help London or its people, once the Games are over? Furthermore, said Mr Hockney, has anyone seen a detailed costing of what the Games would cost?

Yesterday UKIP London went into action over this issue, by announcing publicly that they were supporting the Paris bid for the Olympic Games 2012. They unfurled a banner outside City Hall and wore t-shirts with pro-Paris slogans for the photocall. (Whether the French, who, presumably, have also looked at the figures and the empty stadium in Athens, are quite as happy with that support as one might wish them to be, is another question.)

Needless to say, Mayor Livingstone was livid. He accused UKIP of producing a cheap publicity stunt, presumably annoyed that he did not think of it himself, and said without a touch of embarrassment that some people would do anything for 2 minutes on the media. Indeed, they would Mr Kettle.

Mayor Livingstone also announced haughtily that 70 per cent of Londoners supported the Games and the investment, jobs and development they would bring to London. Subsequently, the figure became 81 per cent, then went back to 70 per cent. But one thing remained constant: no evidence of any poll was produced. So we still do not know how the figure was arrived at and who was asked.

UKIP has also mooted that, as London taxes will go up enormously to pay for the bid, the Games and the fall-out afterwards, the people who live and run businesses in London should be asked in a referendum whether the bid should go ahead after a full and clear statement of the costings had been made. That was something else Mayor Livingstone forgot to respond to.

My own feeling is that the story will not go away for some time. Just as the Conservative Party will be continuously challenged to produce the famous 12-page “abattoir directive” so Our Ken will be asked to show that poll. We shall see who responds first.

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