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News blackout on Olympian success story

Posted on 28 February 2010 | 2:02pm

With the Tories doing enough damage on their own, and the polls continuing to narrow as they happily  ignore all the free advice I give them here, I thought I’d do a rare blog free of Tory bashing.

Instead a return to two of my favourite themes – the UK media’s refusal to accept that good news can be news at all, and the great success story I have always believed London 2012 will be.

Consider this – if a report by the National Audit Office had said last week that preparations for the London Olympics were behind schedule and costing way more than planned, do you think you might have heard about it?

So why, when the NAO issued a report saying the preparations were on schedule and on budget, is this deemed worthy of no coverage whatsoever?

Well, I say none with apologies to the FT editor who decided it was worth one paragraph highlighting what the report said about future challenges of co-ordination, and the BBC London team who gave it what it called a ‘wipe’ – one sentence.

The media are constantly in hand-wringing mode as to why they are in such a mess. The belief that ‘good news is no news’ is one of the reasons.

It comes to something when I can write this a few days after the event and virtually claim what papers are fond of calling a ‘world exclusive’ in setting out some of the report’s findings.

We can start with the opening line of the NAO’s ignored press release.

‘Venues and infrastructure for 2012 are on track to be delivered on time for the Games and the cost is currently forecast to be within budget, according to a  progress report to Parliament by the National Audit Office’.

It is worth pointing out that this report comes not from government or London 2012 but Parliament’s independent watchdog. To get this sort of endorsement is the holy grail for a project like this.

Now think back to the huge media cynicism, first that we would never beat Paris for the Games and, when we won, that we couldn’t deliver a project on this scale.

An Olympic Games obviously presents the ultimate fixed deadline. Worth remembering too that the completion dates are not summer 2012 but in the most part summer 2011 so our athletes can get a chance to use the facilities in advance and the organisers can hold test events – so on time means in reality a year early.

As the Winter Olympics close this weekend, there are now fewer than 1000 days to go. When I was asked on the radio the other day for my favourite view in London, I said currently it was the sight of the Olympic stadium rising up.

The Games present the biggest construction project in Europe – at a cost of £8bn with 10,000 people working at Stratford and thousands more in companies up and down the country. It represents a remarkable logistical challenge to manage multiple contractors on one very constrained site in East London. It is  changing the nature of the construction industry by setting new standards for sustainability which are attracting global interest. And it is being done with an exemplary health and safety record.

I am an unashamed cheerleader for a Games whose legacy will not just  be a regenerated East London and a great sports legacy but UK plc winning billions of pounds of contracts abroad on the back of this success at home.

It is also turning into a proud symbol of the best of Britain  – multiculturalism, innovation, optimism, volunteering.

If only we had a media that could see it this would be an even better country than it already is.

Ps. Oh ok, just a bit of Tory-bashing. Well not bashing so much as strategic reflection. It comes to you in the form of the email I sent to Kate Silverton’s Five Live programme when she asked for questions for David Cameron.

I asked ‘does he recall a conversation we had at Matthew Freud’s party two years ago? He was well ahead in the polls. I said unless he came up with a thought through policy programme which showed real change in his party his lead was unsustainable even if Labour became less popular. He said he was far from complacent but he believed he was doing what we did under TB – presenting well, building media support and keeping powder dry. I pointed out TB led a fundamental overhaul of the party – strategy, policy, constitution. He needed a similar scale of change…. He hasn’t done it and despite a benign environment he is now paying a political price.’

*** Buy The Blair Years online and raise money for Labour (a political price worth paying)

  • C Burke

    I think the Olympics will be great for Britain. Look what it did for Sydney. SUch a better place for it and a stronger community spirit evolved from it.

    SO you couldn’t help a little Tory bashing creeping in? Tory ‘bashing’ is good. ‘Blapping’ not so good.

    Boris amuses me daily.

  • Patrick James

    “I pointed out TB led a fundamental overhaul of the party – strategy, policy, constitution. He needed a similar scale of change”

    You were right 🙂

    I’ve always thought this myself. The problem the Conservative party have had throughout this election is that they are just the shallowest makeover masquerading as change. The public sees right through it.

    The latest set of policies being announced at the Conservative party conference are absolutely classic Thatcherism and may have chimed with enough of British society in 1979 to win an election however they don’t today.

    By now everyone will have read the Times reporting of a Conservative lead down to 2%. I feel it is important now for us Labour types to concentrate on what we have rather than what the Conservatives don’t have. The public are seeing through them, when their gaze turns to Labour for comparison we must show them that we have the right economic policies, the best social policies, the most sensible international policies.

    We must relate our policies directly to people. I know, for example, that improving care such that older people who need it can stay in their homes more easily is very important indeed. Far better to highlight the policies that matter to people than to spend time talking about the Conservatives.

  • Colin Lemm

    I visited the 2010 site as a contractor a couple of weeks ago and even as a highly sceptical northerner I was totally blown away by the whole project. Even at this stage it is absolutely fantastic to see; the three main stadiums are going to be beyond world class. If there weren’t enough reasons already to ensure that Labour win the forthcoming election it would be criminal if Boris Johnson and the rest of the tory handwringers are able to take any credit whatsoever for the guts, vision and commitment shown to bring these games to this country

  • Robert Jackson

    Just freshly fired up from DC’s speech.

    What a performance!

    How original – “I will not let you down!”

  • olli issakainen

    The Tories´ election campaign is in trouble. And they even do not know why! The gap is now down to 2 points which would mean that Labour would be the biggest party with 300-317 seats (326 is needed for a majority).
    Voters have noticed that the economy is improving, and they also trust that jobs are safer under Labour. Jobs, schools and public services matter more to the electorate than the deficit.
    The Conservatives do not have credible ideas for the future and are not winning the argument on “Broken Britain” and the economy. Voters do not like David Cameron´s inexperience and uncertainity. Labour still has best values and best policies and has regained its confidence.
    David Cameron is a politician without principle. He is pragmatic, non-ideological. The Tories are not united behind him. Many MPs see him as dismissive of traditional Tory values.
    Steve Hilton´s strategy was that David Cameron would only put forward a couple of policies and principles, but no details. This clearly has not been working, and Mr Hilton appears to have been moved background with George Osborne, Andy Coulson and George Bridges now in charge of the campaign.
    In Brighton David Cameron tried in vain to turn the tide.
    But what would Mr Cameron´s radical change mean? It would mean fundamental social changes. It would mean a revolution in cultural attitudes, radical restructuring of the Welfare State and review of public spending priorities. But do the voters want a change this size?
    Despite the recent world-wide recession many Britons have done quite well because there has not been inflation. I guess most people would just like to return to the days before the financial crisis which started in USA.
    The City has given the Tories £16m since 2006. In return they want David Cameron to be soft on regulation. This would make Britain vulnerable to yet another crash and bailout.
    Lord Ashcroft has poured £4.7m to the Conservatives. The Tories need to gain 117 seats to win a majority. They have spent £6m in two years in marginal seats. It has been said that because of “Cashcroft money” the Tories are doing better in marginal seats than in national figures. But Michael Portillo stated on This Week that he thinks there is no independent evidence of this.
    Nevertheless it is a bit worrying that Lib Dem voters are shifting to the Conservatives in the South. And there might also be less tactical voting this time.
    George Osborne has promised to reduce the deficit more quickly than Labour. But Alistair Darling has been proved right over the economy. Labour´s strategy is to wait until the economy is out of recession and then reduce deficit. Labour has the backing of IMF. The approach of the Tories could jeopardise the recovery.
    And as Gordon Brown has said, voting for the Conservatives would also risk services, jobs and fairness.
    Pro-Tory the Times ran recently a story called “Cameron falls short in drive to change the white face of the Tories”. The Conservatives are still a party of white, middle-class often wealthy men. Even their ideological make-up remains unchanged; Baroness Thatcher is an idol. And grassroots want immigration on the agenda. In their desperation the Tories could be turning to the right.
    So Read-My-Lips (or is it, in these days of Sarah Palin, Hands!): It is more than likely that the Conservatives will be the same old Nasty Party again after the election.
    The 2010 general election is not a referendum on the Government. The choice is between Labour which has got all the big decisions right and 5 years of David Cameron, who has a record of U-turns, misjudgements, gaffes and slip-ups.
    Choice is yours!

  • Wyrdtimes

    The original estimate in 2003 for the 2012 Olympics was £1.796bn
    This rose to £2.375bn in 2003
    2005 £2.4bn
    2006 £3.3bn
    2007 £5.3bn
    2007 £9.35bn

    How can this in anyway be described as on Budget? You’re living in a parallel universe.

    The 2012 Olympics are an excruciatingly expensive vanity project. There are almost infinite ways in which £9bn could be better spent.

    These games are a disaster for the country and taxpayer.

  • Alan Quinn

    I watched George this morning on the Marr show, he tried to get in “time for a change” as often as he could but aside from one costed splending plan he was his usual unconvincing self.
    Marr pressed him on Ashcroft but he didn’t ask about inheritence tax, I felt he got an easy ride.

    On the cockney olympics, the project beating deadlines and being ontime and on cost is impressive, we do have a world class construction industry and it’s something we could utilise to continue the recovery. Big projects do put people in work, get small firms going and get kids into apprenticeships.
    The green jobs agenda of new nuclear power stations, wind farms and clean coal should have one thing in common…Made in the UK.

  • Em

    As I think you know Alastair, the British press is far too busy spitting venom at the Vancouver Olympics to give any thought to London 2012, especially if the news are good.

    I’m conflicted about the Olympics, the doping, the environmental impact, corruption within the IOC, but I wish London all the best with their games.

    Donald Sutherland refused to talk to the Guardian because of its monstrous coverage of the Games (there was one exception — Tomasky, I think). I wonder what the British press will make of London 2012. They might very feel their chest well swell with pride, you know…

  • Charlie Reynolds

    While Labour remain dishonest about the prospects for the British economy they will do well at the election. It is the final shameful act of a completely discredited regime.

    The Chancellor talks about the PM unleashing the hounds of hell and no one flinches. We have such low expectations from this government. Gordon Brown can even joke about his bullying and is admired for it. If he were a ‘big business’ boss doing the same thing I would like to think that Labour and the Unions would take it more seriously.

    BTW – GDP was not upgraded recently – it was actually even lower than previously thought. The fact that the previous quarter turned out to be even worse than thought (confirming the deepest and longest recession since records began) made the last quarter relatively better! Let’s celebrate!! A national debt over a £ trillion, the largest youth unemployment in history, the longest and deepest recession on record. VOTE LABOUR for more of the same success (and honesty)……………

  • Jane A

    I am always a fan of Olympian endeavours, winter, summer, everything. I think Vancouver has done fine given weather challenges.

    I am really utterly optimistic about London2012 and like what I see about what is growing out of the earth to the east.

    The counterpoint to this optimism is the preparation for the World Cup in South Africa where it looks from BBC coverage as if not much is finished. That worries me.

  • Harold Martins

    Good to see Sebastian Coe out there and explaining how we can learn from Vancouver. Loved the ice hockey last night. Real sportsMEN

  • Colin Histon

    It is the same about the NHS. Things go wrong – front page news. Great things the NHS does – who cares? We do NOT get the press we deserve