“Welcoming the world” is an increasingly overworked phrase tumbling from the lips of anyone remotely associated with the London Olympics of late. With less than a year to run until the BarberOsgerby designed torch trots into town, much has been made about the city’s readiness, hospitality and warmth. When 200-plus IOC delegates arrived in London last night and saw the city burning below, some might have been excused for thinking that opening ceremony rehearsals had gone terribly wrong. Most, though, would have been concerned that blazing shops, restaurants and apartments were not the type of warmth they’d voted for.
While I’m sure the delegates are being well looked after, I did wonder who was supposed to welcome all of these VIPs to the capital, as pretty much anyone with a degree of clout was out of the country – until early this morning at least.
When rioting erupted on the streets of Tottenham on Saturday afternoon both Prime Minister David Cameron and Mayor Boris Johnson should have been collecting their toiletries from the washbasin and folding up their trunks, anticipating a hasty departure. If things had settled down by Sunday morning (which was never going to happen) they could have returned to their various holiday pursuits, but as things continued to get out of hand they should have already been taxiing toward to the runway.
Summer holidays and being the leader of a large, if stagnant, economy has always been an irksome pairing. Book yourself too lavish a holiday and you’re likely to be ridiculed by the media and audited for every bottle of wine consumed. Spend too much time issuing statements and commenting from the beach and you’re damned for having weak ministers and micro-managing. Say too little and you’ll be hanged for being out of touch and lazy. In the case of Cameron and Johnson, however, there’s been no room for misreading the situation or for dithering.
The facts were very clear: an explosive situation and insufficient leadership at Scotland Yard; a lack of effective resources to deal with rioting and looting swiftly and conclusively; and a set of less than convincing deputies manning the castle walls. The world has been watching all of this “live” and wondering who is in charge.
With the UK’s national brand image already damaged by a shattered economy and the recent hacking scandal, one would have thought it key to get the mayor out to offer some comfort to nervous residents and business leaders – and for the prime minister to show that the government still knows how to maintain order.
As feral youth continue to rule the streets in some corners of the country, it’s revealed that not only has the government been caught short on resources and useful measures to employ them (why is it okay to use water cannons in Belfast but not Brixton?) but also real leadership. Home Secretary Theresa May was reduced to “Trembling Theresa” by Tuesday morning (voice warbling and strained on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme). And Scotland Yard’s acting commissioner Tim Godwin has been unable to find a forceful set of words to inspire fear in the minds of perpetrators or faith in the people paying his salary.