Ministers fume at order to get to Games on the Tube

Downing Street faces backlash against 'draconian rules' forcing top MPs to use public transport to get to Olympic events – where they have been ordered to schmooze VIPs

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Indy Politics

Cabinet ministers are up in arms after being ordered to use public transport rather than official Government cars to get to events at the London Games, The Independent has learnt.

Downing Street has banned ministers from taking cars altogether, fearing bad publicity if ministers are caught using special Olympic "ZiL" lanes (named after the limousine lanes used by Soviet leaders) while everyone else crams on to the Tube.

Ministers have also been warned they must not take family members to any events where they have an official role – even if they pay for tickets themselves. Instead they will be expected to be on hand at all times to schmooze invited businessmen and leaders who they will have to "entertain" as guests of the Government.

But the strict procedures have infuriated some senior Government figures who claim that the "hair shirt rules" have put them in such a bad mood that the last thing they feel like is being nice to their official guest.

One Cabinet minister told The Independent: "This has caused a lot of ill-feeling and frankly some of us would rather not be going to anything at all.

"The rules are unbelievably draconian. We've basically been told we're on our own and have to look after our guests with no official support and we'll have to go by Tube as well.

"I know they're worried about how it will look if we're seen to get special treatment but at the end of the day we're supposed to be representing the Government. I'd rather be sitting at home watching it on television."

The edict is expected to extend to all levels of government and David Cameron yesterday confirmed he would travel to the Games opening ceremony on public transport.

"I will be using public transport and that is how I recommend [everyone] should travel," he said. "I now use the Tube, I drive my protection team mad in London by saying why on earth are we in the car, the Tube is quicker."

Asked whether he would be using the so-called "ZiL lanes" the Prime Minister said: "We are banished from using that terminology. I went in a Games lane, but it was not acting as a Games lane when I came back from Chequers on Sunday. We were happily driving on it because everyone else was driving on it.

Mr Cameron will spend much of his time during the Olympics meeting business leaders including Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, John Chambers, the chief executive of Cisco Systems and Vikram Pandit, the chief executive of Citigroup. Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of new business deals are expected to be agreed.

As The Independent revealed earlier this week, more than 60 ministers and MPs have been drafted in to act as escorts for foreign VIPs coming to watch the Olympics.

While they will get tickets to accompany their guest to events, they will be expected to use their "face time" with foreign businessmen and politicians to relentlessly drum up business for UK Plc.

The Government has spent nearly £750,000 buying 8,815 Olympic tickets, including 213 for the opening ceremony, 143 for the closing ceremony and 257 athletics tickets.

Nearly £30,000 has been spent on diving tickets and a further £26,600 went on 411 beach volleyball tickets.

Whitehall sources suggested that in very limited circumstances some ministers could be exempt from the public transport rule on security grounds.

A Government spokeswoman confirmed the car ban. "All ministers will be expected to travel to the Games like everybody else," she said. "There will be some limited circumstances when this might be waved but as a general rule that is what they have been told."

Command centre: Inside police HQ

The Metropolitan Police control room for the Olympic Games is based in Lambeth, south London. From there up to 300 officers will monitor more than 12,000 CCTV cameras providing images from across the capital, and communicate with thousands of officers on the streets.

Say what? The Olympic guide to English

Every athlete is to be issued a gift bag containing an 'English for the Games' handbook, compiled by the British Council. Published in Arabic, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, it features useful phrases and a guide to common social situations that might occur during the teams' stay. But is it sufficiently comprehensive?

What the handbook says...

How do you like London?

What time is breakfast?

I want to pay by credit card.

Do you have that in blue?

Amazing! You can see for miles from the top!

Can I squeeze past?

I want to buy some postcards.

Do you have any plans for later?

We have tickets for the athletics this afternoon – where do we need to go?

You can get a travelcard for £10.

Can we have two coffees?

I'm going to the Science Museum. What train do I need?

... and what it doesn't

This condom machine is empty.

Yes, I think [insert name of GB athlete here] has a great chance.

Please urinate in this bottle.

Two more pints of Heineken™, Official Lager of London 2012 please.

You don't take Mastercard? Perhaps I could do the washing up…

How much for this umbrella?

Anish what? I thought this was a rollercoaster.

Who is that posh, dishevelled, blond man with the Brazilian beach volleyball team?

Can I get fries with that?

Could you direct me to the EDF "Magic of Electricity" Pavilion?

When does Beckham come on?


Tim Walker

Olympic shorts

Volleyballers hope viewers get technical

Team GB's beach volleyballers hope the Olympics will provide the platform for the public to become more interested in the sport's technical aspects.

"After the test events last year we got asked lots more questions about how we jump, the difficulties of playing on sand, how long the games last, how fit you have to be, and so on," said Shauna Mullin, one half of Team GB's leading pair. "It wasn't just the normal stuff about our bikinis?"

Given the poor weather, concerns have been raised that the girls may not compete in their customary two pieces during the Games if it's cold.

"People ask us about it a lot," said Zara Dempsey, Mullin's partner. "The sport's got a glamorous image, and we're happy with it as it attracts attention to the sport."

The pair are not expected to win medals, but team boss Morph Boyes said: "With 15,000 people cheering you on, you never know."

Women get cheap seats

Bosses of Japan's football squad and Australia's basketball teams booked their male competitors into business- class seats to fly to the Games, but their female athletes were forced to make do in economy class. The Australians said it was because the men were on average 200.2cm tall, while the average woman was 183cm.

Game's over for Middletons

Kate Middleton's parents will have to change their company's website, which sells party products, after using words protected by the 2006 Olympic act.

The offending page features a woman throwing a javelin under the strapline "Let the Games Begin". A Locog official said: "The products are fine. We will ask them to make minor changes to some copy."

'Oylmpic' torchbearer

One Olympic torchbearer had a tattoo done so she could always remember the relay – only to find that the artist had misspelt "Olympic".

Jerri Peterson, 54, from the US, paid $10 (£6.40) to get the body art done before she carried the flame through Derby.