We are currently trialling our new-look independent.co.uk website - please send any feedback to beta@independent.co.uk

Dominic Lawson

Dominic Lawson: For a nation of non-conformists it feels like we're in North Korea

The BBC has gone berserk with headlines such as 'People unite around Olympic flame'

Appalled by the massacres carried out by militias loyal to the Assad regime, Nick Clegg declares that "if there is evidence that you have abused human rights you will not be able to come to this country [for the Olympics]"; this was in response to the BBC'S Andrew Marr asking about the invitation already received by a Syrian general who is part of his nation's Olympic delegation.

Steady on! If you are going to start withdrawing invitations to any foreign potentate who has abused human rights then the VIP stand at the Olympic Stadium will be sparsely inhabited. In any case, Nick Clegg is merely the Deputy Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and, therefore, of little importance: the host nation is obliged to do whatever the Olympics chiefs want for as long as the show is in town. Any government which bids for the Olympics signs a legal document to that effect.

Besides, one does not immediately connect the Olympics with great respect for human rights. You might recall that four years ago, when the Chinese paraded the Olympic torch in Britain prior to its transfer to Beijing, British police ordered people on the streets of London to take off T-shirts with slogans in favour of Tibetan independence. At the time, there was a certain amount of distaste expressed in this country at the scary-looking track-suited Chinese heavies escorting the torch on its British leg. Perhaps you might even have thought: "We won't behave like that, when our turn comes." Wrong. Within 20 minutes of the 2012 torch beginning its journey from Land's End, some of our very own track-suited members of the 70-strong "Torch Security Team" had violently bundled a middle-aged man into a Cornish hedge.

Look at the footage on YouTube, and it is clear that the poor soul was merely trying to walk across the road: big mistake. You will search for pictures of this incident in vain in the official media. The national photographic agency awarded the contract to cover the torch's progression was obliged to sign an undertaking that it would not circulate or offer for sale any picture which might cast doubt on the total wonderfulness of the event.

Now, I mustn't be a curmudgeon. I am perhaps untypical in having turned down a "freebie" to attend the Sydney Olympics back in 2000; I have written articles saying that the hosting of the two weeks' games is a scandalous misuse of £10bn of tax-payers' money (£7.5bn more than the original claimed cost), and that if we were going to borrow another £10bn, there are many better infrastructure projects to spend it on than an athletics stadium linked to a gigantic shopping centre – but shouldn't I now just let the people enjoy the whole circus, even if they will be paying for it like mugs for years afterwards?

Well, all right. But there is something infernal in the way in which we are being force-fed Olympic jollies (from those who have a licence to do so – unlike the Truro woman threatened with prosecution for selling roast pork under the name of "Olympigs"). The BBC has gone berserk with enthusiasm. The nation's most important television channel, BBC1, will be broadcasting Olympic events non-stop for 18 hours a day; there will be a further 14 hours a day of the stuff on BBC3. Even BBC2 will be pitching in to fill the tiniest gaps in coverage, when BBC1 is screening news bulletins (yes, the world will still be going on).

The determination of the BBC to exploit its exclusive rights as broadcaster is understandable, but it has lost all sense of proportion. Its main news webpage yesterday had no fewer than 15 separate stories about the progress of that damn torch, under such headlines as "Excitement at relay across Wales", "Elephants salute Olympic Torch", "Police want torch centre stage" and "People unite around Olympic flame". That last one is especially spooky – it really does make one feel as though this is North Korea rather than a country supposedly characterised by individualism and nonconformity.

That's even before considering the implications of what an event feels like when it is employing 25,000 people dedicated solely to "security" (there goes a good chunk of your £10bn). For the first time, officers with machine guns will be patrolling the London Underground; police special forces with their faces covered by balaclavas will also be there to make us feel even less comfortable in our own capital; and an east London housing estate has been told it will have a "Higher Velocity Missile System" perched on its water tower. Its tenants will doubtless be reassured by a Ministry of Defence Q&A leaflet: "Q: Will having missiles on our building make us a target? A: Having a 24/7 armed forces and police presence will improve your local security and will not make you a target for terrorists."


There will be some advantages for Londoners during all of this. Underground trains will be running extra late – until 1.30am; and passengers will be able to get free wi-fi. But then, as soon as the 80,000 strong "Olympic family" leaves, both these perks will be instantaneously removed – like the Potemkin villages Stalin used to impress visiting socialists from the West.

Similarly, the fraternal delegates of the Olympic family will not endure the normal London congestion; they will sweep through dedicated lanes, with the principal VIP route expected to speed the chosen ones from Hyde Park to the stadium in Stratford in 30 minutes. Of course, it wouldn't do for the delegates (and their families) to be delayed by London's traffic, and thus miss seeing their athletes in action: it does normally take well over an hour to get from the West End to east London by car. That being the case, however, would it not have been much simpler to house all the Olympic Family in spruced-up Stratford, rather than the five- star hotels of Park Lane? What would have been wrong with the London Stratford Premier Inn, in Olympic Park itself? It has excellent reviews on TripAdvisor (I've checked) and room prices start at £39 a night.

No, that would never do for the Olympics: much too cheap, far too sensible – and definitely not grand enough for a Syrian general in need of cosseting after a gruelling massacre.