Andreas Whittam Smith, who is regarded as nothing less than a saint around these parts, could not have planned it any better. As he was putting the final touches to his campaign to restore confidence in our politics, there was George Osborne getting the bird in a rather spectacular fashion at the Paralympics.
If ever we needed evidence that the British people have not only lost faith in our elected representatives but are prepared to express contempt for them, here it was. The boos cascaded down from the stands in the Olympic Stadium. Mr Osborne, whose nervous laughter fooled no one, will probably have cast his mind back to the discussions he had with his advisers about the wisdom of taking part in a medal ceremony in front of 80,000 people.
"Look what the Olympics did for Boris," Mr Osborne was told.
"But this is the Paralympics. And haven't we slashed disability benefits as part of our crackdown on welfare spending? Won't they be rather annoyed about that? And weren't disabled groups protesting recently about these "fit to work" assessments we've brought in?"
"It's true that some people are angry that we awarded the contract for that to Atos, one of the Paralympic sponsors, but you shouldn't worry about this, sir. It's long established that politicians can benefit from attaching themselves to sporting glory. It started way before Boris, you know. It goes back all the way to the 1966 World Cup. A lot of people then thought that, in fact, Harold Wilson was the manager of the England football team!"
"So you think it will be OK? People won't boo me."
"Of course not. Apart from anything else, British people are far too well-mannered to behave in a way that would cause embarrassment and discomfort."
"In that case, I'll do it. And if it goes well, I'll make sure I'm seen dancing away at the closing ceremony."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, sir."
We all know what happened next.
Given that the conversation above is the product of a fevered imagination, I'd really like to know what Mr Osborne and his advisers thought would happen? There is a political dimension to the Paralympics which differentiates it – and its audience – from other sporting events. In a highly-charged atmosphere, you would have to say that the jeering of a Chancellor who has presided over cuts that adversely affect disabled people was not one of the most surprising results of the sporting summer.
And the fact that a good-natured crowd was willing to voice its opinions in this manner was, in its own small way, a demonstration of people power that will have encouraged Whittam Smith.Reuse content