London needs to forget the Olympics and look after itself

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Weighing the pros and cons of a British bid for the 2012 Olympics will give members of the Cabinet something meaty to chew on in addition to their seasonal turkey. The decision is due to be taken soon after Parliament returns from the Christmas recess.

Weighing the pros and cons of a British bid for the 2012 Olympics will give members of the Cabinet something meaty to chew on in addition to their seasonal turkey. The decision is due to be taken soon after Parliament returns from the Christmas recess.

We know all the arguments in favour. The Olympics worked wonders for regeneration in cities such as Los Angeles, Barcelona and Sydney, and burnished their attraction for tourists as well. With the right mix of public backing and commercial sponsorship, the Olympics can be a financial success. There would be nothing like preparations for the world's largest festival of sporting excellence to unite the country and give the capital a new sense of unity and purpose. And has not the Government been told that only London – not Manchester, despite the signal success of the recent Commonwealth Games – would have the slightest chance of winning the votes needed to host the Games?

One glance at Sydney or Barcelona, however, should suffice to convince us how very far London falls short and how utterly unprepared are the city's ill co-ordinated guardians for an event of this magnitude. London cannot cope with its own housing or transport needs. It is more dilapidated, more congested and dirtier than most of its European peers. Those visitors who chide us for an infrastructure more characteristic of a Third World metropolis than a first-world financial capital are not far short of the mark.

What is more, unlike some of our European partners, we have proved ourselves singularly unable to channel disparate resources into one grand national effort. Our track record of such projects is a national disgrace: Wembley Stadium, the national athletics stadium, the Dome, to name but three.

Regrettably, we are simply not ready to compete in the Olympic league in any discipline except overweening ambition. This is not defeatism, but stark realism. We should never have contemplated a bid to host the Olympics, even 10 years hence, and the sooner we recognise our limitations, the sooner we will knuckle down to the hard work needed to make London a capital city fit for 21st-century Britain.

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