The Last Word: Tories to put funding under the microscope

A change of government this year will see Cameron flexing ministerial muscle in blue corner before 201

Alan Hubbard
Sunday 03 January 2010 01:00

Once football's all-consuming World Cup mania is done and dusted next summer and teeth have been gnashed over England's customary quarter-final exit, London 2012 will not know what hits it. The heat will be turned up full blast on the countdown towards the biggest sporting extravaganza this country has ever known.

2010 may be two years off 2012, and the Games still 936 days away, but for the organisers it will be a critical time, a veritable watershed. It is only after the World Cup that the full impact of having the Olympics here will really strike home, and Lord Coe and his team will be under more intensive forensic scrutiny than ever before. Not only from the media microscope, but quite possibly a new Government.

The likelihood is that there will be a change of colour in the Westminster strip, or so the opinion polls tell us. So what will that mean for 2012? The Conservatives have always been supportive of the Games – more so, actually, than Labour were at the beginning of the bid, or even when London won it. Gordon Brown, then the bean-counting Chancellor, is said to have held his head in his hands and muttered: "Oh my God, what have we let ourselves in for?"

You would think with two Tory peers (m'lords Coe and Moynihan) comprising the four-person Locog board alongside London's mayor Boris Johnson and presumably a new Tory Olympics Minister, that any transition would go smoothly and there would be a cosier rapport with a fresh administration.

But will that be so? Despite any new political affinity with 2012's main players you can expect a Tory government to publicly flex ministerial muscles and probe every financial aspect of the Games knowing they will be the fall guys if things go wrong. And already, in Opposition, they seem far more concerned about legacy, as Hugh Robertson, the shadow sports and Olympics spokesman (who hopefully will get the job of being the main political link between Locog and the Government, as he seems to know what he is about) has already demonstrated. He is far from happy at what will – or won't – be left to posterity after the Games.

Then there is the sometimes fractious relationship between bolshie Boris and other Board members. Blues brothers he and Coe may be, but it is fair to say they have had their differences and that Coe actually had a rather more comfortable relationship with Labour mayor Ken Livingstone, who knew or cared little about the Olympics other than that they would underwrite the regeneration of east London.

Johnson takes a deeper interest in all areas of the Games preparations, notably fiscal, and has been putting his foot down to demand that £20m of taxpayers' money must be saved by economising on venues. Both Seb and British Olympic Association chief Colin Moynihan, as former Olympians, are equally insistent on fulfilling a pledge that comfort and convenience for athletes must not be compromised.

At one point the unity of the Board seemed threatened, with Boris declaring: "If I have to take my shoe off and bang it on the table, I will." While differences seem to have smoothed, Boris being Boris, it is inevitable that more sparks will be flying from 2012's eyrie high above Canary Wharf.

London is streets, as well as stadiums, ahead of most previous host cities at this stage. Coe has assembled a crack squad of professionals and extracted from them a work-rate which even Fabio Capello would envy. But 2010's roller-coaster will be no easy ride.

Intriguingly there could be more differences of opinion between a Tory government and Locog than there were under Labour. For David Cameron's crew will want to take a long, hard look at the balance sheet of an overstretching £9.325 billion budget and will insist any outstanding disputes over venues are settled expediently.

Then there is the future of Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister, a current Board member who is well liked in Olympic circles, at both Locog and the IOC. Although she would be out of office – and could even lose her Dulwich seat if a Tory swing is substantial enough – I believe Coe would want to keep her in some capacity.

Jowell is looking distinctly happier than most ex-Blair Babes these days. Not only did she survive as Olympics Minister in the last Cabinet reshuffle but Brown, who demoted her from Culture Secretary when he took over as Prime Minister, has brought her back into his inner circle as Cabinet Office Minister.

Her joy will be short-lived if Labour are kicked out at the next election but there is no doubt she wants to stay on with 2012, and Coe, who has always got on well with the minister who first appointed him, could incorporate her as some sort of global ambassador.

He remembers that if it was not for her there might not have been a London 2012 since it was Jowell who persistently ear-bashed Tony Blair until he agreed to back the bid.

The 62-year-old Jowell has certainly become more knowledgeable since she talked enthusiastically to some of us about her first meeting with the IOC president, "Peter Rogge".

But while Coe might welcome her on board, Johnson, whom she so vigorously attacked during his mayoral campaign, won't be quite so keen. And the Conservatives would certainly want absolute assurances that she would play a strictly non-partisan game.

Which is why, knowing way the wind seems to be blowing, we may see the Olympics minister keep a lower political profile in the opening months of 2010 if she still wants to be part of 2012.

Have your say

Do you agree or disagree with Alan Hubbard? Email your thoughts about any article in The Independent on Sunday's sport section to the editor

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments