|Olympics, A Temporary Respite
For A Crises Ridden Government
by SHAHED SADULLAH
With Olympic fever nearing the worrisome proportions of a mass delirium, the Conservative-Labour coalition government must be thankful that the Games have come when they have, for if the government ever needed a diversion, it is now.
A couple of days before the official opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, it was revealed that the UK economy was contracting at a faster rate than expected – and expectations were pretty modest to begin with – and that the country was in the longest double dip recession for more than fifty years with the Gross Domestic Product have gone down for the third quarter running. Economists were expecting a modest 0.2 per cent decline in the second quarter of the current calendar year but the actual figure was three and a half times that at 0.7 per cent. This is supposed to be the sharpest decline in more than three years – three dismal years, that is.
The sobering figures are being blamed by economists on the extra bank holiday to celebrate the Queen's diamond jubilee and theÊpoor weather that has blighted these islands this summer. But the poor weather is a more or less constant feature in a country where summer is a state of mind, not a state of the weather.
The unequivocal confirmation of Britain's double dip recession makes it pretty much the sick man of the industrialized world. None of the other G20 countries are experiencing so prolonged a depression and both Germany and France, traditional economic competitors of the UK, have both recorded growth in the quarter in question.
Of course, these latest figures have brought on their own almost inevitable and entirely foreseeable political reactions. Labour has once again said that the government must change its economic course as it should be clear to all that the present course adopted by the government is leading nowhere and the government, equally predictably, has reaffirmed its commitment to the reforms it has adopted and its adamant conviction that come what may, it shall not consider any other economic plan. The complete and total rigidness of the government's position reminds one rather of the positions taken around the writing of the letter to the Swiss authorities in Pakistan and it must make Pakistani expatriates in Britain proud to know that the influence of Pakistan on British culture extends so much beyond chicken tikka masala.
But much of the anxiety that such worrying economic news would have caused is now conveniently and happily buried under Olympic mania, the limits of which now know no bounds. However, if you happen to be living in London itself, your primary concern would be to see the end of these Games so that life may resume with some semblance of normality.
At the moment, the life of those living in London and its suburbs has been thrown into complete disarray. A couple of days before the opening ceremony of the Games, the much dreaded 'Olympic lanes' came into being on London's roads. One lane on these roads, have been painted with Olympic rings and only Olympic related traffic on vehicles bearing an Olympic permit is being allowed on these roads for the duration of the Games. Anyone else caught using these lanes is to be fined £130. The result is that since most roads are no more than two-lane roads, the blocking of one lane for Olympic traffic has meant that the rest of the 15 plus million people living in and around London are limited to just one lane, in effect halving the road space available. Even without this London's traffic jams enjoyed legendary status but the result now is horrifying. In some areas, people in cars have been known to take two hours to progress a mile and since most of these people are not out to watch the 'tamasha' but are on their daily business trying to earn their daily bread, the effects of this are serious. One tradesman, who had a job to do in central London, said he had to call off not only that particular job but all jobs he had in central London during the Olympics as it was simply impossible to get around; a woman who had a flower business in central London said if it took her four hours to get to her shop and she could not get there before midday, and if it took her four hours to make a delivery which in normal times would take forty minutes. she might as well close her shop down because there was simply no way she could operate under such circumstances. This in a recession in which jobs are more precious than gold dust. In other words, central London is a virtualÊ'no go' area for all but the most dire of situations for people for whom London is their home. That is something most Londoners are not amused about and it is therefore not unusual to hear the Games being roundly abused.
Of course, there is the expectation that the Olympics will provide the economy with a huge boost although it is less than clear how exactly this is supposed to work. For example, shops in a huge shopping complex built near the Olympic stadium have been let out at an exorbitantÊ rate on a 25-year-lease. The Olympic euphoria will not last 25 days so it is difficult to see how those who have gone in for these shops are going to come out of it with a profit. In other words, any boost provided by the Olympics will be on a short term basis and that is not going to be of much help to this government.
Up till now, the easy explanation that government functionaries have consistently come up with whenever confronted with evidence that the government's economic plans are not working, is that it was Labour that left this huge mess and that fixing it will take time – which again has shades of Pakistan all over it. But as in Pakistan, so in the UK, this business of blaming the previous government is good only for a limited period and that time limit is fast approaching for this government. The one big difference between Britain and Pakistan is that the British electorate is far less forgiving than its Pakistani counterpart.