As the euphoria around the Olympics continues, British athletes are finding that a two minute race can either catapult them to sporting glory or leave them in relative obscurity. But it’s not just athletes whose careers are being defined by the Games. The huge global significance of the Olympic Games, its decade-long development and the financial commitment it has required all mean that it will define both politics in general and also politicians themselves.
David Cameron placed significant emphasis before the sporting extravaganza kicked off on the ‘legacy’ of the Games. The sporting, tourism, and health legacies of the Games have all been cited, but what the Prime Minister perhaps was most searching for was an economic and political legacy. Figures claiming just how significant the Olympics’ contribution to UK PLC would be were vigorously disputed in the run up to the action and initial claims of empty shops, attractions and restaurants turning London into a ‘ghost city’ would not have helped.
Inevitably, the economic benefits of hosting the self-proclaimed ‘greatest show on earth’ have been overstated in the past and only time will tell whether they will have boosted the UK economy in the long term. But what will perhaps be more important to Mr Cameron will be whether the spirit of these two weeks will endure. Rather than the Olympics improving quarterly growth results, he may be hoping that the Gold medals that Team GB won will change the public perception of the economic doom and gloom which is increasingly becoming the norm. It seems unlikely though that a fortnight of sporting success will significantly alter the electorate’s attitude when they see their energy and weekly shopping prices rocketing as their monthly pay cheque stays the same.
A political consequence of the Games has to be the damage it has done to those campaigning for Scottish independence. Sir Chris Hoy dismissing the idea of Scottish athletes competing separately to Team GB and Andy Murray celebrating his Gold medal draped in the union flag are unlikely to help Alex Salmond’s desire for Independence.
The real Conservative winner of the Olympics will almost certainly not be Mr Cameron, but Boris Johnson in City Hall. As the success of the Games continues, the newspaper column inches speculating when the Tory party will try to parachute Boris Johnson into Westminster in order to challenge Cameron increase rapidly. The Mayor’s successful handling of the Games and his ability to appeal to the everyman whether it be shouting a riposte at Mitt Romney in front of crowds chanting his name in Hyde Park or getting stuck on a zip wire have made him the true political winner. It may have been Labour, and Tony Blair, Tessa Jowell and Ken Livingstone who secured the Games and undertook the majority of the planning yet the party has gained very little credit for its efforts.