Brexit Britain: A Snap Election, A Safe Bet and Another Spectacular Backfire

Yet again, a Conservative Prime Minister in Britain has misread the mood of the nation. Gambling on right-of-centre populism to increase her authority, Theresa May, like David Cameron before her, has seriously underestimated the potential of protest to radically reconfigure the political landscape.

On the 18th April 2017, three years ahead of schedule, less than a year after the EU Referendum, with a confident twenty-point lead over Labour in the opinion polls, and after having repeatedly denied that she would take this course of action, Theresa May called a snap General Election. Why was this political manoeuvre such a worrying prospect? Why has it failed?

In June 2016, UK voters decided in a referendum to leave the European Union. In a recent article, I explained why this outcome, known as Brexit, was the result, in part, of the Labour Party having abandoned its traditional working class supporters in the post-industrial urban heartlands of Britain. I showed how the political vacuum created by this abandonment made space for the growth in popularity of the populist far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP).

UKIP had reconfigured class politics into a new nativist logic based on a combination of anti-European Union, anti-immigrant cultural nationalism and anti-establishment populism. This brought together, across the political divide, the protest votes of older white, less educated, working-class men and women of formerly opposing Conservative and Labour persuasions. With just one Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, UKIP won 4 million votes in the General Election of 2015, and proved that it was a force to contend with. Trying to contain the Euroskeptics in the Conservative Party, who were beginning to defect to UKIP, David Cameron agreed to a EU Referendum and hoped to call the bluff of a growing right-wing movement.

In the build up to the 2016 Referendum, UKIP only gained in credibility, adding a middle class support base inspired by a Conservative rebel leadership, and Euroskeptic supporters who were keen to jump on the populist bandwagon.  Spurred on by the perfect storm of a migrant crisis in Europe and growing anti-Muslim feeling in reaction to terrorist incidents in Europe, the Leave campaign succeeded and shocked a nation oblivious to post-industrial discontent and falsely confident in its metropolitan, multicultural vision of progressive society. Suddenly, the Brexit vote made it clear that the political landscape of Britain was shifting to the right and that nothing could be taken for granted as the idea of society was opened up for renegotiation.

After such a catastrophic political miscalculation, David Cameron had little choice but to resign, and Theresa May won the leadership contest to replace him. Immediately, it became clear that the determination of the Conservative Party under Theresa May was to hold the centre ground in British politics by shifting to the right. Backing Brexit, promoting UKIP causes, and adopting UKIP rhetoric as its own, the Conservative strategy was to mop up those UKIP votes and neutralise UKIP in the process. Part of the reason for Theresa May’s confidence in calling the General Election is that this strategy appears to have been successful. Support for UKIP is now almost non-existent, because the party leadership has imploded, important by-elections have been lost, and voters have shifted allegiance. Branding herself as a safe pair of hands, the message from Theresa May to the nation was that she is the only person who can provide “Strong and Stable” leadership in these most precarious of political times. The reason this was a worrying prospect, in so far as her initial clear lead in the polls suggested the likelihood of her success, is that having neutralised the far-right by incorporating its causes and rhetoric, the Conservative Party legitimised and made mainstream that which was only marginalised before. The ultimate success of UKIP, then, has been to make palatable what was once unspeakable, which is an anti-immigrant British nationalism (built on an English version of cultural parochialism) that puts it on the same playing field as Trump’s America and in alignment with other adjustments in European politics where the populist, racist far-right is forcing the hand of social democracy in crisis. 

The problem for Theresa May has been that she inherited from David Cameron a government with only a 12-seat majority in the House of Commons. This means that it has been easy for opposition parties, like the Scottish National Party, to be a thorn in her side, and for the House of Lords, and rebel MPs to disrupt her attempts to drive Brexit forward and handle the negotiations with Europe in the way that she feels her continuing popularity requires her to do.

With a greater parliamentary majority, Theresa May could have bolstered her position and lent increased authority – Margaret Thatcher-style - to the right-of-centre populism that she has forged. This would have brought her increased bargaining power in Europe, lending more seriousness to her attempts to negotiate a hard-Brexit way out for Britain. A convincing General Election success would also have meant that Mrs May could have led in relation to a new Conservative manifesto of her own making, rather than having to deliver on the promises of policies forged under the leadership of Cameron whose legacy she is desperately trying to distance herself from.

All the immediate signs, after Mrs May called the snap election, were that the Conservatives were set to increase their majority in the House of Commons from twelve to one hundred, representing a massive increase in popularity for the Conservatives, and an uncontested mandate for Theresa May to lead the way forward. Her timing depended partly on the fact that post-Brexit the Labour Party opposition had been in disarray and appeared to have been incapable of unifying behind the socialist leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Infighting prevailed and the Conservative ascendancy appeared to be unstoppable as calls were repeatedly heard, even as late as February 2017, for Corbyn’s resignation.

So, on the morning after the General Election, how have things gone so horribly wrong for Theresa May? How has her gamble so spectacularly backfired? Apart from the fact that the policies she unveiled proved to be unpopular, leading to embarrassing u-turns, and disregarding the growing sense that after all, she is not naturally good at engaging the public, or the media, Theresa May has made the same fundamental error as David Cameron: she has underestimated the potential of a populist protest movement to turn the political tide. Leaving aside the counter-cultural projects of an underground resistance in music and the arts, which has seen pop-up protests take the successful form, in the last few weeks, of a “Strong and Stable, my Arse” poster campaign and a song about Theresa May entitled “Liar, Liar” reached the top of the download charts, what has been most significant is the transformation of Corbyn’s political fate.

With nothing to lose, Labour took the reins off Jeremy Corbyn, and let him lead as what he is, which is an Old Labour-style socialist, conviction politician. Lending the populist political technology to a new kind of content, the Labour Party has skilfully marketed Mr Corbyn as an authentic man of the people - “Letting Corbyn be Corbyn” - and connected him with new kind of publics, which has, among other things, bolstered the youth vote, and found unlikely popularity for him among never-before-voters in parts of society that prefer to make music out of politics rather than go to the ballot box to seek social justice.

The ‘others’ in relation to whom Corbyn pits his left-wing populism are the media establishment who are accused of being against him, (because he is a socialist), and the wealthy elite represented by the Tories, whose version of austerity Britain - right-wing, elitist, and self-serving – is rejected for having severed the economy from its commitment to society. The brand for Corbyn’s campaign, “For the Many, Not the Few” has proved to be popular, and some of his policies, to protect the NHS from privatisation, to renationalise the railways, and abolish university tuition fees have become political symbols of the idea that Labour presents a genuine political alternative.

Labour voters in the former heartlands of the Northeast appear to have been convinced by this revitalisation of Old Labour-style politics, and abandoned their flirtation with the far-right. Despite the tragedy of two terror attacks that rocked the nation during the campaigning period, Theresa May could not convince the nation to have complete confidence in her and Corbyn has destroyed Theresa May’s mandate to lead. Now one thing is for certain, Theresa’s May’s gamble has not paid off and a hung parliament will plunge Britain into political uncertainty again. The difference this time is that uncertainty is good news, because a left-wing populist uprising has given hope to a new generation that society can be reclaimed from the far-right, negotiation can begin about restoring public services to the people, and not the private sector, and that voting really does make a difference after all.

 

 

 

 

The Death Throes of the American Dream

Refusing to die quietly, the American Dream thrashes violently and becomes a parody of itself in the form of Donald Trump. Who else to symbolise that dream than a self-made billionaire, a cowboy who defies convention, shoots from the hip, and rides the ritual rodeo of the American presidential election as if it were nothing more than another reality TV show. All he intended, perhaps, was to do well enough to increase his ratings and, therefore, his bargaining power with the television networks, but to his great surprise, despite all his last-ditch attempts to sabotage his own chances of success, Trump has won the contest, and now finds himself President Elect, filling the space created by a political vacuum he had simply hoped to exploit. Suddenly, with the prospect of public office bearing down on him, the self-serving publicist looks like a celebrity who wishes he could get the hell out of there. Too late Trump - there is no escape for you, or any of us. This is reality, stupid. 

Brexit Plus Plus Plus

Brexit Plus Plus Plus: and so, we wake up at the crossroads. There is nothing surprising about the result of the American election, but it feels like something important has died. A wave of grief brings us to a temporary standstill while we gather our wits. This is the morning of what we must come to terms with - the reality of post-industrial society. We should not be shocked, but it is frightening - what has finally emerged, fully fledged. White working class men who have borne the brunt of the last thirty years of economic history in the UK and the USA have had their say, and they have joined forces, unwittingly, with the great mass of the population who have gradually lost faith in a social democracy emptied out of its moral value by its self-serving alliance with financial capitalism. Politicians are seen, popularly, to serve only their own interests, and hence their vision of liberation and progress - multicultural, multi-racial, female-centred, multi faith, multi-sexuality - has been rejected as the determination is made manifest to reject the establishment and everything it stands for. Only one thing is now certain: worlds will collide and the liberal metropolitan elite will rue the day that it lost the moral high ground because it took for granted the idea that people living in relative poverty could be ignored.

Rio Re-brand Runs Out of Time

Rio looks destined to become another in the sorry list of Olympic host cities, like Athens, to fall prey to the speculate-to-accumulate model of international urban re-branding. Like other host nations winning the right to host The Games at the height of their economic 'emergence', Brazil has, since 2009 when the success of its Olympic was announced suffered a tragic loss of confidence. Its economy has faltered, its national political landscape has erupted into chaos, the state of Rio de Janeiro has declared itself bankrupt and Cariocas - the people of Rio - have taken the opportunity of The Games to show the world that theirs is a wounded city with problems that the opportunity of hosting The Games have failed to address. No amount of spectacle can conceal the issues of urban inequality that lie at the heart of Rio's problems. Even though the real estate investors will profit, as will the mega-event experts who simply move on to their next watering hole, as the IOC oligarchs turn their minds to the perks of what comes next, in Tokyo, there is the sense that for Rio, it is only when the circus has left town that the real show will begin. This is because the consequences are about to felt, as they were in Athens, of having gambled everything on a world show and then, failed to make a mark. This will not do the IOC any favours as they are forced to have to come to terms with the fact that despite all their attempts at reform, a diminishing number of the world's cities are interested in taking the political or financial risk of bidding for The Games. This begs the question of why, relatively speaking, things went so well in London in 2012 and beyond. Does London have lessons to teach the world about how to deliver an Olympic legacy?

Brexit Backlash: the symbolism of Britain's Olympic medal success

I was interviewed this week for Finnish national television news. The journalist wanted to know what lessons Rio ought to have learned from London about how to stage an Olympic Games and plan an Olympic legacy for the host city. The interview was quick, nothing unusual about that, but what happened next surprised me: I asked the journalist how he felt about London's Olympic legacy and what followed was a conversation more interesting than the one we filmed. 

It took no time at all to explain during the filmed interview that compared to previous host cities, like Athens, and now Rio, London has done exceptionally well to take seriously the opportunity of The Games to create a positive global image for itself, reconfigure the city - directing attention , growth and investment towards East London - and attempt to harness that commercial imperative to the promise to deliver benefit to the population living locally to the Olympic Park. I explained that this does not mean that London could not have done better or does not itself still have lessons to learn. Part of the challenge of planning a new urban future is how to undertake the task of imagining and bringing into being a new reality whilst also integrating the past. East London has many challenges to face in this respect especially when the local political desire for 'aspirational' housing in the Olympic Park is at odds with a local population facing serious overcrowding, a lack of affordable housing and a diminishing access to social housing.

After the interview, over coffee at the View Tube Cafe overlooking the Olympic Stadium, whose exterior, as we spoke, was being dressed for West Ham's first game in their new home ground, the journalist shared his views. He had been sent to London for a year in 2011 from Finland to cover the year's build up to the 2012 Games. He explained how pleasantly surprised he had been when, despite all the scepticism he had felt himself, and perceived locally and in London prior to the Olympics, the city and the nation suddenly got behind The Games after the success of the opening ceremony, the success of the athletes, and the feel-good factor of the mass volunteering programme. Compared to the relatively parochial and conservative atmosphere of Finland, and even Helsinki, the journalist said that he was completely inspired by the progressive, globally connected, multicultural society and city that London and Britain portrayed in the unfolding of London 2012. As a result, he decided to stay; he felt that this was the place to be, because it was clear to him that London was the 'capital of Europe'. Where else would a young European journalist in his thirties want to be?

Fast forward four years and another Olympic Games, and what this journalist wanted to talk to me about, off camera, was the betrayal of this progressive, global, outward looking, multicultural vision of society by the Brexit vote. What now, he wondered. Should he stay? What would become of London? No one he knew wanted to associate themselves with this new idea of Britain - this suddenly inward-looking, backward, and worse, racist nation. Maybe it was time to move to Berlin? Brexit was the very opposite of what London 2012 had created, which was a brand for London and a brand for Britain that put it at the very heart of European and global attention, and firmly in the minds of a generation of young people aspiring to be open to the world. Brexit was a betrayal of this brand, and, the journalist explained, a shocking betrayal of what Boris Johnson appeared to have stood for during his time as mayor of London. Most interesting was the journalist's determination to put the blame for this political catastrophe firmly at the feet of the Labour Party, which, he suggested, had completely failed, historically, to address the concerns of those Brexit voters in post-industrial Britain, and failed utterly, therefore, to bring those people on board with the vision of British society that London's 2012 Games stood for. 

In the face of the shock and dismay of Brexit deniers, like this young European journalist, the success in Rio of Britain's Olympic team acquires a special symbolism; their success stands for a progressive, outward-looking, multicultural vision of the nation that is in contrast to the imaginings of a populist right wing politics that is desperately attempting to reconfigure politics in terms of a new and culturally exclusive form of nationalism. This is why, despite the predictable scorn of the Olympophobes, like Sir Simon Jenkins, it is so important to celebrate the success of Team GB as they return home with their haul of medals - it is a moment for the nation to celebrate and for that national celebration to stand in defiance of the doom and gloom, which has been cast over us by the spectre of an alternate vision of society in which our multi-racial, multi-cultural, heroic cosmopolitanism is not something to be proud of.   

Churlish, the Olympophobes haven’t got it all right: London has lessons to teach the world about Olympic legacy.

http:/Much as I gawk at the gigantic folly of Boris Johnson’s loss-making, pet art project in the Olympic Park – Anish Kapoor’s Arcelor-Mittal Orbit – which was always intended to be a giant helter skelter, and is now making fun of itself, I have to admit that his other inspiration, the Olympicopolis is a stroke of genius.

Boris was always determined to bring a world-class higher educational offer to The Park, and continued doggedly to explore this option even as the overall masterplanning for the whole park site stalled in 2009. That this idea then morphed into a much more ambitious vision for a mixed offer of educational and cultural institutions shows how in sync Boris was with the ambition of Baroness Margaret Ford, Chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), who was resolute in her determination to make the Olympic Park a London visitor destination to rival the attraction of West London’s popular museum cluster. Reaching beyond that vision, and creating, in the Olympic Park itself, a new museum and cultural cluster for the 21st Century, Boris Johnson has left a lasting legacy in East London.

Churlish, as ever, Olympophobes, like Sir Simon Jenkins, decry the Olympicopolois development, now renamed the Stratford Waterfront Culture and Education District. Sir Jenkins has nothing to say in favour of the development, because its proposed architectural form speaks of ‘1960s Brutalism’, rather than the organic development of institutions placed in relation to more recognisable urban landscape, like city streets, but his distaste speaks only of his determination to disagree in general with the Olympics and the Olympic legacy in East London. Unfortunately, this reveals a more general ignorance in the press about the seriousness with which the challenge of delivering London’s legacy has been taken.

The new cultural quarter is controversial not because of its architecture, but because it replaces a use for the Stratford Waterfront part of The Park that was originally designated for housing. This further reduces the housing offer in a scheme that was always intended to meet the strategic purpose of the London Plan to provide additional housing for a rapidly growing population. It is because it replaces the plan for housing that the new cultural quarter must prove its worth; it will do this easily, because it introduces, into the overall mix of what The Park has to offer to East London, an incredible combination of high-end cultural attractions and educational opportunities that will mean a new generation of young people, and already youthful population, will not need to travel to West London to partake of the best the city has to offer. Instead, young people from East London will be able to benefit from the excitement of a dynamic new cluster of creative institutions comprising V & A East – the new outpost of the Victoria and Albert Museum in West London; a Sadlers Wells Dance Theatre, and new campuses for the London College of Fashion and UCL (University College London). The only thing missing in the mix is a Museum of East London, which would marry the new cultural quarter to its industrial and cultural context.

Much as I am loathe to praise Boris Johnson, because of his Brexit betrayal of London’s Olympic vision of a progressive multicultural future, a future which London itself embodies, and nowhere more so than in East London, I cannot deny that his capacity to dream up schemes and quickly realise them will, in the case of The Stratford Waterfront, yield dividends. The development will compliment well the other dynamic and exciting development - the technology and innovation centre - Here East – on the Hackney side of The Park that is the transformation of the former Olympic Media Centre. Here East is the outcome of a very different kind of planning history, one in which the long struggle of Hackney Council, and a community planning partnership, in collaboration with independent media advisors, led, in the end, to what had always been planned - pre-Olympics – for the transformation of Hackney’s post-industrial land into a creative industries hub providing new employment and training opportunities for local people.

This is a history that proves the point that only an in-depth knowledge of the whole story of London’s Olympic legacy planning operation can make possible a rigorous critique of the long term – 30 years evolution of London’s plans. So far, my sense is that the recent trend for anti-London-Olympic-legacy journalism fails the public, because it is based on superficial knowledge and it comes from a perspective, for the most part, that has decided in advance that the only good story about London’s Olympic legacy is a bad news story. This does not mean that bad news stories are not there; there are plenty, such as the displacement of Europe’s largest concentration of artists in Hackney Wick, or the failure to keep the promise to fully reinstate to The Park the allotments of the Manor Gardens Society. However, the desire to keep on damming the Olympic Park as a temporary festival site that was only ever intended for its purpose as the stage for the Olympic circus to pass through town, is an ill-informed impression of a planning operation that always meant to harness The Games to the Ken Livingstone’s broader purpose, which was the regeneration of the whole of the Lower Lea Valley.

The reason all of this matters so much is because the Olympic movement itself is in jeopardy, and with good reason. The travesty of the failure in Rio to use The Games as the means to address rather than to repress urban inequality is only the latest example of the scandals that are creating a growing sense that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is losing its legitimacy. The withdrawal of Oslo from the bidding for the 2020 Winter Games, and of Hamburg and Boston from the bidding for the 2024 Summer Games, show that cities of the world are increasingly less likely to want to take the political, financial and reputational risk of bidding for The Games. In this sense, the game is up, and good. It is about time. This really means that the only excuse for hosting an Olympic Games is the opportunity to address urban inequality and to deliver a lasting legacy to the host city and its population. This means so much more than the IOC’s attempts at reform – Agenda 2020 – set out, which is why that agenda has largely been ignored. Hence, the IOC is now in crisis. And, unless that crisis is taken seriously, the Olympic movement will fail or reform too late. My suggestion is that London has lessons to teach the world about what it means to take the challenge of planning for Olympic legacy seriously, but who is listening?

‘Djuluchen’ – the heart and soul of urban planning/architecture

The challenge of planning new urban futures is how to adequately integrate the past; this was the theme of discussion at my book launch on Friday. The event took place at The White Building in Hackney Wick, an area where Europe's largest concentration of artists is fighting for survival in the face of plans to transform the neighbourhood into a 'mixed use' residential development. 

To a lively audience on a hot summer's evening, overlooking the Olympic Park, a panel discussion explored the emotional reactions of local residents, and displaced allotment holders as they struggled to come to terms with the battle they have faced over the last ten years to be part of, and not to be completely displaced by the Olympic legacy in East London. Juliet Davis, a senior lecturer in architecture, and Olympic legacy specialist, explained her reaction to my book in terms of the possibility it provides to the reader, to navigate the labyrinthine complexity of the London 2012 urban planning process. 

To frame the discussion, I mentioned to the audience the work of my colleague at Manchester - Dr Olga Ulturgasheva - who studies reindeer herders and hunters in Siberia. I explained that the hunters throw their souls ahead into the imagined place where the prey awaits, and then, in a hazardous environment, they work out carefully, how to rejoin their souls along the foreshadowed path towards the desired destination. This. I suggested, is true too for urban planners, and architects; they must imagine the future and they must do this by throwing their souls forward to a vision of what the future of the city could look like and then, they must set about bringing that future into being.

The danger, however, is that they might try to do this by leaving the past behind. This means that the real difficulty of the endeavour of urban planning is not just in trying to realise a new future, against all the odds, but also that the past must be slowly and carefully integrated into the vision of what the future can be. This matters now more than ever, I suggested, because in Britain, we have mostly failed to give the post-industrial populations of urban neighbourhoods a sense that they belong to the future that politicians, urban planners and architects have crafted.

The consequence of this, of not bringing the past, and its people with us, as we plan new urban futures, is that a point of resistance will be reached where those people who feel left behind will create enough resistance to bring the trajectory of our forward moving motion to a complete stand still. And that motion then creates a brutal snap back, bringing us all, suddenly, to the same disorientating halt. This is what has happened, I suggested, to book launch guests, with the Brexit result. This can be explained, in part, by the failure of planners and politicians to adequately imagine a new future in which the post-industrial past of our urban histories is integrated into the future of what a new service, retail, finance and knowledge economy means for our society.

Now, the challenge posed by the Brexit result, is for us all to understand that it is not just those who were feeling left behind, but also all of us - who thought we were getting ahead - who have to understand what it means to inhabit a post-industrial society. 

On the same night as the opening ceremony in Rio, I explained to book launch guests that the only excuse for the Olympic Games is the opportunity it provides to rapidly address the problem of urban inequality. The fact that this has not happened in Rio is an embarrassment and a disgrace, which is throwing the spotlight on an Olympic movement in crisis, with less and less cities of the world prepared to take the financial, political or reputational risk to host the games.

Professor Gavin Poynter, who opened the book launch discussions, highlighted the lack of transparency about political or planning process in Rio. He explained that part of what makes my new book original and valuable is the insight I am able to lend as a result of the unprecedented opportunity I was given to research and to reveal the behind the scenes planning operation in London. It is this that has made it possible for me to write the drama of the Olympic legacy as it has unfolded in real time.

From London to Rio with Love: lessons in Olympic legacy

Against all the odds, London has delivered an Olympic legacy that will make it the test case city against which all future Olympic host cities will be judged. There are many things London could have done better, but compared to Rio, which has been negatively described as 'The Displacement Games', London has shown how the juggernaut of Olympic development, and its commercial imperative, can be harnessed to the broader cause of meaningful urban regeneration in cities marked by social and economic inequality.

A Gold Medal for Boris Johnson: champion of the piggy back politics of populism

The real beneficiary of London's Olympic legacy is Boris Johnson. He is a consummate self-publicist and a popular political clown, but he is not to be underestimated, as recent events have shown. My book about London's Olympic legacy predicts his meteoric rise and argues that his success is the outcome of his ability not just to imagine and very quickly realise attention-grabbing projects, but also to piggy back on the political achievements of others, whilst also cleverly reading the popular political sentiment and translating it into a spectacular but vacuous publicity campaign

Boris charmed the people of London, and to Ken Livingstone’s great regret, and with a lament rising from the Labour Party internally, took the Conservatives into power over London in 2008 with the largest personal mandate in British political history. Piggy backing on Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell's determination to use the Olympic Games to deliver a multi-billion pound development project to the long neglected East End of London, Boris was able to steal a march on London's Olympic legacy and emerge victorious with the spoils of political prestige bolstering his advance on Whitehall.

The translation of this strategy into a a self-serving alliance with Nigel Farage and UKIP, an alliance which appeared to 'tell it like it is' and appealed to a post-industrial white working class and more general anti-Westminister, and anti-metropolitan sentiments, led against all the odds to a successful Brexit campaign. This was a complete betrayal of London's multi-cultural progressive Olympic Games and legacy, and worse, a betrayal of London, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe. Londoners will not forget this, which means that his recent political exploits will become either an own-goal for Boris, or just one more trophy for him in the popular contest of contemporary Punch and Judy politics. That Punch and Judy show now sees him established on the world stage as Britain's foreign secretary.

The same kind of politics-as-popularity contest, with the post-industrial working class as its audience, is unfolding in the USA.  Donald Trump steals a march on the presidential campaign with a similar strategy to what Boris Johnson unashamedly described as 'Project Fear'. This essentially means winning votes by appealing to the desperate desire for certainty of a population disenchanted with the failure of the new service economy to deliver any kind of future to America's former manufacturing heartlands. 

 

West Ham kicks off: how the Olympic Stadium became the political football of London's 2012 legacy

West Ham is about to play its first game of the season in its new home ground of the Olympic Stadium. This is a victory for the East End of London, because there has been such a strong determination to deliver a local legacy from the 2012 Olympic Games, but the success story conceals a political saga worthy of the worst television soap operas. The saga speaks of Tessa Jowell and Sebastian Coe's determination to rescue their reputations from the clutches of disgrace by ensuring that an athletics stadium has been retained at the heart of the Olympic Stadium; it speaks of the devastating cost to the tax payer of the no-holes-barred battle between West Ham, Spurs and Leyton Orient for the legacy use of the stadium and how this battle cost those at the top of the legacy planning operation their careers. It may well be that this saga is not over yet, not just because the stadium, despite a £300 million pound price tag for the transformation of the venue for Premier League footballing use, might not be ready in time for the first game of the new season, but also because the better West Ham do, the more likely it is that accusations will arise, especially from European clubs, that West Ham are the beneficiaries of state aid, and that the playing field between club sides is not, therefore, level. As a final twist, it may well be that Brexit will save West Ham and Newham Council from the European Courts.