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.
My book is a story about the drama behind the scene of the planning of London's Olympic legacy. I had unprecedented access to the legacy organisations, institutions, and individuals involved with the 2012 Games. This allowed me, in a highly accessible and engaging style, to capture a sense of the unfolding drama as attempts were made in London to harness the juggernaut of Olympic development, and its commercial imperative, to the broader cause of meaningful post-industrial regeneration in East London. The drama centres on the fight for the political prestige of the Olympic legacy and the struggle of a few determined individuals to take seriously and to honour the promises made in the Olympic bid to transform the heart of East London for the benefit of everyone who lives there. The heartening thing was to witness, inside the Olympic Park Legacy Company, the practical power of a vaguely left wing political idealism inspired by, or in tune with the promises of Ken Livingstone's framing of the legacy challenge. Battling without fail, for years on end, to make sure that a community focused legacy was embodied in the park, and its sporting venues, the unsung heroes of London's Olympic legacy are champions too. Their story deserves to be told, not just because of their steadfast heroism, or what that tells us about the forces these people were fighting against, but also because the practical process behind their determination to deliver 'regeneration proper' to the people of East London will provide the lessons for other host cities of how to do Olympic legacy better.
London's Olympic legacy is a story of post-industrial transformation. It also a story of the battle between Labour and the Tories for the centre ground of British politics, and the political prestige of power over London and the nation. The book explains, as a post-industrial malaise, the alienation in Britain, of Labour voters from their traditional support for the Labour Party, and the consequent populist popularity of both the BNP, and then UKIP. Post-industrial discontent is situated in the book as the dark and foreboding backdrop against which the spectacle of the London 2012 Games and its legacy have unfolded. It is this background that has now taken centre stage with the success of the Brexit campaign. The book makes it possible for us to understand that as a result of the Brexit result we are all post-industrial now in the sense that the alienation, marginalisation and disorientation that white working class people living in former industrial and manufacturing heartlands have been feeling for the last thirty years is now common to us all. Thus, a middle class metropolitan multicultural elite now knows what it feels like to experience shock and dismay, as it grieves and laments about a process of sudden change that feels like a body blow, and an assault on its way of life. Precisely because society is at risk of becoming something unrecognisable, something unimaginable, the Brexit result is very hard to come to terms with.