Jeremy Hunt’s Olympics


It is a late summer evening, and the Leader settles into the back seat of the Olympic BMW which the Games Organisers have kindly provided. He or she is Kabila perhaps, or Mugabe, or Myanmar’s Thein Sein. Beside the Leader sits a senior official, whose task is to protect the Leader from any unwelcome publicity. “We will be meeting the British in half an hour”. “The Queen?”, the Leader asks with a smile. “No, the Minister in charge of the Olympics, a Mr” (the official searches through his papers, “Hunt”. “I have read about him”, the Leader responds sourly, before asking, “now … should I let myself be photographed shaking his hand?”

Most British politicians in the past decade have been willing assistants to the Murdoch empire; it takes a special character to be caught so flagrantly in the act.

2012 wasn’t supposed to be like this. For the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP it was meant rather to be a glittering step on the way to high political office. At the start of March, the Telegraph was still tipping Hunt to be a future Leader of the Conservatives, and the minister would not have blushed when the paper described him as enjoying the “best job in government”.

Hunt’s main priority, in that interview, was to stake a personal claim to credit for the Olympic Games, in which his department of course has barely any role whatsoever, save for oversight and scrutiny of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG), that fantastic quango, which has been able to turn £2 billion of public money (its original budget) into £11 billion of public money (its present spend) and counting.

Hunt’s Department, far from restraining Coe, Moynihan and their chums, has done everything in its power to shield LOCOG from criticism – playing the same “old pals” game, that he was previously playing with Murdoch’s BSkyB bid.

This is how Hunt described his Department’s role in preparing the Games, “We have put a huge amount of thinking into what we call, in the organisation of the Games, ‘the last mile’. It’s basically the distance between whatever public transport you arrive on and actual entry to an Olympic event, and we want to make sure that it’s as clearly sign-posted and as pleasant an experience as possible.”

And this Hunt speaking about his own role in the Games: “I am obsessed not by what people say about me now, but what people will say about what I’ve done in office when they look in 10 years’ time. The curse of modern politics is that too few politicians get to leave a real legacy. If I could deliver a fantastic Games for the country, along with people like Seb Coe, who are doing such a fantastic job; if I could deliver super-fast broadband to most of the country by the end of this Parliament; if I’m able to help bring in a new era of local TV companies; and if we can weather the most incredible financial storm since the Second World War, then I’ll be able to look back on this period and feel incredibly proud of what I’ve done.”

Local TV companies: whatever Hunt does, this is not going to happen. (The plan will break on the centralising tendencies of the British economy, which for the past 30 years have been dragging resources and talent, repeatedly, to London).

End of recession: it will happen. All recessions in history have ended. Parts of the country (the richest 1%) have never even been in recession. If you look at the balance sheets of the FTSE 100, the companies are cash rich. The only distinctive thing about this recession is that the very rich have used it to take more money out of the majority’s pockets than any previous recession since 1914.

Faster broadband will happen (Moore’s law) whatever Hunt does or doesn’t do.

The only interest in all this guff is Hunt’s reflection on the Olympics which he modestly describes himself as leading “along with people like Seb Coe”.

I have many criticism of Coe, some of which I’ve written about previously, others of which I’ll post about over future weeks. But Coe is working on the Olympics full-time, which is likely to mean 60-70 hours a week. As for Hunt … I’ll be surprised if the Olympics have taken up as much as an eighth of his workload. He is not the Games’ organiser nor their planner. He is supposed to be the gatekeeper, a role he has singularly failed to play. He is not the organ-grinder, he is barely even the monkey.

Meanwhile, David Cameron (whose constitutional role includes upholding the Ministerial code, and ordering investigations when it is breached) has proposed that a decision as to whether or not to investigate Jeremy Hunt should be taken only after he has been before Leveson at the end of May. But Leveson is making an inquiry into the future of the media, and has no role at all to consider breaches of the ministerial code. Hunt is a barely a sideshow to the inquiry (this is one reason why Murdoch was asked so little about him).

So Cameron’s initial decision is that Hunt – arguably one of the worst of all the wretched ministers this country has suffered in the last thirty years – may be investigated, but not before the summer at the earliest, by when (Cameron no doubt hopes) press coverage will have turned elsewhere.

Assuming Hunt survives, we will return to the spectacle of the Olympics: the Murderers meeting Rupert’s Apprentice. If I was Kabila or Mugabe I would shake Hunt’s hand and smile in admiration.

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