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Friday 8th August 2008

Praise and Criticism of Beijing Games

The Olympic Games in China have been a magnificent success in so many ways. This is despite the rightful and justified criticism of China over repression in Tibet, failure to highlight the ongoing victims of the earthquake in Szechuan province and the corruption of poor buildings there, lack of attendance at many Olympic events, poor environment conditions in Beijing, broken promises to the international Olympic Committee in terms of lack of free media access and active censorship as well as fake singing and fake fireworks show at the opening of the Games and in regard to many other issues.

China has shown the value of the ability to construct infrastructure on time and to use public money effectively to deliver major projects on time. This is not like Mussolini making the trains run on time. China is seeking to develop its economy that needs to deliver to the needs of over a billion and a third people. The Games shows that the government is able to deliver. It can be a competent government. Its failures are not about its inability on a scale of infrastructure delivery, lack of technical competency or the rapid turnaround scale of the project delivery date. The failures to deliver for society at large are entirely due to a failure of political will and lack of democracy – not technical ability of a poor underdeveloped country.
Equally, China has shown that it has a rich history which was highlighted during the opening Games. The amazing achievement of ancient China and China’s creative civilisation was done a service by opening ceremony of the Games. This is a necessary correction to a Western and global view of China that misrepresents China’s inherent character as lacking in creative qualities and lacking in richness. The massive Globe used in the opening ceremony showed the cultural diversity of the world – of which China is a part. China itself is a diverse country. China was right to invite the world to come to its Games. The world was right to go to China. Equally China competed in the Games and highlighted the importance of sport in bringing people together. Its billion and a third people deserve international recognition. It does not distract from the right to criticise China and the right to challenge its dictatorial form of government. Free people have freedoms to exercise and China should be subject to them.

I think the really modern thing is not to relinquish the right to criticism (which is part of the essence of an intelligent and thinking human being anywhere in the world) or the ability to recognise something positive (which is part of not being blinkered to success because something is wrong in society). In this respect, the Beijing Olympic Games has inadvertently encouraged a critical view of Asia that is very helpful to its development. I will still be shouting loudly and powerfully for political freedoms and human rights in China, as a free citizen of the global community, without neglecting to praise its abilities to do something positive to bring together the world’s people and the role sports have in the developing world to highlight its ability to do things on a grand scale. We need both.

Third City Hall Resignation

The resignation of the third Deputy Mayor from Boris Johnson’s administration in City Hall shows something is wrong. The mystery is compounded by the lack of clarity as to why the Deputy Mayor Tim Parker, who was to be responsible as Chief of Staff of the Greater London Authority and Chairman of Transport for London, resigned. Boris was right to challenge the lack of accountability in City Hall. Now he has to show his competency in administration as well as his popular touch. Losing Deputy Mayors at this rate has taken a lot of the steam out of the administration. It has shown that the political level has not thought out the strategic and administrative consequences of its ambitions for new policies and a non-ideological approach to City Hall. I did warn earlier in this column of Eastern Voice that Tim Parker should not adopt a private sector equity firm approach to public service workers. I now warn against some trade union militants exercising a veto over City Hall transport policies.

I thought it was right Boris Johnson has not travelled with a huge entourage to the Bejing Games. Equally, I believe that it was right of the airline not to grant him an upgrade. Travelling in economy class does not make a person into a lesser being. Business and First Class travellers are not better citizens. A Mayor of London should experience ordinary life. Five-Star living at times and huge payouts to some of Ken Livingstone’s former favourite advisers should be rightly attacked as socialist hypocrisy by the media.


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