Olympic protest in London

Posted on April 4, 2008

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The Olympic torch passes through London on Sunday, symbolically travelling from the traditional heart of London’s sporting community in the West to Greenwich in the East, one of the five east London boroughs hosting the 2012 games.  It looks like this event will be the first occasion for serious political protest around the London games.  With attention rightly focused on China’s human rights record (including a pro-Tibet protest today and a number of high profile participants withdrawing from the event) as we draw closer to the start of the Beijing games, a range of protest groups have started talking about how to organise and protest in the lead up to and during the London games in four years time. 

The main evidence of popular protest up to now against the 2012 games has been the campaign to change the 2012 logo, despite the advantages of it set out by Andy Miah hereMarina Hyde’s article in the Guardian yesterday, though, is the first that I have seen that begins to catalogue the diversity of perspectives that could help to give cause to organised protests against the London games.  When you add together civil rights issues, foreign policy, centralisation, costs and the likely effect of Boris Johnson on London and the UK’s reputation overseas, you start to develop quite a long list:

“The current member of parliament for Henley has already described the sort of people one might run into on a state visit to a Commonwealth country as “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, so after four years in the constant limelight the number of unresolved diplomatic incidents could well run into double figures.”

(My own worries about Boris’ campaign to be London’s mayor are here)

Marina Hyde is right to note that although the civil rights issues in the UK and China are enormously different in scale and effect, that they do exist on a continuum.  There is another relationship between this and the state control of dissent and protest, with the attitude of contemporary China to internal dissent becoming very clear in the last few days. Given the UK’s historical (but changing) libertarian attitude to free speech and protest, it is likely that, fresh draconian legislation permitting, the magnitude of public political protests focused on the 2012 games will be of a different order to what we are seeing now in 2008.   The plans for 2012 already include £838m for security and policing and all recent Olympics have seen projected security costs rise ahead of inflation in the lead up to the summer games.  It may well be this cost, above all others, that contributes to the rising costs of the 2012 developments.

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