The Olympic Games are a mirror of the gross class inequality in 21st century London, writes Lindsey German in the Huffington Post
The Olympics hysteria descending on London is creating a sense of foreboding among those of us who live in the east. What is it we fear?
That we will be trapped in our homes, unable to cross roads, get on trains, escape from traffic jams. That roads will be closed and lanes given over to VIPs who speed past waiting pensioners, children and the sick trying to go about their business.
This 'summer of sport' will have fewer sporting opportunities than usual for those denied access to the games events themselves. Historic Wanstead Flats is now occupied by police for the duration. Much of Hackney Marshes are out of bounds. Leyton Marshes are strewn with toxic waste. The towpath on the river adjoining the Olympic Park has been closed to those who once walked, jogged or cycled along it.
We feel less secure about the security measures. Surface to air missiles ring the park, resting on the roofs of tower blocks and former factories. There are more army stationed round the Olympics than in Afghanistan. The failure of the private G4S security company to train up security staff means there will be up to 17,000 soldiers on duty.
How many suspected 'terrorist plots' will results in raids, stop and search, car chases and arrests - and how many false alarms caused by electronic cigarettes or other harmless devices?
We also feel that this is a party to which few of us have been invited. While Culture Secretary and erstwhile Murdoch cheerleader Jeremy Hunt encourages people to come to London (to watch the Games on a screen which they could see anywhere) those of us who live here are told to stay at home, avoid driving into central London, expect long delays getting around the city.
After work, spend a couple of hours drinking or having a meal before you go home to avoid the crush on the tube and roads. This is supposed to be serious advice for those who are not being told to work from home.
Does anyone organising these games have any idea how difficult it is to get around London at any time, or that most Londoners do not have the money after housing and transport costs to spend the minimum £20-30 a night that even a brief sojourn in the city's bars and restaurants costs? The eastbound Jubilee and Central lines, the two main tube lines serving the Olympic Park, are packed well long past rush hour in normal conditions.
Perhaps most galling for ordinary Londoners, however, is the sense that these are games for the rich and powerful. A total of £13bn is the headline cost (nearly six times the original estimate) but hidden costs will add up to millions more.
We live in a city which is grossly unequal, and where rich and poor live in greater proximity to one another than any other city in the world apart from New York. The city is built, cared for, cleaned and kept moving by working people who increasingly cannot afford to live here.
If you take the Jubilee line eastwards from Westminster to Canning Town, just down the road from the Olympic Park, life expectancy falls by one year on average for every stop.
There is a housing crisis greater than at any time since the Second World War, when London had been ravaged by five years of bombs and rockets. A quarter of households are now privately rented, owned by a new class of landlords whose buy to let mortgages are subsidised by the tax payer at one end, and whose rents are often paid by the tax payer through housing benefit.
Schools, hospitals and the environment are creaking under the strain of cuts and austerity, while the major corporations are pampered and featherbedded, some paying virtually no tax.
There is now a triangle from the City, the traditional financial area, to Canary Wharf on the old Docklands and then to the Olympic Park to the northeast. Within that triangle, and to its east, lie the poorest London boroughs with high unemployment, appalling housing conditions and poor infrastructure.
This is the largest solidly working class area in Europe that is now being broken up by these towering temples to corporate power and commerce. The legacy will be their legacy, not one of more houses, schools and sports facilities for ordinary people.
And it is this more than anything else which is causing such anxiety round these Olympics.
From the Huffington Post site
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Destroying Libya to 'save it': David Cameron has no regrets
- 'Blame the Muslims' - Islamophobia is fuelled by the elite
- If I were Prime Minister: I'd order the arrest of Tony Blair for war crimes
- The Iraq Inquiry: ten things to remember about the Chilcot report
- The Government is blaming Muslims and attacking civil liberties
- Charlie Hebdo murders: what's missing from the media narrative?
- Paris massacre: backlash and blowback