Minister for Tourism opposed the London Olympic bid, but now tries to hang on to his job

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The Sunday Telegraph reports that:

Minister for tourism: London Olympics bid is a waste of £5bn

By Patrick Hennessy and Robert Watts
(Filed: 15/05/2005)

James Purnell, the newly appointed minister for tourism, is the author of an outspoken article which attacked the proposed London bid for the 2012 Olympic Games as a waste of £5 billion and the "wrong priority" for Britain.

Mr Purnell's attack on the Games bid was made just ahead of the Cabinet's decision - in 2003 - on whether to support the attempt to bring the event to Britain for the first time in more than 60 years. Urged on by Tony Blair, the Cabinet gave the bid its full endorsement - despite Mr Purnell's article, written in his capacity as an MP and a former Downing Street adviser on sport."

He wrote: "We must ask ourselves if it's worth spending up to £5 billion hosting the games. I don't think it is. It would be the wrong priority for London, the wrong priority for British sport and unfair to the rest of the country." The article would have been consigned to history were it not for Mr Blair's decision last week to give Mr Purnell, 35, his first ministerial job. As tourism minister he is based at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is heading the Government's enthusiastic support for the bid. His duties include attracting visitors to Britain."

As Tourism Minister, he could always point to the fact that actual level of tourism, in say Athens, up to and during the Olympics actually fell from normal levels, as people were put off by the increased prices and extra hassle of "security" measures.

If NuLabour were really committed to the Olympic bid, they would have named a Cabinet Minister to head a cross departmental committee with the power to sort out all the issues of transport, fincance, security and the legacy of the Games infrastructure, none of which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport or the Minister for Media and (afterthought) Tourism, actually has the power or budget to sort out.

Mr Purnell, painfully aware of his history on the subject, confessed that he had written the article to Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, when he was appointed. It was decided that Mr Purnell, who is highly rated by Ms Jowell and Mr Blair, should not be instantly shuffled to another department. Last night, demonstrating the flexibility appropriate to a new minister, Mr Purnell told The Sunday Telegraph that London's attempt to beat Paris and New York in the race to become Olympics host city now had his "full support." He said: "This was an article written just over two years ago, before the decision to bid was taken and when there was a genuine debate."

As with most NuLabour policies, there was no genuine attempt at consultation or debate. There was not even an internal competition between cities in the UK to see which one would or could present the best United Kingdom bid.

"As I said in the article, I always thought Britain could mount a fantastic bid and I will fully support it. I have also been convinced by the experiences of the North-West in hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2002 and the great long-term benefits to Manchester and the area."

The Olympics would be a project over 10 times as large and risky as the Commonwealth Games, which had to be subsidised by the tax payer to prevent them from going bankrupt. If such a financial disaster is repeated on the larger scale of a London Olypics, that will be a loss of over £2 billion !

Mr Purnell struck a very different tone in his 2003 article in The Times. He wrote: "Britain's fundamental economic problem is regional inequality. . . The last thing we should be doing is using billions to exacerbate that imbalance. Why spend billions making London's overcrowding worse, for one summer in 10 years' time, and on infrastructure that will only be used for 17 days of competition? If the goal is to regenerate east London, the money would be better spent on just that - regeneration."

As if any doubt remained as to his standpoint, Mr Purnell drew withering comparisons between the Olympics bid and the disastrous decision to press ahead with the Millennium Dome. He wrote: "The question is the same as the Dome - is it the best way of spending that money? Instead of staging the Olympics we could use the money to build more than 2,000 primary schools." "

All of these quotes critical of the idea of a London Olympic bid, apparently from his article in The Times written in 2003, are obviously true.

It is a shame that that there is not an Olympic event for "political backpedalling", as the Minister for Tourism seems to be a potential Gold medallist.

"Last night he was reflecting on the "exuberance" of junior MPs "bashing out newspaper articles" on a range of subjects with little if any thought for the future."

Perhaps James Purnell's job as Minister for Media and Tourism is safe, since the view within the Government (and that of the gambling public and bookies) is that the 2012 Olympic Games will not actually be inflicted on London this July.

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The Sunday Telegraph reports that James Purnell, the new Minister for Media and Tourism, wrote a sensible, if critical article, about the 2012 Olympic Games bid back in 2003 for The Times, See the Mayor of London Blog for more... Read More

The Sunday Telegraph reports that James Purnell, the new Minister for Media and Tourism, wrote a sensible, if critical article, about the 2012 Olympic Games bid back in 2003 for The Times, See the Mayor of London Blog for more... Read More


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