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Don't count on an Olympics bounce (or bust)

By Peter Hoskin
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CameronAbout year ago — as I mentioned briefly in an article for The Times (£), at the time — people in government regarded these Olympics as a reprieve. Their thinking was that, even if our economic torpor hadn't ended by now, the Games would act like a shot of adrenaline. We'd come out of it blazing with a sense of national self-worth, and the Coalition would accrue the benefits. Everything would look sunnier.

As I type away on this overcast July morning, that scenario looks a ever more distant. While it's true that spirits may lift once the Olympics become more about athletics than logisitics, it's still something of a horror story right now. The security row; the impositions made on the Army; the clogged-up motorways and airport terminals; the censorship; the chips and the VIP car lanes — it goes on and on. What ought to be a two-week, all-inclusive pageant of sporting excellence has devolved into so much bureaucratic baggage. Unlike, say, the Jubliee, there are countless barriers to entry.

The question people along Downing St are no doubt asking themselves is whether they will now suffer the flipside of a post-Olympics bounce: a post-Olympics slump. I wouldn't bet on it, at least not in any immediate or direct sense. One of the strange features of the opinion polls over recent years is their resistance to shocks. Of course, the numbers change over the months, such that Labour now enjoy a sizeable lead over the Conservatives —  but very few individual events have caused an obvious jump one way or the other. Not the Gillian Duffy incident, not the Damian McBride scandal, not (as Anthony Wells once pointed out in a useful post) the stream of Budgets and post-Budget reports, nor even, really, our return to recession.

Far more dangerous for the goverment is the steady accumulation of negative perceptions, to which the Olympics could — but still might not — contribute. After the U-turn-stuffed Budget and the Lords furore, the Coalition surely would have wanted a chance to exude quiet competence. But now, rightly or wrongly, that appears to be being denied to them. And the thing is, it's unlikely to get better as Lords reform crops up again around conference season, followed by the long, poisonous build-up to the Spending Review. As it stands, I doubt even a barrel-load of gold medals would change the mood in No.10.


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