The row over G4S’ failure to provide sufficient security cover for the Olympics is starting to feel a little awkward for Labour. This afternoon in the Commons, Yvette Cooper managed to rouse a sardonic chuckle from not just the benches opposite but also the hacks perched in the press gallery when she said that everyone wanted the Olympics to be a success.
Why the laughs? Well, the danger for Labour is that in slamming the government’s handling of G4S, the party gets too carried away and appears to be branding the Olympics a shambles too. That would be fine if we had six months before the games, but the opening ceremony is just 11 days away, and soon Brits will have fallen head over heels in love with all things Olympic (and if they don’t, the broadcasters will jolly well make sure they do). When that happens, Labour might look a little grumpy if it has overdone the ‘shambles’ line. It’s also an easy line for ministers to fling back across the chamber that actually Labour would love it if the games were a shambles because of this security nightmare, because then they could say ‘I told you so’.
Theresa May took full advantage of this when she pointed out that the Olympics ‘have had, up to this point, good cross-party support’. She received some of that cross-party support from Labour’s David Winnick, who said he hoped British athletes performed better than the shambles MPs were currently discussing. That provoked a loud cheer from MPs.
A more subtle approach was taken by Jim Murphy in defence questions, which preceded May’s statement. He pointed out that bus drivers and train drivers would receive bonus payments. ‘I don’t begrudge the transport workers their bonus, but just because our troops rightly cannot go on strike they should not be ignored by the Government,’ he said. Murphy’s line of attack was more refined because he was able to suggest that the Government is exhausting the good will and service of the armed forces while slashing their numbers.
As for whether the games will be a shambles or not, at cabinet this morning, ministers were ‘reassured that we are in a far better shape than many previous hosts’ and ‘they remained confident but not complacent about staging a great Games’. They’ll be hoping Labour won’t get the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’ at any stage over the next few weeks.Tags: Labour, Olympics, UK politics, Yvette Cooper