WestminsterWatch - September 2012

Toby Craig and Charles Hale reflect on this most golden of British summers and hand out the notice-box medals

And the winner is...

This summer will be remembered for so many years to come. Normally silly season, there were no concerns this year about being able to fill column inches. The newspapers, magazines, blogs and tweets virtually wrote themselves.

And so as we all try to shake off that “back to school” feeling, at least there will be plenty to talk about on the first day of term. Whether in the magnificent Olympic stadium, the “Pringle”, the “Copper Box”, the North Greenwich Arena (at least its third incarnation), wandering past Anish Kapoor’s striking Arcelor Mittal Orbit or sitting on the settee at home; we will all have our own Olympic memories. And it is not just the Great British Public; oh no. One of the greatest highlights is how politicians cannot help but bend over backwards (a new event for Rio 2016?) to muscle in on the limelight. This is kissing babies on a global scale. Standing at the top of the podium is surely Prime Minister David Cameron, who appears to have been luckier than most in the ticketing ballot. Dave was spotted chillaxing at most of the major Olympic venues; never too far away from a British medallist.

And then there’s Boris. The Mayor of London has been right at the heart of the action. Rather than bestriding the Olympic world like a colossus though, our favourite blonde bombshell was, in his own words, “a prat who got stuck on a zip wire”. But we shouldn’t single Boris out. They were all trying to get in on the act. Whether the Home Secretary’s Union flag-inspired footwear or erstwhile Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell’s ubiquitous presence in broadcast studios, this was a moment to savour.

But the gold medal was only ever going to one man (silver and bronze respectively to Boris and Dave’s “dad-dancing” to the Spice Girls during the closing ceremony):

Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for the bell-tossing, managing to clunk a rather bemused nearby lady in the face as he enthusiastically rang a bell on the eve of the Games before a hammer had been thrown or a hurdle leaped. It could only happen to a politician. A better Games for the royals as Zara took home a silver and William, Kate and Harry cheered on from the stands.

A trouble-free Games with no major disputes, the legal community could happily spectate. And we are now left to speculate as to whether the feel-good factor will spill over into Westminster Village as brutal cuts continue. In this age of austerity, this was no austerity Games. With the heaviest ever gold medals ever and lavish opening and closing ceremonies, pennies did not seem to have been pinched. For at least two weeks, London was at the heart of the world map. It remains to be seen if a legacy of investment in sports will be compatible with a huge budget deficit.

This might prove particularly difficult for the Prime Minister who has had to defend scrapping targets for the amount of sports youngsters are required to play each week in schools. Not a promising start. New Olympics legacy ambassador, Lord Coe, may have something to say about that... Cuts to the police and military will also not be any easier after the quite superb role both played in ensuring London remained safe and secure throughout the Games. Just as the positive vibes may benefit a troubled government, so might the taste of success simply pile on the pressure to ensure that Britain can compete effectively on the world stage, not just at sport, but in business and professional services as well.


Whilst the world watches

While the eyes of the world watched on, business went on in Westminster. But one familiar face will be missing when Parliament returns. Highly-rated Cameron A-lister, Louise Mensch, caused ripples by choosing to resign from Parliament and relocate her family to New York (where her husband works). Tipped by many for a future cabinet post, her presence and loyal support will be greatly missed by Tory high command. Should she decide to return to a successful chick-lit career, doubtless former colleagues will be reading with interest to see if she found any inspiration from her time in Parliament. In any event, we will keep an eye on her successor when the by-election ensues.

Rest assured, if the workings of Westminster sometimes seem strange to us, they must be truly baffling to presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Not normally gaffe-prone, the former Massachusetts governor managed both to forget Labour leader Ed Miliband’s name (forgivable) and question London’s preparedness for the Games (unforgivable).

An introduction to Britain not even worthy of bronze. Reassuring at least that London 2012 has provided opportunities to forge relationships which transcend borders and politics. Times may be tough but there’s still plenty of cause for optimism.


Party time

With that in mind, we can all pack our buckets and spades ready for the annual extravaganza of party conference season, kicking off later this month back by the seaside in Brighton as the Lib Dems host their yearly gathering. We can look forward to a searching post-mortem over the latest death of constitutional reform as Nick Clegg will once again need to justify to the party’s grassroots why they continue to persevere with what seems to be an increasingly unpopular coalition (at least with the Lib Dem party faithful). Not quite Olympic Park, but something has to follow the Lord Mayor’s Show...?


Charles Hale is a barrister at 4 Paper Buildings and a member of the Bar Council.
Toby Craig is the head of communications at the Bar Council.