There are two big events going on this week, both of which will see people most Brits haven’t heard of till now being propelled to greater prominence.
The first is the Paralympics and the day by day, hour by hour rollout of some of the most remarkable sporting and human endeavors of our time. The second is the ministerial reshuffle.
I feel a bit sorry for David Cameron here. Clearly with his political and economic strategies not working he needs to make changes but both politics and a limit in the talent pool restrict him in what he can do.
Also the mood generated by the Olympics and Paralympics is so distant from where politics and economics are right now that the public interest will be limited and whatever he does I suspect we will all end up feeling underwhelmed and then go back to concentrating on the sport. The phrase ‘talking to an empty stadium’, one of Philip Gould’s favourites to describe the nature of much political debate, springs to mind.
But ministerial appointments really matter and I want to give him an idea that will align politics and economics with the Olympics rather more convincingly than George Osborne tried to do on the Marr Show yesterday. Poor old George seemed to think if he just said ‘Olympics’ often enough people would think he was competent and growth would come. The Olympics and all the individual successes took hard graft not miracles, George. They took new ideas and amazing commitment and teamwork.
My idea – which I tried to get the last Labour government to do and which I suggested to this one in a note to Number 10 several months ago (still to be acknowledged btw … wouldn’t have happened in my day blah…) is the creation of a new Department for Sport, with a seat at the Cabinet table, a proper budget, and ministerial representation on all key economic, health, education, crime and community policy committees, not to mention Olympics Legacy.
The Secretary of State should have the same role in overseeing legacy projects that ministers had as the 2012 project came together. Obviously over time the Legacy part of the brief will start to fade. But by then hopefully the Department for Sport will be as much an accepted part of the political and cultural landscape as health, education or the economy. And meanwhile sport will be more deeply embedded in our lives.
I was really pleased to see my old schoolmate Gary Lineker (who has never played on the same side as Maradona btw but was always quite good at football) retweeting and supporting my call on Michael Gove to reverse the massive cuts in school sport. You only need to listen to so many of our Olympic and Paralympic medal winners, paying tribute to their PE teachers as the ones who first set them on the road to greatness, to understand what a stupid move this was.
This is not hindsight speaking because in the same note I warned that this decision would come back to haunt them when people saw what an amazing effect the success of the Olympics would have on the mood of the country. And now it is. But it is the kind of decision that should never have been taken; and would never have been taken had there been a serious voice fighting for sport in the Cabinet.
So I really hope Mr Cameron does it. I know how hard these reshuffles are. Egos. Politics (complicated by the coalition). Tony Blair never had an easy one. But this move, Prime Minister, is a no-brainer. It is strategic not tactical. It meets the moment. Most importantly it will help ensure the changes brought by this wonderful summer of sport are not forgotten by winter, but endure for the long-term and to the benefit of future generations.
So whatever else he has in mind today, I really really hope a Secretary of State for Sport and Olympic Legacy is in the mix. If he does it, I will support him on it unequivocally, no ifs no buts.