Fact or Fiction: TwentyTwelve or 2012?

The Olympics are just one cock-up after the next. But are we in sitcom territory yet?

The path to the summer Olympics has been one of cock-up after cock-up. So much so that, just as Armando Iannucci must be finding it tricky to write the new series of The Thick of It, so the makers of TwentyTwelve, the BBC sitcom based around the many failings of the "Olympic Deliverence Agency", must be feeling rather prescient.

But are they? See if you can tell which of these are from 2012, and which are from TwentyTwelve:

1. A safe-sex ad campaign had to be dropped due to complaints from Catholic countries. 

2. The Olympic torch was blown out in Great Torrington.

3. George Galloway announced he was planning to perform a citizens arrest on a Middle-Eastern dictator.

4. The interfaith worship centre was moved to a different building in the park after someone realised it didn't face Mecca.

5. A busload full of dignitaries gets lost on the way to the olympic stadium.

6. A naked man with "Free Tibet" on his bottom interrupted the torch relay.

7. Protestors dumped a pile of horse manure outside the organisers' offices in protest at the closure of Greenwich park for equestrianism.

8. An executive was shot in the foot testing a faulty starter pistol.

9. The Olympic Torch was blown out in Greece.

10. The official £5 Olympic Coin is sold for £40.

11. Until special laws were passed, the pistols used in the shooting events were illegal in Britain.

12. At the same time as Seb Coe launched "Diversity Day", Boris Johnson launched "Inclusivity Day".

Highlight for answers:

1. TwentyTwelve 2. 2012 3. 2012 4. TwentyTwelve 5. Both 6. 2012 7. TwentyTwelve 8. TwentyTwelve 9. 2012 10. 2012 11. 2012 12. Twenty Twelve

A mess-up of Olympic proportions

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.