The Olympics banned list

The official list of prohibited items at the Olympics includes "oversized hats" and "sharpened combs".

For those who have yet to read it, the 2012 Olympics list of prohibited items is quite a funny diktat. At first, it looks like a typical bit of health and safety box ticking: no booze, no fireworks, no laser pointers, blah blah. Most of the stuff in the first half of the list is brought in by the kind of people whom it’s fair to say don’t particularly care for health and safety regulations. At least, I can’t remember the last time I headed down to Twickenham with a “sharpened comb”, a “bayonet” (what with it not being 1890) or some “CS gas”. Just in case, like.

But it’s the second half of the list whereupon things get interesting. Immediately, we see “excessive amounts of food”. Who defines “excessive”?  My own definition wavers between “a big sandwich” and “an entire Domino’s pizza, three bottles of Lucozade and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s”, depending on whether or not I’m hungover. I guess the important thing is that if your definition tends towards the latter, then you can hit the world’s largest McDonald’s (1,500 seats!! No?) in the Olympic Park as hard as you like, thus helping the games bring us that economic boost we’ve all been promised. Cunning stuff.

But more to the point – “any objects or clothing bearing political statements or overt commercial identification intended for ‘ambush marketing’”. Again, the problem here is one of clarity. It seems that while Locog are quite happy with you wearing that banterific Inbetweeners “Pussay Patrol” t-shirt, there’s a clear question over your “Keep Calm and Smoke Weed” one. Is that too political? Will your Che Guevara t-shirt get you sent home, and if so, for what? For supporting communism? For espousing the 1958 removal of Fulgencio Batista? For championing the right to look like a tool? Reader, I wish I could tell you.

And as for “ambush marketing”, it seems unlikely anyone outside of the advertising industry (let’s be honest, this guff has their moronic paws all over it) understands this term. I know I don’t. The problem is that ever since clothes started getting logos, we’ve all become ambush marketers, in a way. Will I be a suspect on the grounds that when clothes shopping I just buy what the mannequins in Marks and Spencer are wearing? Is the complimentary “I’m an Amiga gamer and proud” hat I got in 1992 now acceptable? (My ex-girlfriend can answer this: apparently not). And while we're on the subject of hats, heaven forbid it's got a bit of a brim on it - "oversized hats" are strictly forbidden.

Those of us who regularly go to sports events are used to this arseclap.  No doubt it kind of makes sense to the companies that implement it, and most of the time we – being British – shrug our shoulders, grumble and play along. The Olympics has taken it to a whole new level, a somewhat surreal, otherworldly level where, thanks to McDonald’s, you can only order chips on the Olympic site if they’re accompanied by a fish. Ludicrous, you say? Well yes: we’re talking branding here, not sense.

The truth is that Locog know this sort of thing adds to any cynicism the public feels about the Games. But they also know that £750m in sponsorship is £750m in sponsorship. McDonald’s, Visa, and Cadbury can pretty much do what the hell they like. Apply that principle to the world outside the stadia, and suddenly it’s not so funny.

Here's the full list:

Prohibited and restricted items lists


Look! It's the Pope wearing a sombrero. No, really. Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.