Let's celebrate the Games Makers on the fourth plinth

The anti-Paxmans in purple deserve public recognition.

The purple people. They were quite simply one of the big sensations of this London 2012 extravaganza.

Games Makers came in all shapes and sizes, and looked like us; just normal people, but with an extra dash of cheeriness harking back to the days of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, but without his insane accent.

So let’s do something to honour their contribution by placing a statue on that fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square where so many thousands of them gathered this week for the London 2012 parade.

We really should remember those purple volunteers. What they brought with them was a sense of fun, and a rather unbritish ability to talk to strangers and bounce throughout the day.

These were the anti-Paxmans. They didn’t have an ounce of British irony, they weren’t the masters of sarcasm we have come to believe we are and they really, really wanted us all to have a great day.

So all hail the purple people. They have shown us it can be British to be friendly in a public place, and to show a touch of enthusiasm. And it doesn’t have to come with a spoonful of Disneyified slush.

In fact the volunteers have a whole bunch of lessons for us. They have taught us (in case we had forgotten/or never known) that it can be fun to do something for someone else. They have shown us we can enjoy being part of something rather than sniping from the sidelines.

They helped transform London into a place where people do speak to each other on trains and buses. And, yes, there was always a purple person on hand to chat to about the day’s highlights, and share some excitement about the events of the night before.

During London’s summer of loving itself a little bit more than it did before, the purple people were there to help.

And the mayor of London and the city’s burghers should do something to recognize that contribution, by creating a statue to stand on that plinth.

Out on Fleet Street yesterday filming interviews with the public about wanted they wanted to see as a legacy to this heady period, people just wanted to talk about keeping the friendliness and spirit alive.  One interviewee wanted less negative stories in the media, another wanted to encourage more volunteering but said: “It’s about us, not the government, making it happen.”

The volunteers we spoke to for the film for the thinktank British Future wanted to keep on volunteering, and were enthusing about their experiences, the people they had worked with and what they might do next. One Games Maker told us at great length about the human resources manager at Stratford who had co-ordinated  the volunteers, and told us she would definitely make a great legacy leader.

Then when the floats went by, the athletes were as enthusiastic about waving to their volunteers as the crowds were at waving back, a sign of their recognition for all the efforts of those who wore the purple uniforms.

The volunteers may not have got any jazzy medals to show for it; and I doubt they will be receiving anything in the New Year’s list, so let’s do something creative to show our appreciation.

Boris should unveil a statue of the Games Makers on the fourth plinth before Christmas and invite all of them along to help celebrate; give them a proper party that’s just for them as recognition of just how much they have done to help cheer up this country.

Rachael Jolley is editorial director at thinktank British Future.

Games Makers waiting for Team GB on the Mall. Photograph: Getty Images
David Young
Show Hide image

The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

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

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide