How to build a civic Olympic legacy

We need new museums, galleries, concert halls and academic institutions in East London.

The organisers of the Olympics and Paralympics have rightly been applauded, not just for the way the Games themselves were organised but for having gone much further than most other Olympic cities in ensuring that all the investment that went into them makes a lasting contribution. Much, of course, could go wrong, especially if the economy fails to pick up. But the Olympic Park and the surrounding areas are well integrated into London’s public transport system. Many of the big venues have adaptability built into them.  The future of the Athletes' Village, purchased by deep-pocketed developers, looks secure.  And those in charge of the Park say they are committed to ensuring that the new neighbourhoods will set new standards of modern urban design – though given the absence of any ambitious attempts at large scale urban design in London and the poor quality of what has been done, that won’t be hard.

But successful urban quarters are not just a matter of homes, offices, parks, shopping centres and sporting venues.  They also need civic institutions. And that's where the legacy plans currently look weak.  Daniel Moylan, the man Boris Johnson has now put in charge of the Olympic Park and associated legacy projects, has suggested that The Great Exhibition of 1851 provides a good model of what he wants to achieve.  But the most lasting legacy of the Great Exhibition were the museums, galleries, concert halls and academic institutions of South Kensington, with not a swimming pool or running track among them.  

One of the features of Canary Wharf that gives it the tinny, artificial quality it has, is the absence of these sort of institutions. The development has plenty of private gyms, but no libraries, art galleries, colleges, or theatres, with the exception of the nearby Docklands Museum.  And, of course, East London is badly lacking in all these things - or those that it has are largely of local, not national or international significance.  Even the Design Museum, which did draw people from across London, and well beyond, is moving from its outpost in Tower Bridge to the balmier climes of Kensington. 

One of the top priorities for Moylan and his team, then, must be to create a much richer civic landscape in the Stratford area and beyond.  Birkbeck College, true to its pioneering history, is building a large campus in Stratford, but the area would greatly benefit from similar moves by other some of London’s other top rank academic institutions (UCL are considering but have yet to commit). John Lock of the University of East London has argued that Millennium Mills in the Royal Docks would make a very good public home for government art collections, most of which hardly ever see the light of day.  And East London, which has played host to successive waves of migrants, is surely the ideal venue for a new Museum of Migration, to rival New York’s Ellis Island and similar museums around the world.  Given the international character of the Olympics and the ethnic diversity of GB’s Olympic team, that would be a particularly fitting Olympic legacy project and a good cause for some of London’s many migrant millionaires. 

Ben Rogers is the director of the Centre for London at Demos.

Crowds cheer from windows along the route during the London 2012 Victory Parade for Team GB and Paralympic GB athletes. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ben Rogers is the director of the Centre for London think tank, and the author of 10 Ideas for the New Mayor.

Photo: Getty
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Paul Nuttall is like his party: sad, desperate and finished

The party hope if they can survive until March 2019, they will grow strong off disillusionment with Brexit. They may not make it until then. 

It’s a measure of how far Ukip have fallen that while Theresa May faced a grilling over her social care U-Turn and Jeremy Corbyn was called to account over his past, the opening sections of Andrew Neill’s interview with Paul Nuttall was about the question of whether or not his party has a future.

The blunt truth is that Ukip faces a battering in this election. They will be blown away in the seats they have put up a candidate in and have pre-emptively retreated from numerous contests across the country.

A party whose leader in Wales once said that climate change was “ridiculous” is now the victim of climate change itself. With Britain heading out of the European Union and Theresa May in Downing Street, it’s difficult to work out what the pressing question in public life to which Ukip is the answer.

Their quest for relevance isn’t helped by Paul Nuttall, who at times tonight cast an unwittingly comic figure. Pressing his case for Ukip’s burka ban, he said earnestly: “For [CCTV] to work, you have to see people’s faces.” It was if he had intended to pick up Nigel Farage’s old dogwhistle and instead put a kazoo to his lips.

Remarks that are, written down, offensive, just carried a stench of desperation. Nuttall’s policy prescriptions – a noun, a verb, and the most rancid comment underneath a Mail article – came across as a cry for attention. Small wonder that senior figures in Ukip expect Nuttall to face a move on his position, though they also expect that he will see off any attempt to remove him from his crown.

But despite his poor performance, Ukip might not be dead yet. There was a gleam of strategy amid the froth from Nuttall in the party’s pledge to oppose any continuing payment to Brussels as part of the Brexit deal, something that May and Corbyn have yet to rule out.

If May does manage to make it back to Downing Street on 8 June, the gap between campaign rhetoric – we’ll have the best Brexit, France will pay for it – and government policy – we’ll pay a one-off bill and continuing contributions if need be – will be fertile territory for Ukip, if they can survive as a going concern politically and financially, until March 2019.

On tonight’s performance, they’ll need a better centre-forward than Paul Nuttall if they are to make it that far. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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