Monday, 7 April 2008

Torch and Go

Sport is not my thing. I'll watch a big footy match, if I happen to be around at the time, but I won't go out of my way to be there. I'll watch snooker, given half a chance (which I never am), but the thought of sitting through days and days of the imminent Olympic Games fills me with dread.

Consequently, the ongoing hassles with the Olympic torch relays are, for me, both a source of irritation (the damn games haven't even started yet and still they're all over the news) and unending amusement. The Telegraph's pictures of dozens of gasping London bobbies jogging through the streets, doing their damnedest to keep up with the inner cordon of terrifyingly identical Chinese security bods (who were at least dressed for the occasion in blue tracksuits) surrounding the athlete and the torch, were utterly priceless. This panting, wheezing thin blue and yellow line looked incapable of seeing straight, let along arresting anyone!

Of course, the surprisingly well organised protests over China's record on Human Rights are understandable, though I'm inclined to think they'll be about as effective as attacking a tank with a tin opener. China, soon to be the most potent economic force on the planet, is unlikely to give a damn about the bleeding hearts of a few Western pansies, and I can't say I blame them - they hold, or about to get their hands on, all the cards, and much as we may not like their methods, we don't have much to bargain with at the moment, do we?

At this point, it might be worth our while to wonder WHY we don't have much to bargain with. And the answer, inevitably, is because we in the West are soft, namby pamby wimps. We worry about things like human rights, we care about health and safety, but we're really terribly bad at getting things done. For example, in November 2004, the Telegraph published an article about a planned new airport in Beijing. It was to be the biggest in the world, and would take about three years to build.

Now fast-forward to February 2008, and this BBC article about the opening - yes, OPENING - of the same airport. The article says, "Beijing's terminal is twice the size and about half the cost of Heathrow's new Terminal Five, which is due to open next month. Beijing has got from start to finish in four years. Heathrow has taken nearly 20. There is no lengthy public consultation process here. No demonstrations are allowed. There are no unions to make labour demands. And building work has gone on for 24 hours a day."

You can bet they weren't too bothered about the Ewman Rights of the construction workers, or Elf 'n' Safety, either. And you know what? The place works. No monumental cockups there, or, if there were, they didn't make the international media. No cancellations by the score, no sign of travellers still hunting for their luggage, no international humiliation, just quiet, almost terrifying efficiency. Compare to Terminal 5 - 20 years to build, and even then it falls over on the first day.

This kind of attitude is why, thanks to Gordon Brown-Trousers, the UK is following our Western allies into a recession. There is no get-up-and-go about our society - it's got up and gone to places where it can get things done. Once upon a time that was here, in the UK. We invented things, built them, used them, improved them and exported them to the rest of the world. Now we're bogged down in a swamp of regulations that hamper our progress at every turn.

We might well have moral objections to China's methods, but, unless we have the clout to make our objections count, we have no chance of improving the situation. And, until we can compete on equal terms with the mighty Chinese economy, we will never have that clout. In creating for ourselves a society in which every little thing is regulated by the nanny state, where human rights and other useless legislation govern our every move, we have also created the foundations of our own economic downfall, and, with it, lost the chance to hold back some of the more objectionable excesses of the less well-meaning nations. Ironic, isn't it?

Billy Seggars.

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