Some more budget items: £143 billions wasted on four white elephants

Amid all the usual wrangling over the pros and cons of today's budget, it's perhaps worth recalling a few items that the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to have chosen to play down in his budget speech:

Item:  The Iraq war.  Cost to Britain (never mind to Iraq!) currently more than £1 billion a year, so cost thus far: about £4 billion, and counting. 

Item: The Olympic Games in 2012.  Cost to Britain, current estimate (likely to be far exceeded by 2012):  £9.3 billion

Item:  Renewal of the Trident submarine nuclear deterrent platform: current estimate, including recurrent costs:  about £100 billion

Item: National Identity Register database and ID cardsestimate by LSE experts, nearly £30 billion ("The average annual running cost for issuing the controversial cards alongside passports was put at £584m." — Guardian report.)  

Total commitment or expenditure of all four items:  £143 billion.   (Since the individual totals include both money already spent and estimates of future expenditure over different periods of time, the overall figure is purely indicative of the order of magnitude involved.) 

These four items, ranging from a war crime to unnecessary and extravagant wastes of public money on a heroic scale, have all been accepted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and approved by the full Cabinet without a single resignation from Cabinet in protest by a living Labour minister or ex-minister.  The principal blame for all four inevitably belongs to Mr Blair.  But almost equal blame must rest with a supine Chancellor and spineless cabinet ministers, along with mostly supine, spineless Labour MPs who have allowed a reckless prime minister to ignore the precautionary processes of orderly cabinet government and thus constantly to be allowed to get away with monumental follies — at our expense. They dwarf the Dome in absurdity and have cost, or will cost, a fortune in blood and treasure, with absolutely no benefit to the national interest.  Any one of them could have been stopped by enough ministers and MPs being prepared to put their votes where their heads and hearts are instead of in tame obedience to the whips.

How on earth has it been allowed to happen?


4 Responses

  1. John Miles says:

    Our population is roughly six million.

    So, if my calculator is to be believed, £143 billion amounts to round about £2,500 for each man, woman and child of our population

  2. John Miles says:


    Our population is roughly sixty, repeat sixty, million.

    Sorry, my mistake.

  3. Brian says:

    An otherwise supportive commentator on my post has very reasonably suggested in a private e-mail that I have overstated, and thus risked spoiling, my case by asserting that the four follies will produce "absolutely no benefit to the national interest."  He points out that the London Olympics  "will certainly leave behind some beneficial effects – look at the extraordinary regeneration of Barcelona as an extreme example", although he agrees that any such benefits "will quite certainly not be worth the lunatic cost, which could be used to better effect in other ways."

    He clearly has a point.  But I would argue that all the benefits to be expected from the 2012 Olympics in London could be secured at a fraction of their estimated cost without the ultimate folly of holding the Olympics in London, or anywhere else in Britain.  In almost every case since the war the host of the Olympics has been saddled with debts that in some instances are still being paid off.  Sellers of cardboard policemen's helmets (the helmets are cardboard, not the policemen), dispensers of sugary fizzy drinks and publishers of glossy guidebooks will all benefit while London's taxpayers and charities dependent on the Lottery and travellers on the Tube will all be out of pocket.  London's already creaking transport system will collapse under the weight of the additional visitors who will come for the Games.  The rip-off already practised by our hotels and restaurants and other attractions on unsuspecting foreign (and native) tourists will achieve historic proportions:  Londoners will barely be able to afford to venture out of their homes during this period. If we have a real and demonstrable need for new stadiums and race-tracks and roads and railways to them, let's build them:  we don't need the Olympic Committee with its grandiose fantasies to force us to do so.  If the area to the east of London really needs and will benefit from 'regeneration', let's regenerate it.  The cost will be negligible compared with that of staging this inflated extravaganza, wished on us by a gang of self-important international dignitaries who don't have to foot the bill.  For a few days of synchronised swimming and throwing steel balls on strings, our capital city will be paralysed and our pockets rifled.  The fanatical nationalism and accompanying corruption and druggery of the Olympics are not welcome here.

    My courteous critic is literally correct in saying that some benefits will accrue.  But I hold that we don't need to host the Olympics in order to enjoy them.  So I have left my text unchanged, with this explanatory (and slightly defensive) note.

  4. Tim Weakley says:

    I entirely agree with your remarks on the vicious characters of the four albino pachyderms, and with John Miles's calculations.  My only comment concerns the Olympic Games: it is high time they had a permanent home to whose construction, upkeep and maintainance all participating nations would contribute.  Where, I wonder?  Somewhere not too far above sea level, with a reasonable likelihood of dry and temperate weather at a time of year to be decided on as most suitable for staging the Games.  Suggestions, anyone?

    My idealised Games (which I am sure would never be instituted) would be shorn of the nationalism – the parades, the flags, the anthems – and competitors would enter on their own merits and not as members of national squads, being selected to participate perhaps on the basis of certified best performances since the last Olympics with some weighting to encourage entrants from nations less well endowed with training facilities.  No team events – football, relays, rowing eights, etc. – and none of the zanier events like formation swimming.  Just a dream!

    Brian adds:  A dream indeed!  It compares very nicely with the nightmare reality. The idea of a permanent home for the Olympics, to end this competitive insanity of a new site every four years, has been quite widely suggested, with Athens as the obvious choice, especially as the facilities have been installed there quite recently.  It's not my favourite city by a long chalk, but then I wouldn't go there for the Olympics if dragged there in chains with a gun to my head.  Since almost everyone in the world, including almost everyone in the country hosting the Games, watches them on television, it doesn't really matter a damn where they are held, so long as it's not in London.

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