The security precautions being taken for the Olympics are not only gigantic in their extent, but seem to be increasing every day. It’s the inflationary tendency within security advice that should concern us, not its temporary extent. When something shows signs of growing bigger and bigger, with no tendency to deflate, it’s up to us to question the power these things are acquiring over our lives. The madness of the Olympics is one thing. We should worry about this madness becoming normal, and the security industry taking over our everyday lives.
I enjoyed Lord Coe’s most recent statement about the security to be deployed. I thought it had real comic potential. He said, in case you missed it, that “there has to be proportionality here. You don’t want people coming to London thinking they’ve walked into siege city, being filmed every 20 paces they take and being bundled off pavements. It’s certainly not what you’re going to get legacy tourism from. There is no appetite for risk.”
Particularly amusing is Lord Coe’s promise that people who come to London are not going to be filmed every 20 paces. This morning, taking a walk down Clapham High Street, I decided to count the cameras. It’s 550 metres long, and this morning I counted 40 CCTV cameras, including ones performing the vital work of guarding the entrances to a Belgian moules restaurant, the worse of the two dry-cleaners, and a crap bar. I may have missed a few, but “being filmed every 20 paces” sounds about right to me.
Let’s take a look at some of these “proportional” measures, and how they have grown in recent months. The number of security personnel within the venues is increasing from 10,000 to 23,700 – let us not be cynical, and suggest that the advice came from people keen to see the 100 metres final – and 12,000 extra police and 6,000 soldiers will be on the streets. A warship is to be deployed in the Thames – what against, the Spanish Armada? Surface-to-air missiles will be on standby.