Badly done Mr Brown

Read Kate Hoey’s article Olympic ideals? It’s a grotesque charade on for a take on the Olympic torch fiasco on Sunday that Gordon Brown will not enjoy.

This heavy mob [the Chinese toughs in blue tracksuits] that charmlessly controlled the torchbearers yesterday, shouting orders at the runners, showed that even a public-relations offensive by the Beijing authorities is a brutal and heavy-handed affair. When the torch arrived no one saw the flame or even the runner – the Downing Street gates opened and the Prime Minister, in front of a small crowd of trusted apologists, participated in a gravely miscalculated photo opportunity.

Protesters were not just drawing attention to China’s oppression in Tibet but they were speaking out against its dismal record of support for the genocide in Darfur and the long-running military dictatorship in Burma.

Using a form of “spin” of which the politburo in Beijing would be proud, our powers-that-be decided to make a distinction between the thousands of pro-Tibetan and the pro-Chinese spectators along the route. Pro-Tibetans were “demonstrating” or “protesting” while the “Chinese were celebrating” (with help from their Embassy, which provided them with flags and banners praising the Motherland).

I simply cannot understand why Gordon Brown has allowed himself to be embroiled in this mess. It shows either bad judgment or bad advice.

Enough said.

Home from home

If the Chinese (and the London 2012 National Olympics Committee) were hoping that the Olympic torch relay across London was to be a journey of harmony and peace, they will have been disappointed. Protesters, the weather, and Londoners’ apathy (did they really think that the participation of celebrities, the curse of Western life, was going to ensure a respectable turnout) have seen to that. Two things struck me reading the reports and watching the news. First the involvement of the Prime Minister, always one to avoid the difficult moment (but then as I have posted before he talks more about courage than showing it). Thus, according to Reuters,

Brown greeted the torch behind Downing Street’s closed steel gates in front of a vetted crowd as protesters scuffled with police outside and Beijing supporters waved Chinese flags and banged drums.

The Chinese will have felt well and truly at home.

And, secondly, the evident discomfort of Tessa Jowell, interviewed about the protests by the BBC,

“The welcome of the Olympic torch to London is not the same as condoning the human rights regime in China or condoning the treatment of Tibet.”

Only up to a point (and her face made that clear). China’s view is clear: the Games should not be politicized. Similarly, the IOC has vigorously defended its policy of non-involvement in politics. But as history has shown time after time, sport and politics are inextricably linked, and sport is used, directly and indirectly, for political purposes across the world. The Chinese are as guilty (if that is the right word) as anyone else, as the Beijing Olympics are being used by the Chinese themselves to demonstrate that the Chinese regime has changed.

The problem is that you cannot have it both ways, using sport for your own political agenda, and yet deny the same to those who do not share your views. Beijing Olympic torch relay spokesman Qu Yingpu let the mask slip, when he told the BBC, “This is not the right time, the right platform, for any people to voice their political views.” Yet as Tessa Jowell pointed out, lawful, peaceful protest is part of our democratic tradition. It is just that peple don’t like their parties being spoilt.


An interesting article on from Geoff Dyer in Shanghai, which suggests that the EU is at least thinking about being brave about Tibet.

The president of the European Parliament has said that European countries should consider a boycott of the Olympics in Beijing if the Chinese government continues to take a hardline attitude to unrest in Tibet. Hans-Gert Poettering joined a growing list of western politicians calling on China to open talks with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, whom Chinese officials blame for inciting a wave of protests and riots over the last two weeks.

It does not seem that the western politicians include Gordon Brown. He has said that he will meet the Dalai Lama, but that is not really enough. It seems that he has not been able to bring himself to criticize what is happening. His silence will only encourage the Chinese. There is realpolitik, and there is moral cowardice.

Mind the gap?

Yesterday evening at the Business Leaders Forum at Exeter University, and an interesting take on Generation Y by Richard Wyatt-Haines (you can find more on Mind the gap: managing and retaining your graduate entrants on his website). Our table (and it seems much of the audience) was not entirely persuaded. Is Generation Y so very different to the previous one, or the one before that (see my post on Graduate Divas)? My next door neighbour and I (both the same generation) decided that it was not Generation Y that was so different: we thought they were quite like our generation, but the one in between. What is different is the context, how life appears to be, although is what is happening in Tibet as I write so very different to what happened in Hungary in 1956 (I was four) and what happened in Czechoslovakia in 1968 (when I was 16)?


More disturbing news from Tibet. An interesting post by James Forsyth in Coffee House, suggesting it may be time (and notwithstanding realpolitik) to think about whether we should boycott Beijing 2008. He links to Vaclav Havel’s letter in Comment is free on, which is headed “Asking China to exercise restraint in Tibet is not enough: the international community must use its influence to halt human rights abuses”, and finishes

“Merely urging the Chinese government to exercise the “utmost restraint” in dealing with the Tibetan people, as governments around the world are doing, is far too weak a response. The international community, beginning with the United Nations and followed by the European Union, Asean, and other international organisations, as well as individual countries, should use every means possible to step up pressure on the Chinese government to allow foreign media, as well as international fact-finding missions, into Tibet and adjoining provinces in order to enable objective investigations of what has been happening; release all those who only peacefully exercised their internationally guaranteed human rights, and guarantee that no one is subjected to torture and unfair trials; enter into a meaningful dialogue with the representatives of the Tibetan people.

Unless these conditions are fulfilled, the International Olympic Committee should seriously reconsider whether holding this summer’s Olympic games in a country that includes a peaceful graveyard remains a good idea.”

For a less reverent comment, see Robert Shrimsley in today’s FT, Carrying a torch for China in Tibet. This imagines all you need to know about our lords and masters (?) in Europe.