Suddenly 2012 sounds a lot less enticing. The year in which Britain was to have been triumphant, basking in international Olympic glory, will be the year when the debt hits home. In schools and hospitals and social services departments, in libraries and nurseries and courts, 2012 will be the year that high times turn to hard times.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated yesterday that the country faces spending cuts of £19 billion in 2012-13. Cabinet ministers have already begun fighting over who takes the hit. The unemployed, the homeless, the destitute will join the athletes parading through London.
It will be payback time, big time. In 2011-12 the tax increases strike: the 45p top rate, the rise in national insurance. In 2012 national debt is forecast to reach the magic £1 trillion. And in 2012 we throw billions of pounds at the Olympics.
Oh, that we could cancel them instead. We obviously cannot afford them any more.
The Olympics budget has soared from an original guesstimate of £2.7 billion, winner of the gold medal for kite-flying, to £9.3 billion, and will rise further: there is as yet no clear security plan, the issue that was the biggest cause of cost overruns in Sydney and Athens. Only £500 million is still unspoken for in the £2.7 billion contingency fund, and there are four years still to go.
This month Tessa Jowell, the Minister for the Games, admitted that the Government would not have bid for them if it had seen what was coming. “Had we known what we know now, would we have bid for the Olympics? Almost certainly not.”
Mirroring Gordon Brown's big spending plans and fiscal stimulus, Ms Jowell now describes the money being thrown at the Games as a “counter-cyclical investment”.
A counter-cyclical investment? In more than 1,000 full-time officials and consultants (and rising), claiming salaries of up to £620,000 each? In 72 civil servants at the Olympic executive? A counter-cyclical £500 million athletics stadium that nobody knows how to use afterwards? Wembley Stadium would have sufficed. Is it a counter-cyclical investment in the £1.5 billion media centre plus thousands of homes in an Olympic village that the Government will struggle to sell afterwards? Very counter-cyclical, especially since the PFI deal collapsed in the credit crunch, leaving the Government to pick up the tab to keep the building work going at all.
Consultants called into conduct a review last week recommended scrapping the wholly unnecessary, temporary, £40 million, 6,000-seat stadium in Greenwich for badminton and rhythmic gymnastics. But they saved the £60 million basketball arena, considered by Alistair Darling, the Chancellor himself, a complete waste of money. “Can't we have this in some old shed?” he once asked Olympics officials, not counter-cyclically, perhaps, but counter-intuitively. No, they replied: US TV audiences demand a shiny place.
I have another question: why can't we have this in Beijing? All the expensive stadiums are already there and the Games have been moved before: in 1906 the decision was taken to move the 1908 Olympics from Rome to London after Mount Vesuvius erupted and the Italians needed the money to rebuild Naples.
Now the world financial system has erupted, and we need the money to help to rebuild the economy, not a dozen deserted stadiums and thousands of empty homes. The wave of energy created by the collision of sport, media and international marketing has taken on a life of its own, outside the control of mere ministers: £25 million on a shooting gallery here, a 23,000-seat arena for horse riding there. Why can't they get a train to Hickstead?
An “economic stabilisation programme”, Ms Jowell now calls the Games. Before that they were a regeneration programme for East London, remember? They were never just a whole lot of money thrown at a big, stupid party.
And what does the International Olympic Committee, those weirdly untouchable gods of sport, have to say? As Mr Darling explained to the nation how it was going to slip into a trillion pounds of debt on Monday, the President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, came to London to give a pep talk on the Olympics. It was, as befits the head of an organisation that operates somewhere beyond the real world, a totally surreal speech.
I think he was trying to suggest that the “positive legacy” need not be the great (empty) stadiums, but “new opportunities” - more investment in organised sport and fewer fatties, especially young ones. We do not need a £9.3 billion Olympics to wish for that.
Mr Rogge's speech flitted all over the place before he got to the credit crunch, stuck on the end as an afterthought. “I am conscious that we come out of the enormous success of Beijing into difficult economic times,” he said. “Well, the Games have survived difficult times before... The Games remind us that the transient difficulties of life can be overcome through hard work and determination.” Funny, that's exactly what small businesses owners, their employees, their families, watching a lifetime's work collapse today, wouldn't say.
“The Games show that excellence, friendship and respect have no limits. That wars, economic downturns, natural disasters and violent attacks do not dissuade or dishearten humanity.” Diddly-diddly doo.
Anyone would think Mr Rogge did not know they cancelled the Games in the First and Second World Wars. Even the head of the IOC press commssion admitted this week that Brtiain faces “the toughest time short of wartime to get the project to 2012”.
But it was in his peroration that the IOC President soared to heights of new Labourish vacuity not reached since - actually, not since Ms Jowell's heyday and a particularly memorable speech that she once delivered on “our national cultural identity”, the ties that bind the British (interestingly, sport was not among them, then)...
Just when we thought new Labour dead, those empty phrases, the trite generalisations, the belief that as long as you said something, it really didn't matter if it didn't make any sense... over to Mr Rogge.
“Because while not all of us can be an Olympian, the simple joy of running faster, leaping higher or throwing further makes all of us equal, brings us together, and places each of us firmly in the world. Not apart from it. Thank you.”
Ah. Feeling better?