Boris goes for gold

Whether or not you think London will turn a profit from hosting the Olympics, the biggest winner of all may turn out to be Boris Johnson, says Adam Jourdan.

"The time for carping is over!" That's the war cry of supporters of the London 2012 Olympic Games, says Sam Leith in London's Evening Standard. And it's true that the Danny Boyle-directed opening ceremony was "fabulous" and almost universally praised.

But that doesn't change the fact that we're spending "a giant bunch of public money" on "littering the capital with white elephants" and "creating a two-tier system in the public roadways". There wasn't even a hint of anyone "resigning when the initial quote £2.4bn went up by a factor of three-and-a-bit. In effect, £9.3bn has been stolen from the public purse at a time of "dire national up-the-creekness".

Supporters argue that the Olympics will generate plenty of potential revenue streams to render it worth our while. Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed that the games could bring a £13bn boost to the economy by acting as a launching pad for increased business deals, an improved investment profile and extra tourism.

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"It all sounds very impressive," says David Bond on, "until you start to look at the numbers more closely." That £13bn is made up of £1bn from British business conferences held during the Olympics, £6bn from foreign direct investment after 2012, £4bn from extra opportunities to British businesses and £2.3bn from post-Games tourism. Much of this "is aspirational rather than definitive", and there "can't be any certainty that these figures will actually be achieved".

Indeed, judging by the data so far, the Games are proving a very mixed blessing for London's firms. As Doug Saunders notes in The Globe and Mail, most of the 300,000 tourists who would usually be in London over the summer have been driven away "a loss that far outweighs any tourism benefits from the Games". You might think the British capital would be "jammed to the rafters", but this week "you could roll a bowling ball through Covent Garden without striking anyone".

Research firm Experian offers backing for this impression of a ghost town London', with a survey suggesting that customer levels in central London on the Saturday after the opening ceremony were down 12% year-on-year. Even in east London, where the majority of the Games are based, shopping was down by 7.5%.

"Governments want to host these events because they are highly prestigious and hugely popular with the electorate," Professor Stefan Szymanski, a specialist in the economics of sport at the University of Michigan, tells The Observer. "If you tell me you're going to have a party, that's great but if you tell me you're going to have a party and get rich at the same time, then I'm not going to believe you."

The Olympics could bring one very specific boost, however, says Zoe Williams in The Guardian to London's mayor, Boris Johnson. Unlike the prime minister, Johnson responded "swiftly and trenchantly" to US Republican leader Mitt Romney's criticism of London's Olympic preparation, with an Obama-style Are we ready? Yes we are' rally. "It is no surprise that Conservatives have started fantasising about a fresh leader." Perhaps Johnson "could be the biggest winner of the Olympics" after all.

Adam Jourdan

Adam is a former journalist at MoneyWeek, writing about global economies, equities, politics and general news stories for print magazine and online. Since then, Adam has worked at Thomson Reuters for more than 10 years, starting off as a graduate trainee and worked up to Bureau Chief, South Latin America. He also has experience leading teams of reporters in China.