Republican US presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s staff must have thought it would all be so simple: fly in to the UK on the eve of the Olympics, arrange a round of meetings with senior British political leaders, make some innocuous statements about the special relationship and, perhaps, say something that makes voters at home in the US think he has a handle on foreign policy. Then, sit back while he smiles for the thousands of news cameras already in London to cover the opening ceremony and fly home again to get on with the business of winning an election.
Presumably they didn’t consider the chance that their man might make the mistake of assuming that, because he once organised the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, it would be OK to give a frank and honest appraisal of London’s efforts. To that end, Romney’s assessment in a TV interview that there was something ‘disconcerting’ about London’s preparedness to stage the Games was a major gaffe. Indeed, his public doubts about the ability of ‘the people of the country’ (that’s you and I, folks!) to make them a success were less than helpful, both to his hosts and to his credentials as an aspiring statesman.
Aside from sheer bad manners, the main reason Romney should have kept his mouth shut when asked his thoughts on the London Olympics is that he failed to say anything constructive. As a politician, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with criticising events, as long as the timing is right and those criticisms are balanced by constructive ideas for solutions. That’s the core of why Romney’s negative reflections on the eve of the Games were such a wrong turn.
Though they were more or less a muddle, Romney’s comments demanded a finely tuned response. Credit then, to the Prime Minister for his elegant, economical put-down that managed to draw a neat parallel between organising the Summer Olympics in London and organising the Winter Games in Utah, while drawing a neat line under the issue: “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities in the world” he said. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
Nicely put, Mr Cameron. Let’s move swiftly on with enjoying the Games.