Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:23 PM
LONDON— Mitt Romney may be just what the London Olympics needed.
In little more than 24 hours in London, the U.S. presidential candidate has gotten Britons to stop complaining about bumper-to-bumper traffic, cringing about cost overruns and fretting about shoddy security — and instead start taking pride in their country’s long-awaited day in the sun.
From Prime Minister David Cameron to ordinary Londoners rushing to work, Britons recoiled at the visiting American’s suggestion that the logistical problems encountered so far were "disconcerting."
Many who have themselves been slamming organizers as incompetent, and the massive competition as an expensive fiasco, are suddenly rallying around the flag.
"Mitt the Twit," screamed Friday’s headline in The Sun, which just days ago was trumpeting an embarrassing incident in which an official bus carrying the U.S. team from Heathrow airport got lost and spent hours in traffic.
"Who invited party-pooper Romney?" asked the Daily Mail.
"Nowhere Man," declared the more reserved Times of London, a reference to a biting comment by the famously diplomatic Cameron, who implied that Romney lacked the experience to offer advice to one of the world’s great capitals since the Olympics he helped organize in Salt Lake City, Utah, took place "in the middle of nowhere."
"We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere," Cameron said.
Colorful London Mayor Boris Johnson also got in on the act, using Romney’s criticism as a rallying cry to stoke up a crowd of tens of thousands gathered at Hyde Park on Thursday night: "There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we are ready. Are we ready? Yes, we are!"
Romney spent much of Friday trying to dial back his dig, but ended up raising more eyebrows when he referred to looking out of the "back side" of 10 Downing Street to see the beach volleyball stadium and after he let slip that he had met with the head of MI6, Britain’s overseas intelligence agency.
Briefings with British spy chiefs are usually kept secret.
To the British, "back side" usually refers to the derriere.
Residents learned of Romney’s Olympic readiness comments from friends, television and social media. And the fact the Republican presidential candidate tried to make amends seemed to win him little favor.
"What would he know?" asked Londoner Liudmila Troshina, wearing a Team Great Britain jersey and posing for pictures along with her husband in Piccadilly Circus. "I don’t really care what people from other countries think about us because I take my information firsthand — from people who live here."
"No matter what some man said, we are prepared ... to support our country, our city and our sportsmen with everything we have," she added.
Those sentiments are a quick about-face from the weeks of moaning many Britons have engaged in prior to the games, which begin with the opening ceremony Friday night.
For months, the nation has been awash in complaints — from taxi drivers angry over special traffic lanes for Olympics VIPS, to slack-jawed travelers staring down long lines at immigration, to commuters apoplectic about being asked to rethink their journey to avoid the crush of Olympic tourists, to residents alarmed that surface-to-air missiles have been placed on their roofs to fight terrorism.
Even the heavens have come in for a browbeating, with the Times of London publishing an editorial recently demanding an end to weeks of rain.
"It is a British sport," Labour lawmaker David Winnick said Friday. "We always complain."
He should know.
One of the iconic images of London’s troubles was Winnick’s cutting exchange with the head of the G4S security group earlier this month after the company failed to provide enough Olympics workers, forcing the British military to step in.
"It’s a humiliating shambles for the country, isn’t it?" Winnick demanded of Nick Buckles after the CEO offered a groveling mea culpa on live TV, repeating the charge until Buckles could not deny that it was.
But even Winnick winced when he heard what Romney had to say.
"These are internal matters that would be well dealt with under our own democratic system," he said.
"There is a feeling, and I’m sure it applies in the United States, that ... families can quarrel bitterly in private, but should anyone from the outside have a go, the family is united. In other words: ‘Mind your own business.’ "
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