13 January 2012 2:08 PM

Olympics to spark baby boom

If history is anything to go by, Britain could be enjoying a baby boom in spring next year - sparked by the Olympics, Diamond Jubilee and Euro 2012.

Births in England and Wales had been falling for at least a decade until the early 2000s.

But the year after the Golden Jubilee in 2002, England’s World Cup success and Tim Henman reaching the Wimbledon semi-final saw a huge increase in births.

They rose by 25,347 in 2003, according to official figures from the Office for National Statistics, jumping from 596,122 to 621,469, an increase of 4.25 per cent.

The rise was the biggest spike in the birth rate between 1992 and 2010.

There were large increases in births in the period nine months after the summer of 2002 which saw hundreds of street parties to celebrate the Golden Jubilee, David Beckham mania sweeping the country as England reached the World Cup quarter finals and tennis fans cheering as Tim Henman clinched a semi-final showdown with Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon.

Births rose by 13,260 in March to July 2003, compared to the previous year.

“Olympics, Royal celebrations and World Cups seem to function as cultural aphrodisiacs,” Ellis Cashmore, Professor of Culture at Staffordshire University, told The Standard.

“It’s exactly the kind of situation where people will feel well disposed to each other in an affable if not amorous way.

“We should see a spike in the birth rate in the spring of 2013.”

Professor Jacky Boivin, an expert in health psychology at Cardiff University, believes there may be another rise in conceptions next year.

“If Britain wins lots of gold medal at the London Olympics, this could create a mood of euphoria in the country,” she said.

“This could make people more likely to have sex which could lead to an increase in conceptions.”

She also stressed that if people are inspired by the 2012 Games to take up sport or just become more active, this could also boost birth numbers.

“People could also be encouraged by the Olympics to get more physically fit. Being fit can make people feel more attractive and boost their libido leading to more sex,” she said.

“Being physically fit can also make it easier for couples to conceive by more favourable hormones and sperm quality.”

But she also warned that big sporting events and other celebrations could reduce the likelihood of women becoming pregnant if they or their partner drink to excess.

Dr Cath Mercer, a senior lecturer at University College London’s Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, said breaks, such as the Jubilee extended Public Holiday weekend and people taking time off work this summer for the Olympics, could fuel the birth rate.

"Anything which gives people the time to relax and have sex could lead to a baby boom," she says.

Nicholas Cecil

11 January 2012 2:44 PM

Britain stockpiles anthrax vaccine against Olympic attack

Britain's security preparations for the Olympics are being ratcheted up with the Government stockpiling anthrax vaccine against an attack on the London Games.

The Government is replenishing its anthrax vaccine levels, as revealed in The Standard today, in time for April to safeguard the 2012 Games.

The supply of jabs to combat anthrax poisoning was hit by delays between October 2009 and March 2011. The resulting shortfall in supply is set to be made up within the next four months.

More than 500 health workers have also been vaccinated against smallpox, enabling them to respond to a biological terror attack.

Terrorists have rarely used biological attacks.

But fear swept through America in 2001 when letters containing anthrax spores were sent to news media offices and two Democratic US senators. Five people were killed and 17 others infected.

Nicholas Cecil






10 January 2012 2:22 PM

Jeremy Hunt: Let's thrash the Aussies at Olympics

As Britain's athletes limber up for the 2012 Games, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had a simple message for them today: please "thrash" the Australians.

He stressed he would be overjoyed by Team GB beating the Australians again in the medals table at this year's Games - as they did in Beijing four years ago.

“I love Australia to bits, but it would be give me no greater pleasure than to thrash them once again in the medals table,” he told The Standard.

“We want to beat France and Germany but most important of all we need to beat the Aussies.”

But Australia’s sports minister Mark Arbib hit back emphasising that his country “needed” to get a bigger gold medal tally than Britain, or at least pretty much match it, to achieve its aim of finishing in the top five.

He also appeared to suggest that the UK was trying to buy success with its “record” investment in preparations for the Olympics.

“As always, the Australian Olympic Committee has set an ambitious target for our athletes of a top five finish at the London Games,” he said.

“We know that to get to our target we will need to beat Great Britain or be right up there with them on the medal tally.”

Pointedly, he added: “We have seen record amounts of money and resources invested in Great Britain’s Olympic programmes as they seek to meet the high expectations to perform at their home Olympics.

“However, Australia continues to be focused on getting our athletes ready for the Games, making sure they are as prepared and competitive as they can be as we take on the world’s best.

“Australia and Britain have a long-term sporting rivalry and I’m sure that will continue in London and beyond."

During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Britain’s sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe won a bet with his Australian counterpart Kate Ellis over which nation would win more gold medals. Team GB clinched 19 golds to Australia’s 14.

Australia finished in sixth position behind Germany on 16.

Nicholas Cecil




09 January 2012 12:56 PM

Hunt's Olympic appeal: Be Victors not Meldrews

With 200 days to go to the Olympics, Jeremy Hunt has appealed for an end to "grumbling" about the Games.

In an interview with The Standard, the Culture Secretary backed most Londoners to avoid “Victor Meldrew” style complaining about Tube, road and work disruption during the Games.

“This is a year to celebrate and not for grumbling,” he said.

“We have got the chance to show the world everything that is best about London. We would be crazy not to make the most of it.

“Of course there is going to be disruption. But it’s going to be worth it.

“It would not be Britain if we did not have a few Victor Meldrews. But I’m sure they are going to be in a minority when people realise what an incredible privilege it is to host the biggest sporting even on the planet.

“We will all be telling our children and grandchildren that we were in London in 2012.”

He also set out the Government’s aim of a “Triple Gold” this summer:

* To host the best ever Olympics – outdoing Beijing’s spectacular show.

* To drag the UK away from recession with an extra boost of at least £1 billion from a business summit linked to the Games.

* To deliver a lasting legacy with a new campaign to stop teenagers ditching sport when they leave school, opening up more pools, sports halls and pitches at schools to the wider public and the use of Olympic venues after the Games.

Now, the Government needs to deliver these goals.

Nicholas Cecil


14 December 2011 1:40 PM

Royal Marines "Mighty O" to protect the Olympics

HMS Ocean, the largest ship in the Royal Navy is set to be deployed in the Thames to protect the Olympics.

The 22,000-tonne amphibious assault ship, nicknamed "Mighty O", has recently returned from a seven-month deployment during which it was diverted to launch attacks on Colonel Gaddafi's brutal regime.

The huge ship is expected to anchor off Greenwich next summer and be ready to send in teams of Royal Marines by helicopter or boat to counter any terror attack.

The planned deployment was revealed today by The Standard as David Cameron chaired his first Olympics meeting as the Government gears up to devote its full energies to making the Games a success.

Nearly 24,000 security guards, including around 7,000 military personnel, will protect Olympic venues.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was giving an update on the Olympic park venues, security and Olympic legacy to the meeting today.

Nicholas Cecil

30 November 2011 3:13 PM

Sports Personality row reaches Parliament

The anger over the all-male shortlist for this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year has been widespread, and MPs are not immune.

Labour's Geraint Davies has tabled an EDM on the issue, signed by 14 colleagues so far, which reads:

That this House is disappointed that there are no women in this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist; notes the lack of women in previous year's shortlists; further notes that high profile women in sport play an important role in encouraging women and girls to participate in sports; and calls on the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport to do more to involve and promote women in sport.

Shadow culture secretary (and long time equality campaigner) Harriet Harman has also weighed in, declaring it "wrong" that no women are on the shortlist and demanding immediate action from the BBC. After the news that representatives from men's magazines were on the judging panel, she also asks whether the selectors were all-male. And she adds: “This shortlist highlights the failure over many years to give women’s sport the media coverage it deserves. There must be action to change that.”

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

15 September 2011 3:27 PM

Danny admits we are better off outside the euro

Breaking news ... Danny Alexander, the former campaign chief for Britain in Europe, has admitted that it's a good thing he didn't win the Battle of Sterling.

He 'fessed up in an interview with the Evening Standard, when asked if it was lucky that the pro-euro campaign did not prevail.

"I think there is no doubt at all that the flexibilities we have, not being part of the euro, have been very helpful to the UK in dealing with the economic crisis we've had," he said.

Asked if that was politico-speak for admitting he was wrong, DA responded: "Who knows how it would have un-folded if things had worked out differently. I'm still a very firm believer that our national interest lies as a wholehearted member of the EU engaging positively to get the best for Britain. That's what always motivated me and that has not changed one iota."  He did not, however, say he still wants to join the euro.

There are lots of other good angles in the interview with this unassuming Lib Deb star.  He tells the unions that the Government is making contingency plans to defeat the strikes; urges his party to stand firm with the austerity policies and the Coalition; attacks Boris Johnson over the 50p rate and rebuffs the Tory Right on repatriation of powers.

But I like his description of why being brought up on a remote island (Colonsay, pop. 110) made him the man he is today.


Joe Murphy

follow me  on Twitter  .... @JoeMurphyLondon




01 July 2011 1:12 PM

Olympics terror alert

We already knew that a terror suspect known as CD - banned from London and believed to have been plotting a Mumbai-style atrocity in Britain - could return to the capital due to the Government watering down its anti-terror laws.

Now, The Standard has revealed that there could be several more suspected terrorists, including some understood to be from East London, who could be allowed back before the Olympics next year  - if the Government does not amend its plans to replace control orders with terrorism prevention and investigation measures.

Currently, these reforms would remove the power to relocate terror suspects. This condition has been used in nine out of 12 current cases.

The Home Office is refusing to say how many could return to London.

But the Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Osborne has suggested it could be several, possibly at least five. Other sources also believe it could be five or six.

Mr Osborne, who is also the Association of Chief Police Officers' senior national coordinator for terrorism investigations, has told MPs: "The Olympics will be in a very challenging area in east London.

"A lot of people on control orders have come from the area initially, so moving them back will create additional challenges for us.

"It is difficult to say if they provide a greater threat than cells or groups yet to come to our notice or on which we have yet to receive intelligence."

Extra risk from the reforms - which include ditching relocation and relaxing curfews - could be "mitigated" by more surveillance and measures including bans on entering specific areas, he added.

But he would not say that MI5 and police forces can definitely eliminate any extra dangers.

Former Tory Home Secretary Lord Howard picked up on this point highlighting that the police were saying that extra surveillance and other security measures could mitigate but not eliminate any additional risk.

He also stressed that Home Secretary Theresa May is a member of a coalition - with the Liberal Democrats - and that the controversial policy had been developed following discussions in Government.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is opposing ditching the relocation powers which have been backed by MI5, the High Court and even Ms May earlier this year.

So far Ms May is sticking with her new plans with the Home Office saying: "National security is the primary duty of government and we will not put the public at risk."

But inevitably the Government risks opening itself up to claims of putting the interest of the coalition ahead of national security.

Nicholas Cecil

23 June 2011 9:09 AM

Poll: Olympics great for London but not so good for Londoners

Concerns of Londoners over travel disruption during the 2012 Olympics, and possibly disappointement at not getting tickets, have emerged in a new poll.

The YouGov study shows that 57 per cent of Londoners believe the 2012 Games will be good for London. Just 29 per cent disagree.

But 50 per cent do not back the statement: "Taking everything into account, the Olympic Games will be good for people like me." Just 28 per cent agree.

People are also becoming more sceptical over whether the Games will leave lasting good sporting facilities for years beyond 2012, improve the public transport system and encourage more British people to take up sport so as to improve the health of the nation.

No doubt, once the Olympics finally arrive, spirits, enjoyment and optimism over their legacy will be lifted by the sheer excitement of the Games.

Nicholas Cecil



09 June 2011 4:04 PM

Pickles's pie emporium

Eric Pickles has had a great wheeze to satisfy both the taxpayer and his appetite.

He's asked officials to investigate prospects for renting out the giant foyer of his ministerial HQ, Eland House, for a Waitrose or other chain store branch.

Perhaps the M&S food hall opposite is too far for him to walk for munchies.

This is the same area that Harriet Harman blew £2.4 million on a grand refit - including £4,000 each Parisian sofas and whacky green "peace pods" where civil servants are meant to meet in a tranquil environment or something like that.

The ground floor has floorspace worth around a million pounds a year in rents, according to valuations held at the Land Registry.And it's bang in the middle of the upmarket Cardinal Place development near Victoria Station.  Which means Pickles might well rake in a bundle of cash if Tesco move in.

And, finally, Harriet's peace pods might come to good use - as cosy nooks to scoff that ready meal you just bought for lunch.

Joe Murphy

17 May 2011 2:34 PM

An hour with Boris


Boris Johnson was on top form today in front of the Commons culture media and sport select committee.

He soundbit* his way through an hour's worth of questions about the Olympics, coming up with gems on the ticketing system ("a bit peculiar"), transport disruption ("business as unusual", "I don’t think people should flee the city"), the swimming pool ("I haven't ruled out a wave machine"), legacy company ("not a mayoral fiefdom) and possible Tube strikes ("very, very unlikely”).

But perhaps my favourite section came when he was asked about the timing of next year's mayoral election. Don't forget, Boris will be going head-to-head with his old foe Ken Livingstone in May, just weeks before the Games kick off.

As Tory MP Therese Coffey raised the matter, the Mayor's eyes lit up as he asked if she was suggesting it should be cancelled.

And he was then asked if he'd be happy to sit down with Ken to discuss post-election Olympic matters.

“I don’t think he sat down with me," Boris shot back. "I don’t remember being offered extensive briefings by him but I will consider it.”

Once the laughter died down he went on to say officials would provide all mayoral candidates with whatever information they needed. But the point had been made, and it gave a great preview of next year's colourful contest.

(Incidentally, throughout the session Boris was sat next to Neale Coleman, his 2012 advisor. My colleague Pippa Crerar points out that Coleman was a member of Ken's inner circle, the only survivor of the old City Hall regime.)

*I appreciate this is dubious English, but it somehow seemed like the right word.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse