Why Birmingham put on a massive show for CWG
The reason is Birmingham’s wish to shed the title of Britain’s Second City.
On Thursday, Birmingham – described as Britain’s second city – mounted a spectacular launch of the Commonwealth Games. It was intended to match the sensational London opening of the 2012 Olympic Games. But why should Birmingham have gone to such extremes to rival the opening of an event which cannot possibly be compared in importance to the Olympics – one covering the globe, the other just the remains of the British Empire?
The Games were opened by Queen Elizabeth II’s son Charles, reading a message from her. This year was the Queen’s Year with Britain celebrating the Platinum Jubilee of her ascending the throne at the young age of 25. It has been a sad period for the Queen, too, with the death of her husband, Prince Philip, in 2021. It is known that the Commonwealth is particularly dear to her and that she was delighted when members agreed that Prince Charles should eventually succeed her.
But can the role of the British monarch – or her personal feelings for links long broken – be a justification for giving the Commonwealth Games the importance that Birmingham is giving to it? I suppose the answer depends on the extent of affection for monarchism among the Commonwealth’s various members. Certainly, the British participation in the Jubilee celebrations indicates that the Queen, and all she stands for, matter to many. Can the same be said for Australia and Australians on the other side of the world with their memories of what brought many of their forefathers to travel that far?
I don’t want to get bogged down in the debate on the Commonwealth. Suffice it to say that I am a monarchist. Looking around the world, I see no reason for preferring presidents appointed by voters or other less worthy men to kings, queens, princes or princesses.
I do believe there is another reason for Birmingham wanting to demonstrate it can put on just as good a show as London did, or perhaps an even better show. The reason is Birmingham’s wish to shed the title of Britain’s Second City. The people of Birmingham want to demonstrate they can do just as well as London. The motor industry used to be proud of its Birmingham roots, but now it has diminished in size, and many of the remnants have moved to other parts of Britain. In sports, it lacks a global team such as London’s Chelsea, the two Manchester clubs, or Liverpool. Local people are fed up with being described as “godawful” or being voted as speaking with the worst accent in Britain.
Birmingham has a long list of achievements. For instance, the museum and art gallery have the largest public Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world. Musically, the city has produced three world-beating bands. Scientifically, leaders of the Birmingham Lunar Society included James Watt, whose steam engine powered the Industrial Revolution. But Birmingham has suffered from the modern revolution, which has centred development in capital cities and led to their gross over-development, making sure that the capital becomes the number one city in any country.
India suffers severely from this complaint. Because of its federalism, every state has a capital and the National Capital Region has developed into the world’s second-largest urban area. Tokyo is the largest. The problem with the development of these mega capitals is that they attract leaders and suck up investment funds, somehow bypassing planning regulations and other attempts to curb their growth. In India, Kolkata is a classic example of the damage caused by this tendency. Once the second city of the Raj, Kolkata now is starved of industry and almost all the multinationals have either gone elsewhere or disappeared. Only ITC Limited remains. It has, somehow, become the exception, which proves the rule It has managed to stay on, diversifying and growing. It is only to be hoped that this government’s new cities will reverse this capital growth and make for an even spread of urban development.
The views expressed are personal