Updating the provinces: Britain's infrastructural shortcomings
So £41 million is to be spent on the opening and closing ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics. There's been criticism among athletes aghast at what they perceive as a frivolous waste of money. Add this figure to the estimated £17 billion that will be spent in total on the Games and you've got yourself a pretty expensive jewel to show to the world that, yes, Britain is, in fact, still 'Great'.
But is it? Look beyond the shiny stadia, the polished London streets and the glitzy ceremonies that will in no way patronise poorer countries or our own athletes drawn from 'disadvantaged' backgrounds, and you'll see a country that at best looks like a Tesco shareholder's wet dream, and at worst like a third world country.
London, for all its wealth and ability to suck in people and funding from all corners of the country, is rather shoddy in parts. The Underground network – so pioneering in its time – heaves under its own weight, its carriages full to bursting, its stations close to collapsing and its efficiency about as timely as an Easter Egg in December.
Elsewhere, Britain's core cities are (crumbling) streets behind equivalent cities in Scandinavia, Germany, France and Spain. Take Birmingham for example. A city of 1.2 million people, it has no underground rail network to speak of, and a barely passable tram network serving only some of the western parts of the city (although the proposed Birmingham Gateway – a £400 million reconstruction of the famous old New Street Station – will finally deliver a railway hub the city can be proud of).
Compare this to Hamburg (pop. 1.3 million), Barcelona (pop. 1.2 million) and Marseille (pop. 870,000), which all have extensive and efficient Metro systems, and Birmingham is immediately and irreversibly put at a disadvantage.
Manchester fares little better, while Glasgow's underground Metro is just one line, and hasn't been expanded since its creation more than 100 years ago.
Of course, The UK is more densely populated than Europe's other large countries and so faces greater logistical challenges, but travel through continental Europe's cities and it becomes immediately clear that London is the only British city that has a transport infrastructure that can compete.
London, for all the good it brings to the UK, is effectively hindering its provincial cousins by being too big. Germany, on the other hand, (either through foresight, serendipity or relatively-recent political necessity) has its financial centre in Frankfurt, its big industry in Munich and Bremen, and its government in the capital, Berlin.
For the UK, London does everything. The BBC's decision to relocate to Manchester's new Media City is welcomed, as was the decision to build the National Indoor Arena (NIA) and NEC (National Exhibition Centre) in Birmingham.
But more needs to be done. Foreign eyes need to look across the Channel and see not just London and a jubilant Boris Johnson, but the silver glowing discs of Birmingham's Bullring; the gleaming bridges of Newcastle; the creative vibrancy of Bristol and the media outpourings of Manchester.
It can be done – Britain has the resources, wherewithal and expertise to bring its core cities up to European standard, but does it have the will? For this to happen, London is going to have to take more of a back seat.
Maybe – once the last firework from 2012's Olympics closing ceremony comes tumbling down to earth on a dark side street in East London – it will...