What a difference eight years makes. That was the thought following a recent visit to the London Stadium to report on the West Ham football match with Watford.

No fans in the ground, an eerie atmosphere, with the players' shouts and the journalists' commentaries the only things breaking the silence.

What a contrast to the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, when the same stadium played host to the opening ceremony. It was one of those strange quirks of fate that a rerun of that ceremony was on the TV, the same night as that football match.

The opening ceremony was a masterpiece from film director Danny Boyle and his team, showing the many different aspects of the UK. There was the history of the industrial revolution, the factory towers reaching up into the night sky, the tribute to the NHS and the Windrush generation.

Then Prime Minister David Cameron enjoyed the experience, as did then Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Who would have thought then that eight years later the man who dangled precariously from a zip wire would later become Prime Minister?

Few would have thought that many of the same ministers who sat in the stadium that night would oversee the disgraceful hostile environment policy directed at the Windrush generation.

London was a multicultural joy for those few weeks of the Olympics. People from across the world came in to watch and compete at the games. No divisions, just a celebration of the great sporting event that is the Olympics.

So what else has happened since that time? Well, David Cameron gave out his first referendum to Scotland. Two years later, the Scots narrowly rejected the idea of breaking away from the Union. A year after that, the fateful EU referendum took place, splitting the country in two. The remain side, ineffectively led by Cameron, lost. He resigned, to be replaced by the architect of the hostile environment Theresa May. Three more painful years passed as May repeatedly brought her exit deal to Parliament and saw it rejected.

Finally, the man from the zip wire became Prime Minister. He illegally prorogued Parliament before going to the country with his message to get Brexit done. He won an 80-seat majority to carry out that policy. The UK exited the EU on January 31, staring into the abyss of international isolation.

The Scottish National Party wants another referendum, given extra impetus by the fact that Scotland voted to stay in the EU. Ireland too is edging toward unity, courtesy of Brexit – something that 30 years of conflict failed to achieve.

Then, along came the coronavirus pandemic. The Government was slow to react to the impending crisis. It failed to prepare, to get the required personal protection equipment in place, especially for the NHS and care workers. It also failed to get the test and trace system up and running in time to get a grips on where and how the pandemic was developing.

The NHS workers celebrated back in 2012 once again rose heroically to the challenge, many giving their own lives to save others. Care workers similarly rose to the challenge. And many others, from the emergency services to retail staff, went above and beyond to keep us all safe. The response of the people to the challenge of the pandemic was indeed another of our finest hours.

Looking back though, it is difficult not to see the last decade as a case of lions led by donkeys – a phrase first adopted in relation to the inept leading officers of the First World War.

The record is damning, those who sat grinning out on that warm July evening of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics have a lot to answer for regarding their stewardship – where there was once harmony, they have sown discord and division.

Let’s hope that something positive can come out of the tragedy of this pandemic – some responsible leadership that rewards those who have contributed most to the common good. Some leadership that brings unity not division to our land. We certainly all deserve better than the past eight years has produced.

  • Paul Donovan is a Redbridge Labour councillor for Wanstead village and blogger. See paulfdonovan.blogspot.com.