After just over two weeks of surprisingly few lows and an enormous number of highs, the Olympics are over. Don’t be too sad though, as no sooner will you have got back to something approaching full speed at work again when the Paralympics kicks off in a few weeks.
In the lull between the two though, there’s a chance to catch our collective breath, and ask what lessons – if any – there are for
politics and politicians from London2012. Here are an initial five
1. We were a United Kingdom: Britain has its problems – too many to list here – and we face tough times as a country. We’re no longer one of the world’s great powers and our economy is a mess – which in turns exacerbates divisions in society. But for these two weeks we put the “Great” in Great Britain and the ”United” in “United Kingdom”. And if that sounds cheesy as hell, that’s because it is. But it was the worst nightmare of those who wish to create division in our country. When there is a positive, open and inclusive vision of Britain the British public responds. It was Nick Griffin’s nightmare. Good.
2. Twitter can end your career: Oh Aidan, your career was once so…well…it existed. Now you’ll be lucky to be an MP past 2015. Your attack on the Olympics achieved what not even your Nazi themed exploits in France could – made you a national figure, and probably ended your career. Few tears were shed.
3.There’s no such thing as a “plastic Brit”: Before the games, the Daily Mail whipped up synthetic outrage at so-called “plastic Brits” who were born overseas but competed for Team GB. That’s a term that was curiously omitted from write ups of victories for Bradley Wiggins and Mo Farah (amongst many others). Even Yamile Aldama – who faced a special level of pre games bile - gained her citizenship legitimately, has lived in Britain for 10 years, and suffered for her desire to represent Britain. The simple fact is that most Brits don’t really care where someone was born if they choose to stay here and become one of us. If you are willing to say, as Farah did, “Look mate, this is my country.” I’m not naive enough to think we’ve turned the corner on the treatment of immigrants (few of them will win gold medals – and therefore receive adulation – for a start), but perhaps we can now have a more intelligent debate about who is British and what being British means. (Also, have you ever tried to do a citizenship test? I have. I failed it. And I’m British born and bred.)
4. Britain loves volunteers: David Cameron was on to something with the Big Society. The British people are happy to volunteer their time and are proud of those who do so. Cameron’s mistake was to pair the Big Society with catastrophic cuts to the public sector, making it look like a cover for cuts. The loudest cheer and ovation at the closing ceremony was reserved for the games makers. And quite right. They made the Olympics happen. But they weren’t a substitute for paid workers, and might not have been happy to be so, if that’s what they thought they were being asked to do. Volunteering is important and worthwhile – not just a means to save money.
5. We are a country in search of heroes: The 21st century is the age of instant celebrity, so it was refreshing to see some appear during the games. I knew little of Gemma Gibbons or Jade Jones before the Olympics, but I cheered them through round after round of competition. But unlike the traditional instant celebrity (step forward reality TV), most of these athletes have dedicated their lives to reaching these heights. And we took them into our hearts. As David Bowie’s Heroes rang out in the different arenas as gold after gold was claimed, it was poignant - because that’s exactly what the British public were looking for. We all want heroes. People who were capable of the extraordinary. Our politics doesn’t provide much of that, which partially explains why Boris Johnson – a man who is certainly…extraordinary – had a good Olympics, even if what he actually achieves in his alleged day job as Mayor of London is remarkably pedestrian.