So the curtain has closed on what must surely be celebrated as one of the greatest ever Olympic Games. Lord Coe told the world “we did it right” and even hardened Games-Scrooges and doubters are looking just a little sheepish. But, this has been a Games where people have been centre stage…and not just on the track.
The list of individual and collective achievements is awe-inspiring. The 29 Golds and 65 medals, the partnership between public and private sectors to deliver the amazing setting and the thousands upon thousands of volunteers have created a feeling of euphoria which no one dared anticipate.
The media narrative has completely changed too, celebrating people it was castigating days before. From Mo Farah the Somali immigrant turned double Olympic Champion to the thousands of Games Makers and volunteers. Many of those who volunteered are unemployed and using the opportunity to get valued experience and receiving plaudits from across the world.
For the past 2 years the Government have pushed a narrative about social responsibility and the ‘something for something’ culture which at first glance appears to resonate with the idea of a wider vision for community volunteering and activism. But it is not our ability and work ethic that has fundamentally changed in these magical two weeks. It is our attitudes to one another.
In this light it is easy to see why Cameron’s Big Society vision has so far failed. Aside from the cuts to local authority budgets which has decimated funding for local third sector provision it is simply that by castigating and vilifying people and feeding stories in the right wing press on scroungers, layabouts and lazy public servants the Government has hitherto contributed to a national mood of selfishness and individualism. In such a climate it is impossible to garner the good will and commitment to deliver positive change.
The Olympic Games has somehow managed to wipe away that gloom and antipathy. The spotlight has been firmly on the UK and the British people have reflected a warm glow right back.
I hope that we can hold onto that collectivism and sense of community that has been created in the last few weeks. There is nothing wrong-headed about the Tory Big Society idea. Their mistake has been to over-politicise it and confuse the message and to fail to recognise that the way to achieve a better society is through opportunity and skills and investing in people. Britain is soaring on an Olympic wave right now, bring on the Paralympics.