Five lessons for Labour (and politicians in general) from the Olympics

13th August, 2012 10:59 am

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.

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  •  Yes Mark. The Big Society IS Labour! With public sector support rather than cuts. But the Big Society is a big part of the One Nation Labour we need.

    •  No the Great Society and the Welfare State is Labour not this return to Victorian Paternalism.

      • treborc

        Seems Major was right about returning to the Victorians, we all remember Labour and the Tories talking about churches giving out benefits, alms anyone.

  • John Dore

    I really have to concur with points 1 & 2. I’m amazed that the Mail hasn’t been taken to court. IMHO I think it whips up racial hatred by the stories it chooses to run. There was no merit in this story. Earlier last week, in the pub I heard a conversation about how Mo wasn’t British and it reduced me to deep sadness. I thought about that conversation as I listened to the story of Mo’s PE teacher on the radio on Saturday. How people can be so nasty is beyond me.

    What is absolutely brilliant are the comments on the article, the faceless author who wrote the article is comprehensively debunked and the number of likes and dislikes that support them.

    • Terryweldon

      The Daily Rail conveniently chooses to forget , when banging on about plastic Brits, about Zola Budd. This was the (white) South African who they successfully campaigned to be given British citizenship in the days of apartheid, to enable her to represent us in the Olympics. The relevant word here being white.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    I am completely in agreement with Mark’s points.  It has been a fantastic fortnight for Great Britain, not only in the medal results, but in show-casing to the world what a great country we actually are, and hopefully in leaving a lasting legacy to our children.

    I would hope that Labour and the tories can put aside party politics on this, and jointly enjoy and celebrate the moment.  Labour should take great credit for winning for London the Games, and be justly proud of the legacy in infrastructure and hope that is left to east London, as well as more generally for young people.  Equally, the tories can rightly be proud of the detailed organisation and execution in the last two weeks.

    I would hope there are four “winners”:  the Olympic movement itself, the children of Britain, the people of Britain, and the sportsmen and women of Britain.  This seems above politics to me.

  • Dave Postles

    Please put on your walking shoes.

  • Anne Layzell

    Point 4:  David Cameron wasn’t so much on to something with the Big Society – rather, he was catching up with something that’s existed for years.  And volunteering definitely isn’t cost free – it needs support and organisation.  The contribution of the Games Makers and London Ambassadors has been extraordinary – London 2012 was a one off and highly attractive magnet for many people who’ve never volunteered before; time will tell if they can be ‘converted’ into longer term volunteering commitments.   I fear there won’t be the resources needed to identify or create enough varied and attractive volunteering opportunities to keep them on board.

  • JoeDM

    And congratulate Seb Coe and his team for a magnificent example of large-scale project management.

    • PeterBarnard

      I’ll agree with that, JoeDM (“project management”).

      It was very impressive. One particular item that caught my eye was commissioning a composer to reduce all the national anthems to just one minute, and then record them with one of the London symphony orchestras.

      • Quiet_Sceptic

        Yes but a key part of project management is the management of costs, the original budget projection for London 2012 was £2.4bn, it actually came in at over £9bn

        Success like that would be fatal for many companies and organisations.

        • PeterBarnard

          That is true, QS (“management of costs”). I don’t know who was responsible for the original £2.4 bn estimate, and its subsequent elevations to £3.9 bn (I think) and the current £9.3 bn (which has had a few questions thrown at it).

  • Mr Chippy

    1) I hope we will not now be embarassed by trade unions as they are very much big society.

    2)  On Boris I just don’t understand the appeal so cannot comment.

    3) Please no big tent multi-party drive on legacy. We need the politicians to keep the hell out. Let legacy be driven by the people and the politicians can allocate the resources or suffer the electoral consequences. 

  • uglyfatbloke

    But what about the majority of us…the ones who did n’t want the damned PE festival in he first place but have been graciously allowed to pay for a jamboree for rich athletes and politicians?

    • Chilbaldi

       you’re in the minority, sorry mate.

      •  Actually I agree with the fatbloke I didn’t want my money going on yet more sport for a vocal minority who like all motivated factions impose their will on the majority through the media. As for volunteering I have done so in three Norwich schools and in each I was treated with suspicion and hostility by teachers and teaching assistants, despite the fact I had a new CRB. I tired to help and was told to go away.

        • Mickelmas

          Ever thought of asking yourself why you were told to “go away”?

        • treborc

           Your CRB does not carry to three schools unless you register with your education or council, they will then hold your CRB which if your working with children must be advanced.

          You must contact your councils sport and recreation, they will then put you in touch with schools, of course a CRB is useless unless you have some other qualification like a community sports certificate.

          But schools do not always need anyone, for example the six weeks schools holidays they are looking for people for the summer sports clubs, but knocking on schools doors will get you nowhere.

    • Robertcp

      I think that you are probably in a minority now.

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      There is always a miserabilist if you look closely.

      After the contribution by National Lottery players of £2.2 billion, the Olympics cost us all £102 per person over the last 7 years since London was awarded the Games.  That is £14.69 a British person per year.

      To put that into context, the £9.2 billion cost is less than half of the national loss made by the maniac from Fife who sold our gold and bought the nonsense Euros, and he did not ask you or I if we approved of that, did he?

      And nor did hundreds of millions of global citizens look at our country for two weeks during the gold selling process and think “that’s a great place”, and nor did the sale of gold leave any form of legacy.

      • Given that Tony Blair was PM at the time and the sale was pre-announced, why do you think Blair didn’t halt the sale?

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          He was frightened of Gordon who demanded an iron grip on all financial decisions.  I thought that was reasonably well established?

          The sale had to be pre-announced under rules in place.  Of course, the pre-announcement caused a further drop in gold prices – looking at the spreadsheet I keep on gold prices (this has its’ own tab called “Brown’s Folly”) it was 2.24%, but that is the only element I am prepared to concede as not being the maniac’s personal fault.

          • But this was initiated in the early days, 98 onwards, before the relationship turned sour. I wonder about this because you have previously written admiringly of Tony Blair, yet Blair knew all about the sale and could have halted it.

            You characterise this as the work of a “maniac from Fife” operating beyond the bounds of reason but, in view of the abandonment of reason in relation to other events, I’m not convinced that the mania was as geographically limited as you suggest.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas


            to my mind Blair’s great fault was his inability – or unwillingness – to sack Gordon Brown.  This to me caused greater national damage than anything else throughout the 2000s, including the Iraq War (I could certainly explain that thought of mine, and would take several paragraphs, but it is hugely off this topic and not probably informative to it).

            The formal report into the decision is interesting.  It finds that the decision to sell was not supported at all by the Treasury Civil Servants, and that there was some rancour between Minister (GB) and civil servants when they refused to support his judgement that the sale was wise***.  In the event, the final decision was taken following a “political” meeting late one evening of Brown, Balls and Vadera, and the summary of which was never written.

            *** Tob be fair to GB, which I hate to do but should be done, he categorised the disagreement as being between hidebound old thinking (civil service) and his approach of being modern and agile (he thought), rather than of an economic basis and forecast.

          • Perhaps it never occurred to Blair to sack Brown. Or, more likely, perhaps Blair’s grip on reality was so tenuous he habitually confused reality with subjective interpretation.

            Can’t help recalling Bob Marshall-Andrews’ (fondly remembered ex-Labour MP) explication: Blair is the psychotic who believes that two and two is five. Brown is the neurotic knows two and two is four but hates it.

          • Alan Giles

             Good morning Dave. If only will still had honest, independent-minded MPs like Bob Marshall-Andrews: but it seems we are destined to have bright eager twenty-somethings with their “three bags full, sir” attitude determined to make it in their first term in Parliament.

            As for Blair not sacking Brown – a couple of other names from the time come back – Derek Draper and Charlie Wheelan, fighting like ferrets in a sack to make sure “their” man – Blair and Brown got the headlines.

            I have often wondered why Blair was so frightend of certain people – Mandelson and Brown in particular.

          • Hi Alan. Yes, independently minded Bob was one of the best. And his political acumen was widely acknowledged which is why his vote held up against the trend.

            I suspect there’ll be a few more electoral upsets if Labour can’t produce candidates of similar character and principle, who are able to easily connect with the electorate.

            Bob’s memoir ‘Off Message’ is well worth a read.

          • treborc

            For the life of me I cannot see Blair will all his Progress followers being scared of Brown.

          • derek

            Your kind of forgetting what the labour party had to inherit come 1997, failing schools falling down around the pupils heads, a lost generation of workers, thrown on to the dole queues, under paid workers struggling to make ends meet.There wasn’t a purple patch in the entire 18 years of the last tory government and the child of our time then, was only going to receive a UB40 , deep S**** needed a deep solution and the precious metal  was only a material.Olympic stars are pretty much likes the winning golfer, your only as good as your last shot and come 2016 very few 2012 faces will grace our memories.You talk about Brown’s lost 9Bn, Yet fail to see all those new shiny buildings and ignore Osborne’s lost 58Bn? while the public sector is dismantled?

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            You are “kind of forgetting” that he did not have to sell our gold at all, especially when the advice was to not sell it, doubly so since he only took a very short term view of the value of gold, and then, guess what? It turned out to be a disastrous decision.  This is about the best result – a disaster – that could be expected for this fool.

            It would have been a lot better for Britain if the 13 years of Labour had seen this man kept in a dark corner with his arms firmly secured behind his back.  Do you want me to say 10p tax?  Or PFI?  (Don’t reply “John Major” to PFI, because then I will come back and demonstrate that the rate of PFI went off the Major scale under this man).

            Let us not forget that he believes that he saved the world. This is lunacy of a grand order.

          • derek

            Broken Britain needed fixing and just like the mortgage adventure PFI was the only game in town, so the building of new hospitals and schools were essentially required, where it falls down is Blair’s attachment of new wave management and re- internal structuring.

            It’s not even close to lucid, too suggest that Gold should be the currency of the world.The idea that one should hall a dead weight of Gold to the nearest car dealer and exchange it for a new motor is woefully idiotic.

            Even today! the only sensible solution to this world wide crash is as GB has said, the world must work together or sink as one. China can manufacture all it likes but if there is no one to buy the goods then the process is futile.

            Your balanced budget approach is the thin edge of the line and you walk the line often, I guess your shoulders are broad enough to carry the weight of responsibility, so your thin line walk means Billions would perish under the balanced approach you recommend.  

          • Derek

            It’s worse than that.

            If you borrow gold backed money to buy a house you are essentially burying the gold under your house and then digging it up again during the life of the loan.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Chris, that’s the definition of a loan.  It does not matter if the currency is backed by gold, bananas, or thin air.  You borrow a lot, and pay it back in stages.

            Incidentally, I know you only drop in on LL every month or so – this business with Standard Chartered and the Iranian transactions and the US sanctions.  Not for a moment would I think you were involved, as you are decent and I am sure honourable, and indeed sadly uncompensated for your efforts with the bourse.  But was there any sniff that you smelled at the time?  The whole thing smells very suspect to me.  Are we about to see another great banking scandal?

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Derek,  you should calm down a bit.

            Firstly, where do you think I said that gold should be the “currency of the world”?  Read my words again – you will find that I don’t.  So please, less with the accusations of not being lucid or of being idiotic.

            The only thing gold is useful for is being a yardstick by which the stupid government is destroying the currently issued fiat money.  Don’t forget that in history, the average fiat currency lasts for 71 years before it is debased into uselessness.

            Secondly (and in relation to your other comment just above), would you like to pick up the bill for this over-spending that you feel is so unimportant?  After all, if the over-spending is so unimportant, and the need so obvious to human society, you won’t mind paying an awful lot of tax.  Or maybe if the £257 billion is a little expensive to pay in one go, you can load it onto your grandchildren and other people, just like most leftists do not mind doing.  It’s very easy to spend other people’s money.

          • derek

            In the great shape of things, it doesn’t matter a jot Jaime whether he spent £257 billion or £570 billion because human society judges correctly that we didn’t spend enough.

      • PeterBarnard

        That’s not “context,” Jaime … it’s your paranoia about the “maniac from Fife” and, no matter what the subject of the LL article, another example of your constant determination to introduce a hugely negative comment about Mr Brown.

        It can become a little tiring, y’know …

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          Good morning Peter,

          Oh, I think Mr Brown’s many foolishnesses with our nation’s money are worthy of repetition to ensure that no one forgets the full horror of his stupidity with our futures.

          But out of respect for you (truly), maybe I should rephrase the context in a special Olympics celebration.  The cost of the Olympics is less than one year of the insane DFID budget that was originally set up by Tony Blair as a national vanity project to reflect his view of himself as a great modernising internationalist, and now even more insanely maintained by Cameron without cuts at all.

          There – a dig at both St Blair and the tory frog.  Have I demonstrated with this my ability to loath not just the maniac from Fife, but other politicians as well who waste our children’s money without asking them?

          (I find myself with a full week of not being at work due to taking holiday to look after the children – this is normal for many millions of people, but, gosh, are these school holidays not very long indeed!)

  • Mickelmas

    The overwhelming success of London 2012 has come as a shock to many. Even by mid-July opinion polls were indicating a popular consensus that Team GB would not be as successful as the great medal tally of Beijing. Why, then, did the nation experience such a shift in belief and support? One might argue it started with the first GB successes in cycling but I believe it began much earlier – when the Olympic torch landed in the UK. It was then that people could see and experience at first-hand the hopes and expectations for Team GB and have the unique opportunity to applaud the bravery and dedication of  hundreds of torch-bearers. That seed of positive popular support for individual endeavour was in stark contrast to the overwhelming negative press from the media in the run-up to the Games. The BBC’s Adrian Warner, for example, should have been labelled as the “anti-Olympics correspondent” for his endless stream of miserably negative reports (strangely, his reports became more positive, but still dull, after the 2010 General election!).
    My belief is that most of the population had been opiated by our media into an acceptance that our ‘failures’ were the consequence of  ‘national incompetence’ (not helped, of course, by the economic blunders of this Tory-led government and their repeated insistence that the public brought the crisis on themselves and must now pay the price with austerity). That lie was disproved by the happy combination of generous central government (Labour) funding, generous but well-managed financial support for the athletes, a pool of world-class coaches, a group of committed and dedicated athletes, a superbly managed LOCOG (pity about the closing ceremony) and a nation able to dismiss the negativity and lies of  journalists and rejoice in the belief of our abilities.


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