Monday, 13 August 2012
The Olympic nature of the true Britain
So the Olympics are all over. Crikey. That was emotional, wasn't it? Eagle-eyed readers will remember that this blog set Team GB a target of between 56 and 60 medals to match the historic average of home games' improvement over previous Olympics, taking into account factors such as size of population and size of economy.
And they did it. The medal count stands at 65 - and the number of golds at an extraordinary 29. It was a high bar, but they cleared it. Well done, everyone. Pats on the back all round. Perhaps a gin and tonic or a half of lager. Super stuff. The Olympics' biggest winner? The athletes themselves, of course, whose hard work and dedication has paid off at last. I defy you to watch (for instance) this video of Jade Jones' Taekwondo celebrations (above) without cracking a smile. Have a look at the meaning of Gemma Gibbons' silver without wiping away a tear, and you're made of stone.
And the British Olympics' biggest loser? This is unquestionably someone who should have been basking in reflected glory from the Games: David Cameron. Not content with making a series of bizarre and embarrasing racially-charged gaffes about 'Indian dancing' as an unacceptable school sport, he then tried to highjack the moment by announcing that sport would be compulsory in primary schools. That would be the same primary schools, of course, that the Government has been promising to withdraw from in terms of setting down what must and musn't be learned. His very presence seemed to prevent Team GB winning any more medals, as the 'Curse of Cameron' took hold. He was booed at the boxing. He made a complete fool of himself pretending to like boxing on the television (much as his previous attempts to pretend to like football have been eye-wateringly fake).
Then he called for 'more competition, more competitiveness' in state schools - only to be rebuffed by Jessica Ennis herself, who insisted that it's important that children enjoy physical activity early on, rather than getting put off by failure. The Prime Minister had ignored so many facts that it's impossible to believe that he works through his briefs - or indeed that he even reads the newspapers. It emerged that the Government had been selling off playing-fields itself - though some of these were surplus to requirements at closed schools. His biggest Conservative rival, London Mayor Boris Johnson, chided him for abolishing the requirement to teach school sports in the first place. And most of all - most galling of all - the whole made-up argument about school sport, which has come on in leaps and bounds for the past two decades, under governments of both political parties, is just plain wrong. Who does Mr Cameron think has been winning all these victories? Yes, that's right: young men and women who've only been out of school for a handful of years at most, and out of primary school for between (say) ten and fifteen. Seventy per cent of whom went to state schools. I ask you: is it possible to get things any more wrong?
The abiding impression? The PM has gone into reactive mode, surfing day-by-day headlines rather than thinking about strategy, ominously early in his premiership. All partisanship aside, listen to Tony Blair on Britishness and the Olympics on Radio 4, and you hear a politician expressing himself in a much more clipped, focused, argumentative and about coherent way. At the moment the Prime Minister is adrift, and he knows it.
But I digress. The main thing to take away from these games is that Britain isn't changing: it's changed. Who won all these medals? State school pupils, as we've seen. Refugees like Mo Farah, who came to Britain at the age of eight and built a new life for himself. Women boxers - one in the eye for sexists everywhere.
All this despite a nasty and vituperative campaign against so-called 'Plastic Brits' mounted by The Daily Mail. Every single Brit born abroad they added together to get to a count of 61 - despite campaigning for lots of (white) Commonwealth citizens to get passports to compete in the past. They haven't kept up that barrage, by the way, and they've retreated in the face of the more inclusive patriotism that faces them now. Perhaps they've realised that far too many famous Brits were born abroad to mount any campaign at all that isn't just embarrassing and self-defeating. If so, good.
But remember this, the next time you open one of our hatemongering shout-sheets: Britain has just been covered in glory by young people, by immigrants and by refugees.
Broken Britain? Not a bit of it.