Anyone British who watched the opening ceremony for the London Olympics could not fail to understand what it was saying. It was a celebration of – among other things – work, industry, the NHS, and of the breadth of our culture, from symphony orchestras to TV soaps. It was also a celebration of Britain, of our nation, of our one nation.
As the wonderful athletes got going and the medals began rolling in, it was Team GB that won them. It is hard to think of a more perfect rebuff to petty-minded micro-chauvinists like Alex Salmond: Scots, Welsh, English united by one flag. Except, of course, in football, where the Scottish FA declined to contribute. Their loss.
It was hard, too, to think of a more perfect contrast to the naked commercialism and disregard for the people of London and Britain that characterised the run-up to the Games. We the people were shut out from almost everything: virtually no jobs for local people building the stadia; too few tickets on general sale; the military taking over blocks of flats to site surface-to-air missiles; the Zil lanes for the Olympic “family” (and what an extended family that one is) and the bloated corporate sponsors.
They even re-routed the Marathon so no one would have their TV screens soiled by glimpses of East London. Londoners have had their city hijacked. You couldn’t buy any British beer in the Olympic venues, leave alone London Pride (whose pumps were ripped out of Lords for the archery events), because Heineken was the Olympic sponsor. Time for a boycott there.
The only thing really left to the people was the bill. Nine billion pounds and counting. We will be paying for these Games for decades to come. Cameron had the nerve to say that the project came in on budget! True, but it wasn’t the original budget, nor the second one.
With the Paralympics ending, it will all be back to normal, they hope. The Olympic Park will be shut and “repurposed”, with the housing stock and sites for new housing sold off to Qatar. Tough luck for the original inhabitants of the Park, displaced around the wilds of outer East London and Essex.
The Olympics also turned a bright spotlight on plans to enable the selling of yet more school playing fields, exposing the government’s lies.
And yet it was a great party, a party of and for Britain (with the hangover to come). Andy Murray singing (some of) the national anthem at Wimbledon. Chris Hoy and Mo Farah wrapped in the flag.
For so long anyone in the labour movement talking about Britain has been called, somewhat oddly, a “little Englander”. Governments, Labour and other, keen to invite in foreign corporations and low-paid migrant labour, have sneered at the very concept of Britain. The ultra-left have denigrated support for Britain, for our country, our place, our home, as on a par with support for the extreme right.
So if one result of the Games is that Britain is once again back on the national agenda – and back on the agenda of some trade unions as well – then that will be a result to savour. ■