Tuesday 14 August 2012

Can we keep up that Olympic spirit? Yes, we can

I am writing this week’s column with a post-Olympics hangover – so for once, perhaps, find myself in tune with the spirit of the nation.

Just as all those bills roll in after Christmas, we are surely about to wake up to the fact that the economy is still contracting and the Government that is meant to be sorting it out is riven by deep ideological divisions, exacerbated by disagreement on such burning issues as who should sit in the House of Lords.

Meanwhile we are about to demonstrate our gratitude to those charming soldiers who stepped in at short notice to handle security so capably by handing many of them not medals, but P45s.

And all this before we begin to ponder what exactly we are supposed to do with world class facilities like a Velodrome when there isn’t an Olympics to be hosted.

Nevertheless, I shall miss the Games, despite my total lack of interest in sport. They clearly made so many people very happy.

I enjoyed the “buzz” of collective satisfaction and the sense of community that led a bright-eyed, black-tied stranger to approach me after the country house opera I saw on Saturday night to inform me that “we” had won another two gold medals.

Even though my own contribution to “our” Olympic success, in reality, has been restricted to buying the Lottery tickets that have helped to fund so much of Britain’s sporting renaissance, and which should be remembered as one positive legacy of the much derided government of John Major.

Attaining political consciousness in the late 1960s, it always seemed to me that key to Britain’s undoubted sense of failure at the time was a simple lack of self-confidence. We were still turning out world-beating inventions, but the combination of inept management, bloody-minded unions and feeble government meant that we seemed completely unable to translate these into economic success.

Meanwhile those pesky Continentals we had helped to flatten in the war were clearly doing much better than we were. It is not hard to understand why we were ready to turn our backs on our natural friends and allies in the Commonwealth and throw in our lot with what was then billed as the Common Market.

If EU fanatics had their way, we would never know how well Great Britain’s athletes have just performed in London because they would have marched out as part of a single European team under the EU flag.

On the Continent, newspapers have been pointing out that the EU collectively trounced the US and China, with Germany’s Die Welt noting that Europe is “doing pretty well for a continent in decline”.

But so too have the Commonwealth realms of Queen Elizabeth II, with Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Canada, the Bahamas and Grenada together bagging a total of 145 medals, including 48 golds.

Call me old fashioned, but I always find that I have more in common with those people with whom we share a head of state, language and laws than with those who have been our enemies for centuries, but just happen to live next door.

I know that Bob the Builder’s “yes we can” slogan has been somewhat devalued through its adoption by Barack Obama, who has demonstrated that he can’t to such an extent that Mitt Romney is apparently in with a serious chance of winning the US presidency.

But, even so, the best Olympic legacy for Britain would surely be retain that sense of “yes we can” take on the whole world and win. Let us broaden our horizons, hold on to our recovered self-confidence and keep remembering that we are right up there with the very best on the planet.

Now all we need is some genuine leaders capable of harnessing that feeling, rather than focusing on the detail of ensuring more hours of PE in primary schools while timidly kow-towing on the big issues to the whims of our neighbours, who so rarely have our best interests at heart.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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