Having started off a sceptic, I was in the end as impressed and thrilled as the most ardent sports fan with the success of the British athletes at the Olympics. The way it all ran like clockwork, and the great good humour of volunteers and public alike, were perhaps even more moving than the sporting prowess on display. And it wasn’t just hype from within the London bubble; the city really did feel different. Social breakdown and everyday hostilities did, just for a while, seem to disappear.
But one of the reasons for my initial weariness started to make itself felt in the media at the beginning of the second week, after the gold medal successes of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford on so-called Super Saturday. Perhaps baffled by the sight of these champions wrapping themselves in the Union flag and standing earnestly to attention for “God Save the Queen”, the usual suspects in the left-liberal commentariat started to pump out a whole host of reasons as to what it all meant: how this showed a “new” type of post-imperial patriotism, how it was a glowing confirmation of the wonders of multiculturalism. Some of the more hysterically doctrinaire even took the opportunity to claim that their success vindicated years of mass immigration and that, should we bow to those ghastly right-wingers who voice concern over it, we would be denying ourselves for ever the possibility of future triumphs.
Apart from the fact that that last claim is arrant rubbish, this rush somehow to “own” the undoubted explosion in patriotic feeling also showed up the appalling hypocrisy and opportunism of the Left. For far from displaying the strength of its beloved multiculturalism, the popularity of anthem and flag among all our competitors and the hundreds of thousands of spectators, regardless of ethnicity and background, was a shining example of the need and desire for one overarching culture, one set of values and symbols that everybody could sign up to. If anything, the uninhibited way in which this happened was an outright rejection of multiculturalism which, if taken to its logical conclusion, would result in every different group demanding (and no doubt being granted) its own forms of separate representation.
Besides, the widespread notion that these games were somehow different and new so far as the ethnic make-up of the British team was concerned is an odd one. From John Conteh and Frank Bruno to Daley Thompson and Dame Kelly Holmes, non-white minorities have always had, in terms of population, a disproportionately high presence in sport.
The symbols of Britishness which loomed so large in these games — the anthem and the flag — are the very things on which the Left have waged a war over the past 40 years. It’s a war in which they have continually tried to recruit to their cause ethnic minorities in whom they have attempted, through culture, education and public policy-making, to instil a sense of victimhood and hostility.
So it is particularly nauseating to see their attempt to sidestep the fact that much of London was covered in red, white and blue last month, and to claim a cultural victory. This was not some “new” patriotism. It was simply the patriotism that has always been there, but which, having been effectively kept under lock and key, has this year had a real opportunity with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics to express itself.