From the political party that gave us the expression ‘watermelon smiles’, during the Olympics we got ‘leftie multicultural crap’ tweeted by Aidan Burley MP – a contrary opinion of the praised-to-the-rooftops opening ceremony.
From the same end of the political spectrum came the Daily Mail’s expression ‘plastic Brits’, a snidey claim that many of the Team GB contenders are not truly British for being born overseas. Yet all three of these examples of what the right really thinks behind the window dressing of new faces shows how marginalised and out of step with public opinion they are.
In London of all places barely anyone can truly claim to be indigenously from the capital. Multiculturalism has enhanced this and all our major cities are redefining Britishness. We now have a new inclusivity, rather than a backward-looking Powellite notion of a monocultural UK.
As the Financial Times has argued, ‘plastic Brits’ come in many shapes and sizes – from Prince Philip to Mo Farah – and have massively contributed to the success not just of London, but Britain. Furthermore, most of these athletes were at school under New Labour, with no recollection of the Atlanta games in 1996 where Team GB amassed a total of just one gold medal, cementing the idea that Britain invents sports but is doomed to failure at them.
Public opinion has not been static on the Olympics. The Games-induced feel-good factor in the UK was no overnight phenomenon. Instead, we saw a gradual erosion of what had once been a climate of suspicion and mistrust towards this £9bn taxpayer-funded shindig.
First, was the tremendous goodwill displayed at the torch relay ceremonies that touched every far-flung corner of the UK, delighting hardened urban folk and country cousins alike. Then, the opening ceremony, with a nod to the NHS and the medal-winning tally that surpassed all expectations. The Mogadishu-born Mo Farah, Andy Murray reversing his Wimbledon defeat, mixed-race Jessica Ennis. Chris Hoy and Murray among others, as Gordon Brown reminded us, make a powerful case against Scottish independence. It’s not just a platitude, but we really are stronger together.
I only started tweeting during the week of the opening ceremony but I’ve learnt a lot. It’s been a good news story and win-win for Britain and the local area. Following the feed of Charlie Brooker, for example, has been proof, if proof were needed, that even the most hardened of cynics ended up melting amid Olympic fever.
The juggernaut begun by Tony Blair, Tessa Jowell and Ken Livingstone became unstoppable. Our run of success and the fact we pulled it off has turned attitudes around. Let’s keep up momentum for the Paralympics.
This is one case where Progress members will have no objection if the the anti-Indian dancing David Cameron and watermelon-smiling Boris Johnson do their usual ‘inherited from Labour’ mantra.
Rupa Huq is senior lecturer in sociology at Kingston University. She tweets @RupaHuq
Photo: Department for Culture, Media and Sport
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