“Just think about the Olympics and Paralympics games. It (sic) was a triumph for Britain. And why did we succeed? We succeeded because of our outstanding athletes from Zara Phillips the granddaughter of a parachuting queen, to a boy from Somalia called Mo Farah. Mo Farah. A true Brit. And a true hero for our country.
“We succeeded because of the outstanding volunteers, the Games Makers who are here with us today, all 70,000 Games makers. They put a mirror up to Britain and showed us the best of ourselves.” Ed Miliband in his widely acclaimed speech to the 2012 Labour party Conference in England.
Wouldn't you know it? Every politician, it seems, wants to mention the Olympics like they were some magical time in British History. A time that changed everything. And yes, to be fair, they were, largely, a success, although outside London they had little effect and even inside London some of the effects were rather negative. Many shops and hotels have had a disastrous summer and there are disgruntled taxi drivers, homeowners who objected to having ground-to-air missiles on their roofs, small shopkeepers who had to stay at work till 3 in the morning to accept goods which couldn't be delivered during the day...etc.
But, overall a success, no doubt. And because they were a success, it seems that every political party wants some of the glitter to rub off on them. And so every time they are mentioned, they seem to take on new and magical proportions of greatness.
The organisers put on a great show. It ran wildly over budget, had a fair number of setbacks (remember that they was virtually no security in place only 10 days before the opening night; there were thousands of empty seats and thousands of disappointed would-be spectators ), but in the end they succeeded nicely for many reasons, not least because no matter what it cost it HAD to be a success. Cameron was counting on it.
Most of us had absolutely nothing to do with it. We went to work and came home and lived our lives completely normally during it. Some of us watched the Games on tv, but we'd have done that if it had been held in Ulan Bator. GB won loads of medals... but with home advantage it was always going to do well.
It doesn't actually prove anything at all about Brits, except that given an unlimited amount of money, they can put on a show.
There was no real need to stage Olympic Games at costs of between £20 and £30 billion to prove that. A look at William's wedding, the Queen Mother’s funeral, Trooping the Colour or the state opening of Westminster’s parliament would have shown that. it was just bigger, and more expensive.
And Olympians are not heroes, Ed. Olympians work and train very hard at something that they love doing. It entirely admirable, but it is sport. Sport, Ed. It’s not fighting the Taliban or operating on accident victims. It’s not diving into icy waters to save a kid from drowning. It’s sport. Mo Farah is, I'm sure, a great guy, but he is not a hero. Paralympians are doing this out of choice too. There are some incredibly courageous people who conquer all sorts of disabilities, but they really aren't heros. There were probably some real heroes in the guys who in the end had to give up their leave to provide security for the Games after the useless muppets employed to provide security fell down catastrophically on the job. Like Gordon Brown before you, you demean their bravery by comparing them to people running round a track.
And while we are on the subject, you do realise, don’t you, that the Queen didn't actually parachute in to the Olympics? She's 86. She came in the car, like she always does. And with respect to Zara, she was a bad choice for your example. She's not one of us. She can spend her days training, with the best horses money can buy, exactly because, as you mention, she is the Queen's granddaughter. She's not fitting training in between two jobs. Actually, as a Labour leader you might want to give some serious thought to the high proportion of athletes that have privileged backgrounds...
Apparently, then, the volunteers made the Olympics (besides the heroic athletes). They put up a mirror to Britain and showed us the best of ourselves. It is fair though to mention that had they been holding that same mirror a year before they might have reflected something rather different. So let’s not get smug. The best was always there, and the worst is still there.
So, politicians, I'm not trying to rain on this parade. it was good; it went reasonably well. By all means be pleased; mention it in your speeches if you will, but stop making it into something it wasn't and basking in the attendant reflected glory.