The British have found a story about themselves that suits their reduced circumstancesby David Goodhart / August 15, 2012 / Leave a comment
I was on a deadline throughout the Olympic games. I was rushing to finish the first draft of a book that is partly about national identity. So my work schedule had to compete both with my desire to follow the astonishing success of Team GB and to observe the national mood.
One thing I did forgo in the interests of my deadline was reading the newspapers. And having just worked through a big pile of them I can report that much of the commentary that even a few days ago might have felt appropriate already seems portentous, hyperbolic and sometimes downright silly.
I do, however, want to jump on the Olympic bandwagon too. Especially when combined with the Diamond Jubilee I think the Olympic fortnight—plus Danny Boyle’s show—does represent an important moment in the evolution of the national identity story. One of those crystallising events when small and normally invisible shifts in sentiment come together to reveal something significant.
First some of the nonsense. Why was everyone so surprised at the success? I was not expecting it to be quite the triumph it was, with the extra thrill coming from the success of the British athletes. But it is one of the cliches about this country that we can put on a good show. The last time we did anything comparable in the sporting field was the European football championships (admittedly only in England) in 1996, and I seem to remember that went pretty well too. And what about the success of the Jubilee itself just a few weeks ago.
Another annoying trope, especially from the left, was the idea of “reclaiming the flag”. For most people the flag was never taken away. The left’s history of the last 50 years places far too much stress on the far right (partly because of the left’s honourable role in challenging and defeating it). It is worth recalling that the National Front at its peak is estimated to have had about 15,000 members and it never won a single council seat, or even came close. It is true that the BNP has, until recently, had much greater electoral success. But it is the ambivalence about the flag of left and liberal Britain that has been a much bigger obstacle to the establishment of…