Patriots don’t celebrate democracy; patriots shut up and smile while the world’s great corporations come together for a giant trial of their prowess in pocketing a lot of public money. C’mon the Olympics…
There are two things going on in London which it seems have the characteristics of matter and antimatter; apparently, if they touch then all existence will come to an end. One is the corporate largess that goes along with every big pubic event (and none is bigger than the Olympics). The other is soaring unemployment, increasing poverty and an assault on the incomes of working people. When Unite leader Len McClusky suggested that the latter might use the former to highlight their plight, David Cameron all but dragged him off to the Tower of London.
The idea that working (and not working) people might demonstrate or strike during the Olympics had Cameron foaming at the mouth. This is unpatriotic! And from a Tory, unpatriotic is about as harsh a condemnation as they come. If anything is done to take the sheen of the Olympics the very existence of the British State is thrown into question. Or something.
At this point I want to confess some personal conflict. At the same time I manage both to be greatly in favour of big national events (especially sporting, artistic and cultural) which I think are important in helping pull people together and giving a sense of what we collectively value, and also to feel positively sick at the way these events (like almost everything else under the sun) becomes a means of redirecting massive sums of dripping gold into the grateful arms of corporate overlords. We have a national celebration and somehow it always means money being syphoned into the same capacious pockets.
But it isn’t a corporate feeding-frenzy (honest), it’s a statement of British values and a clarion call to the world to remind them who we are. Oh, wait, those are the same things these days, no? Either way, it is our patriotic duty to close our eyes and think of Balfour Beattie. And to do anything, anything at all, to sully the jamboree is wrong. Even if it is a question of justice, it is wrong. And anyone who dares to speak up is equally wrong. Unpatriotic even.
Johnson was right; patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And my god, do all those Olympic buildings not offer a hell of a lot of refuge. A velodrome in which we can all sit and marvel at just how much profit can be made in the midst of suffering. A stadium full of distractions from the mess of our society. And round it all an impenetrable dome of ‘national interest’. Milliband chips in to squawk his displeasure as well. We’re all agreed, get into the Scoundrel Dome now and stop throwing stones.
I don’t want to see the Olympics ruined or spoiled any more than anyone else. I don’t think people should need to feel guilty about the celebrations taking place in such difficult times. But I simply cannot believe that the consensus position is that this spectacle should be immune to any reflection of the ordinary people outside its glow of wonder caught fleetingly in the tinted windows of the corporate box. Surely if we are celebrating Britain on the world stage the democratic tradition bit is one of the things we want to celebrate.
Oh, no, my mistake. Democracy is the last refuge of scoundrels, and it is official because everyone agrees. For four weeks this summer the people must keep their mouths shut. Or Dave and Ed won’t be happy.