DJ Taylor: Pro or anti? What the Games say about us

Opinion about London 2012 can be divided into three camps, but the moaners have history on their side. Plus, Mr Meat fails to use his Loaf

Share
Related Topics

With a scant five days to go until the opening ceremony, public feeling towards the Olympic Games seems to have divided into three broad camps. First there is the relatively small number of people who are genuinely interested in some of the sport and who will feel themselves momentarily exalted if Usain Bolt manages to run his 200-metres heat in 19.75 seconds rather than 19.82. Then there is a far larger group which is generally in favour of the Games and happy to bask in the lavishness of its spectacles. Finally, there is a substantial minority of ingrates who resent the pervading stink of corporatism, suspect that the event will do little to benefit the parts of the capital which it ornaments and deplore the Government's aim of using London 2012 not to encourage mass participation in sport but to ginger up the export trade.

Looking for a point of comparison in our recent national history, the social commentator would find it not in the 1948 Games – run on a shoestring and christened the "Austerity Olympics" – but in the 1951 Festival of Britain. This, too, though billed as an "inclusive" event, which would unite the nation in a cloud of communal post-war purpose, was criticised on grounds of expense and underlying motive. Evelyn Waugh maintained that "there was little popular exuberance among the straitened people", while The Daily Telegraph, desperate to snub the Labour government, likened it to "a moderately successful party, but one held on the wrong day and at far too great a cost".

There is one significant difference in these responses. The Festival of Britain, it is fair to say, split opinion on party lines. Conservative nay-sayers noted that the Festival committee was almost entirely drawn from a herbivore pool of middle-class radicals; the spirit of "uplift" was in the air. Here in 2012, on the other hand, the complaints are about the favours done to big business, official high-handedness (such as the inhabitants of Weymouth being more or less denied a view of their own coastline because of the yachting competition proceeding alongside) and, of course, incompetence. Ominously, Waugh noted of the 1951 jamboree that "dollar bearing tourists curtailed their visits and sped to countries of the Continent where, however precarious their position, they ordered things better".

Tuesday's release of the population statistics produced exactly the same kind of variegated response. From the angle of the leftish-liberal commentator nothing was apparently more desirable for this right little, tight little island of ours than a soaring birth-rate and mass immigration. This, one optimist declared, was a mark of our "success". From the right, alternatively, came jeremiads about the concreting-over of England's greensward, the strain likely to be placed on the country's infrastructure and the social disadvantages of living cheek by jowl in the thronged housing conditions necessary to accommodate so many extra bodies.

Like Europe and possibly the criminal justice system, immigration is an area in which the gap between bien pensant opinion and the feeling of the average high street widens into a chasm. Opinion polls, for example, regularly show majorities in favour of a ban on immigration of any kind, tempered by a somewhat paradoxical suspicion that many of the foreign workers coming here to "take our jobs" are, alas, better skilled, better educated and better motivated than large parts of the indigenous populace. Naturally, one can't avoid framing the population statistics in the context of last week's suggestion that the country needed more foreign help to claw its way out of the economic downturn and that in the absence of all this imported vim and vigour we should simply fall asleep over our lathes.

Whatever the country's economic needs, this strikes me as about as thoroughly illiberal a measure as it could be possible to conceive: a kind of reverse apartheid, which cherry-picks talent from abroad while writing off large sections of the home-grown population as economically worthless, while exacerbating what are already some profound social divisions along the way. On the other hand, as a reminder to Michael Gove that his plans for state education still have a long way to go, it could hardly be bettered.

Arts world story of the week was undoubtedly the news that the US rock singer Meat Loaf (real name Michael Aday) is suing his own tribute act. Dean Torkington, who has been staging a show entitled To Hell and Back: A Tribute to Meat Loaf for the past 16 years, suggests that the root of this disagreement lies in the release of his album The Bat Strikes Back. "Could the reason be it got a better review than Bat Out of Hell 3 in Classic Rock?" he not unjustifiably enquired. Mr Torkington will be performing at the Crown Paints Social Club in Darwen on Saturday evening.

All this offers a brisk little parable about the chagrin experienced by a creative artist when he discovers that there are people out there whose grasp of his stylistic tics and idiosyncrasies is sometimes more convincing than the genuine article. Inevitably, the principle applies to literature. Philip Larkin once noted that the young Anthony Thwaite was producing better versions of Larkinesque than he was himself. Graham Greene, entering under a pseudonym a New Statesman competition for a pastiche extract from a Graham Greene novel, came a disappointing second.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future