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

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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java, AI)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-Office D...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ashya King in hospital with his mother  

Ashya King: Breakdown in relations led to this PR fiasco

Paul Peachey
Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development holds a carton of eggs during a speech to Better Together supporters  

When the course of history is on the line, democracy is a raw, vicious and filthy business

Matthew Norman
Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing