Simon Kelner: Let's direct this surge of pride towards lasting change

Kelner's view

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As Britain's medal haul gets better, so the growth figures get worse. Could they be in any way related? Of course not, but we are invited to believe that the successes of the London Olympics, both in terms of the staging and the host country's athletic achievement, could have lasting benefits in the UK's economic performance.

Certainly, it's not too much of a stretch to suggest that the tourism industry will profit from the image we have presented to the world. Anyone who has visited London over the past couple of weeks could be forgiven for thinking that the city is full of helpful citizens only too happy to give you directions while wishing you a nice day.

Everywhere you go, there are stewards with loudhailers urging you to enjoy yourself, or to wave your flag, or give a cheer. Because I am a Mancunian curmudgeon (or so many of my correspondents believe), I found it a little off-putting, as if thousands of young Britons had been kidnapped, and reprogrammed by Starbucks. The ubiquitous soundtrack of things-can-only-get-better sentiment and communal exhortation made me feel I was in a New Labour version of North Korea.

It will be fascinating to see how the legacy of the Games plays out in this respect. Does the Olympics set a new standard for civic behaviour? There is little doubt that, since the Games have got going, people have generally been more welcoming. Of course we will struggle to keep it up when the circus leaves town and the news bulletins are about economic failure rather than sporting success, but it would be beneficial if some of the patriotic fervour that has swept up so many Britons could be preserved, and directed towards lasting improvements in more important areas of society.

Much has been made of the need to increase sporting opportunity in state schools (it is a shocking statistic that, while 11 times as many pupils attend state schools as private schools, Britain's medallists are equally shared between the two sectors). David Cameron has been quick to seize the moment, and say more effort should be made in the aftermath of the Games to get children playing sport (even though his Government has approved the sale of 20 school playing fields since the election).

But should we really be that concerned about creating the circumstances to ensure the next generation of Chris Hoys thrive? The Olympic Games have been a glorious distraction, and yesterday's inflation report which shows we are in the midst of a double-dip recession could hardly have been more indicative of that. Sure, we want to create a sporting legacy. But it would be wrong to concentrate on sport.

Let's bottle some of the national pride we've seen over the past fortnight and put it towards increasing educational opportunity across the board, confronting social exclusion, and tackling the widening inequalities that exist way beyond the playing field.