Leading article: Celebration of inclusive Britain

In an age inured to emoting and special effects, the finale was a truly moving spectacle

It was a show "for everyone". The opening ceremony of London 2012 was even a show for people who have no interest in sport. Although our sporting heroes played a part, it was primarily a celebration of our national tradition of not taking ourselves too seriously while defending serious principles.

We showed the Chinese that we British understand individual free expression. We showed the Americans that we are proud of our "death-panel" NHS. We showed the world that we can laugh at ourselves, even to the point of having our most respected national institution parachute into the stadium with a fictional character.

As the original ambiguity of William Blake echoed down the centuries, everyone could interpret the symbol-laden spectacular in any way they liked. Blake's cry against industrialisation was turned, as so often, into a celebration of the advance of liberal equality. Of course it was political, and cleverly so. As Jane Merrick argues today, it was a celebration of the belief in progress, material and spiritual. It was an argument for an open, tolerant and compassionate nation, and against the forces of a small-c conservative view that resist any extension of equal rights.

The genius of Danny Boyle – apart from his use of surprise and humour – was to understand that this was the moment when the naysayers and the cynics would feel that they had to "get behind the Games". An ideal chance, then, to celebrate our nation's tradition of protest and dissent, from the suffragettes to CND, and to extol the virtues of the NHS, our modern "national religion", alongside the monarchy, the BBC and the military. That expression of British values can be embraced by modernised Labour, Cameron Conservatism and Cleggified Lib Demmery. Only sour republicans or Tories who dislike the very notion of inclusion – such as Aidan Burley, or Rupert Murdoch, who said yesterday that it had been "too politically correct" – feel excluded.

The trouble with trying to make it "for everyone" was the temptation to put in a bit of everything, and then people start noticing what has been left out. There was no Oasis, for example, or The Smiths, or the Spice Girls. And no Doctor Who, although we may have heard the Tardis at one point.

Yet the ceremony was a joyous celebration of a Britain in which we really are "all in it together", thus uniting the nation in a way that, just a little, limits the room for manoeuvre for the reactionary wing of the Tory party. It celebrated modern Britain, a post-imperial nation, still half in and half out of Europe but surprisingly comfortable with its role.

It may have been a show that was aimed more at the domestic audience than the much larger one abroad. What they made in Azerbaijan of Mr Boyle's telling of the story of the Industrial Revolution featuring pearly kings and queens can only be guessed at. It was a show in which, according to The New York Times, "Britain offered a display of humor and humbleness that can only stem from a deep-rooted sense of superiority". Well, that kind of superiority we can live with. And the finale of the show, the lighting of the 204 copper petals by seven young British athletes, and their rising to form a single roaring flame, was, even in an age inured to emoting and special effects, a truly moving spectacle.

Now, on to the sport. Which means, as Mark Cavendish discovered yesterday, losing as well as winning. However, after such an inspiring start, it means competing with pride.