From the first moments of Danny Boyle's spectacular opening ceremony to the final cheers of the crowds lining the streets during Monday's parade, the Olympic summer has given Britons a chance to define the nation we want to live in. The Britain of our collective imagining – proud and inclusive, committed to fair play – is a very different place from the one that recent scandals have exposed.
Our banking system has been shown to be deeply dishonest, while former government ministers boast of being taxis for hire. MPs are caught fiddling their expenses and the hacking scandal has laid bare how corporate power can corrupt even our most trusted institutions.
As the parliamentary recess ends and MPs return to the Palace of Westminster, they would be wise to take note of the altered national mood. It is not some fleeting "feel-good factor" but is instead robustly rooted in national pride, and it is a mood that could easily turn to defiance.
Apart from the inspiring efforts of the athletes, particularly the Paralympians, there is a valuable lesson to be learnt from the organisation of the Games.
Planning, co-operation and an appeal to the native altruism of people for a common goal works far better than the chaos, incompetence and selfishness that poorly regulated markets generate. This co-operation is the true British way to do things, not the cut-throat competition beloved of the current government.
After the Paralympics last week at the Excel Centre, with several participants who had had their limbs blown off by various kinds of ordnance, how awesome that the Centre's next show is an international arms fair.
Clearly the defence industry is anxious to ensure that participating nations at Rio will have a plentiful supply of limbless contestants. The International Committee for the Paralympics could offer real help for heroes by condemning it in the strongest terms.
Europe's Paralympic athletes defeated China and the USA added together. This repeats our success in the Olympics. Is not Europe's superiority in other fields as evident, when we are united? Surely we should be.
J P C Bannerman
Campaigning for a better kind of democracy
Congratulations on your campaign for democracy (Andreas Whittam Smith, 4 September). Politics, as Aristotle wrote, is the "master science" because politics is how society decides priorities, solves problems and makes rules for everyone. Bankers and big companies can afford lobbyists to campaign for them, but most people feel powerless.
For democracy to be real, people need the confidence, knowledge, skill and contacts to make their voice heard. Accessible education and support for practical politics are vital for a healthy society. Newspapers have an essential role in this. Democracy Matters looks forward to working with The Independent on opening the doors of power to the people.
Democracy Matters, Kings Langley, Hertfordshire
Though I am at the bottom of the political food chain, as an assistant to a Member of Parliament, I could probably be classed as a professional politician. I studied politics at university and, aside from a couple of short-term jobs, politics is the only career I have ever known.
Does this mean I lack some vital experience in order to be a good Member of Parliament, should I attempt to become one? I think not. People are not entirely defined by their careers.
I come from one of the poorest cities in the country (Kingston upon Hull) and growing up in such a deprived area politicised me at a young age. I certainly think my background gives me more "life experience" than people who have worked outside politics in fields such as banking, law, or, dare I say, journalism.
If we are trying to get young people interested in politics then this is going to create more professional politicians – and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Parliamentary Assistant to Austin Mitchell MP, London E11
Thank you for Andreas Whittam Smith's article. May I suggest that you go a layer deeper and shine a bright light on the structure behind the processes?
The problem may be that the European nation-state model is discredited for good reasons. Welfare mitigation of misfortune, to help manage personal risks, has morphed into welfare provision against all reverses. This model of state responsibility leads to bankruptcy, as entitlements outstrip the will to pay. We need root-and-branch reform while we still have breathing space.
If this approach has merit then we need to be more tolerant of the human failings of politicians. Most politicians are talented and committed people who work hard to make things better. Our current model of the state makes the task impossibly demanding.
The church litigant
While the four Christian litigants are having their day in court in Strasbourg, I wonder whether they might take a few minutes to pray for me, an atheist, whose problems with institutionalised and establishment-supported rituals are rarely noticed, let alone addressed ("Christians take battle over wearing crosses to European court", 5 September).
I have to suffer the cloying inanities of the Christmas season and the grotesqueries of Easter, year after year. I am beset by TV and radio programmes of a religious persuasion, mostly Christian. There are days of the week and year when my ability to shop or travel freely is restricted because of the supernatural sensitivities the litigants and their fellow believers. I cannot rely on Parliament passing laws without high-ranking officers of the Church of England adding their two-pennyworth in the House of Lords.
I will not, however, be approaching the courts in relation to my plight. Being of a stoical nature I will just get on with life and make the best of it. I wonder what it is in the nature of Christian belief which prevents the Strasbourg four from, as I might have expected, turning the other cheek and forgiving those whom they now pursue at law.
Robert Pellegrinetti asks why "everyone has to agree" with The Independent on matters such as contraception, divorce and homosexuality (letter, 8 September). The whole point of freedom of expression is that no one has to agree with anyone. His mind-set exposes the ex cathedra nature of the church's pronouncements. I would rather listen the voice of an "ephemeral newspaper" that at least acknowledged and reflected the evolving nature of society, than be harangued by a organisation still living in the Middle Ages.
Oxbridge not for the likes of you
Cambridge University's admissions tutor is right to challenge this government's patronising view that standards have to be lowered so that we smelly proles can have a chance of getting into a stone or redbrick university ("Easier entries would be cruel, warns Cambridge", 10 September). The real reason why so few bright working class kids apply to top universities is the same as it was 50 years ago: lower-middle-class teachers actively discourage us from applying.
More to the point, working folk, via the TUC and community leaders, have never asked for lower standards. This is because we want to be judged on our merits as scholars, not whether we know which wines to drink at High Table. If the Con-Dem government really wants to get more working class kids into Oxbridge – and it might – then it needs to tackle the deliberate misinformation given to bright workers at school.
Give back that palace
Italian campaigners may want the Mona Lisa in the Louvre to be returned to Florence (report, 8 September), but their argument seems thin, given that the work is a piece of portable art, unlike the Parthenon marbles which were an integral part of a building.
It might be better to ask that the equally important Palazzo Farnese in Rome be relinquished by the French Embassy occupiers and wholly returned to the Italian state. In 1936 the Mussolini government granted a 99-year lease to the French (for an annual fee of about 1 euro). The magnificent building is a major example of Renaissance architecture dating from 1517 and is the work of Sangallo the Younger, Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, and Giacomo della Porta, and contains frescoes by Annibale Caracci, Daniele da Volterra and others.
D E Wahlberg
The article by Lucy Wadham on the differences between French and British world views (11 September) was percipient, but it may be worth also mentioning that it is simply not true that the "French are deeply disliked" by British people. Many British people think of France as a second home and we visit it for holidays more than any other country.
But what is very sadly true is that much of the British press, by and large insular in so many ways, enjoys looking down on and mocking the French, and indeed all foreigners.
Nothing brave about burglary
It is inappropriate for Tim Lott to call burglary brave ("It is possible to be a burglar and be brave", 8 September). We regard bravery as commendable, and Judge Bowers' muddled comments weren't intended to commend burglary. It may take guts to engage in any manner of illegal or morally reprehensible actions. How does this alter their character? But, of course, it would make sense to call brave any burglar who risked his life rescuing trapped residents from earthquake, fire or flood.
US rushes for the Afghan exit
With the transfer of Bagram air base to Afghan control, we are once again reminded of the parallels with the Vietnam War. Creeping involvement, escalating violence at the expense of the population, and now a hurried transfer of powers as the Americans rush for the exits whilst seeking meaningless promises from the enemy to provide the moral cover for their desertion. Let's hope the generals have learnt that nation building requires consensus, not conflict.
Does Steve Richards ("Strike threats just show how out of touch the unions now are", 11 September) not realise that many unemployed people are not that thrilled at the prospect of getting work these days, given the poverty wages and long hours? This is why union leaders, elected by their members, usually with much bigger mandates than our politicians (or Richards), are talking about having to take strike action.