Team GB and UK Plc

Britiain’s economic success clearly matters just now and it’s germane to wonder if the Olympics have helped. Here are some pros and cons on the matter.


Both black and white working class kids have been given striking examples of high-achieving youngsters who have risen above so-called social exclusion to attain great success. That is surely a crucial message and bodes well for their employability once they and their teachers see that excellence of every sort (see Cons, below) is available.

A huge worldwide audience has been admiring elite British athletes showing great skill and talent but perhaps above all grace in defeat or victory. That is surely just the ticket for overseas firms considering Britain as a destination for investment. (It will help the general reputation of Brits seeking opportunities abroad as well.) After all, grace is a sign of stoicism and determination and decency. Britons need to show they have these qualities, and their institutions and firms (bankers, say) need to put them in the forefront of their minds.

British broadcasters have been shown to have great sophistication in front of or behind the camera and microphone: that must be good for this crucial business. (See Cons, though. Mathew Norman in today’s Telegraph is excellent on these themes.)

Britain has been shown to be a cheerfully integrated society in which its imperial past (good and bad) is seen to run (literally and excellently) through its present.

We have also shown that we are a society whose classes share many great qualities and handle their interesting differences. Maybe this can be the beginning of a process in which working class kids learn to speak English and the middle classes cease imitating inarticulacy. Both trends will be valuable for economic success.

Britain has been shown to have greatness and genius, which it needs to bear with grace (see above). As Jonathan Friedland seems to sort of grasp in today’s Guardian, we need to get beyond declinism. I prefer Charles Moore’s take on this sort of issue in today’s Telegraph: it is more celebratory.  Anyway, I’m guessing our businesses and regulators need to grow into an understanding of the country’s real qualities, and why they can be deployed at home and abroad.

In spite of the GS4 fiasco (would hiccup be a better word?), our volunteers, firms and institutions have come out of the Olympics marvellously. We are – I guess – pioneering a new blend of enterprise, civil society and government in which the first is far more important than it used to be. I think London 2012 will prove to be a milestone in that adventure.


Some of the UK’s best young people may face difficulties as they, like our young soldiers, face up to “real” life outside their exciting elite specialities. That may be a penalty of taking sport too seriously, as though it were a business or war.

Too many Brits may take the excellent Seb Coe at his word when he said at the opening ceremony that all human life is encompassed by sport (or words to that effect). That’s over-egging it: sport is a metaphor for some sorts of triumph and disaster, and honour and effort. But it is short of intellectual challenge or interest in ideas or culture, which matter more to the wider economy.

Whilst many Brits – formal volunteers and people in the street alike – understood what it meant for the country to the world’s host for the Olympics, too often the BBC did not seem to grasp this. (In the last days of the Olympics, Mark Thompson ticked off the BBC’s news outlets for bias, but the shortcomings went far wider than that.) That parochialism may matter to the internationalism needed by UK Plc. Nor was the BBC’s vulgar hubris (usefully excoriated by Clive James in today’s Telegraph) an example to business.

I’ll call it the Macca Factor. If there was a failing in the brilliant opening ceremony, there were two. One: it obsessed on Britain’s achievements without a rich enough undersanding of our status as host nation (see comments on the BBC above).  At least it was not anti-capitalist, actually. Two: it could not rise above Beatle-mania, which has now become Beatle-nostalgia. I have nothing against Paul McCartney, but the nation ought to be able to have a party and a singalong without wheeling him out.  Again, this bodes ill for the nation becoming really progressive economically.

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Publication date

11 August 2012


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