Official events are so often simply a parade of nationalism and militarism that it came as a surprise to many when the Olympics opening ceremony did not just follow that pattern.
There was a stunning depiction of the industrial revolution, a view of the Suffragettes and some early trade unionists, recognition for multicultural Britain and a strong celebration of the NHS. There was even a glimpse of a lesbian kiss.
Not everyone was happy. Disgusting Tory MP Aidan Burley condemned the ceremony as “leftie multicultural crap”.
Burley prefers a different type of celebration. Last year he attended a party where guests dressed in Nazi uniforms, and toasted the Third Reich. Not much danger of leftism or multiculturalism there.
Burley probably represents accurately the feeling of many top Tories, even if they can’t say it openly.
So was the opening ceremony propaganda for the left? Hardly. It also had, for example, a big part designed to make the queen seem a loveable old sport who can take a joke as well as our money. It was much more positive reinforcement for the monarchy than any of the jubilee events.
The ceremony highlighted the “armed forces”. It suggested that, whatever our conflicts and disagreements, British is best—and that we are all in some warm classless sense “in it together”.
But as civil liberties activist Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty proudly carried the Olympic flag, the Metropolitan Police were rounding up 182 Critical Mass cyclists and holding them for hours.
The Olympics remains dominated by corporations and nationalism. And it’s surrounded by a militaristic regime of missiles on tower blocks and soldiers on the streets.
It has absolutely nothing to do with saving the NHS, taking on the Tories, or celebrating struggle. The ceremony didn’t change that. But the reception for the opening ceremony tells us something about Britain today.
There are lots of people who cheer when they see our class get any sort of good coverage—and who would love to see a big fight for the NHS.
If the Labour Party and the union leaders were not so timid in their defence of public services then people might not project so much hope on to an Olympics opening ceremony.
The task is to ensure that workers’ struggle, the fight against racism and the battle for services are not simply theme park exhibits.
That will mean ruthless battles against the privatisers, cutters, tyrants and racists—from Britain and abroad—who filled the posh seats at the opening ceremony.
It will mean insisting that we’re not “all in it together” and that Britain is a land of bitter class conflict.