13 Aug 2012

Is any of us fit to pick up the Olympic baton?

When Mrs Thatcher was prime minister, the Conservative party boasted over five million members. Today it has less that a quarter of a million.

The story is the same with Labour. Indeed the total number of members of ALL political parties in Britain today combined, is probably little more that half a million.It is a figure far outstripped by the millions who belong to the National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Party politics is not the national lifeblood that some politicians think it still to be.

In the aftermath of the Olympics, the discernable spirit in the country is one of pulling together rather than finding grounds upon which to disagree.

When we have seen excellence in Kenya’s David Rudisha winning gold in the 800 metres we have revelled, in it, not resented it – likewise with Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and so many more.

The staging of, and Team GB’s excellence in the Olympics were a consequence of Major, Blair, Brown, and Cameron ministers pulling together, handing the baton seamlessly one to another.

But in truth it was much, much more than that, the London Olympics were built on trust; trust in engineers like Sir John Armitt who led the building of the Channel Tunnel rail link and subsequently led the Olympic delivery team.

He was joined by people like Lord Coe and many more who were beyond active party political trench warfare.

MPs are blessed not to be in session upon the day after the Olympic Games have ended.

Even the very fabric of the House of Commons – arranged as it is, to keep ‘warring factions’ a sword-and-a-half apart across the aisle in front of the Speaker’s Chair – is designed to attract political abuse rather than inter party co-operation. We shall not have to wait long to witness that farmyard bickering.

 And yet, as I hinted in my last Snowblog, I am not alone in detecting a yearning to turn the extraordinary Olympic achievement into an engine for pulling together to deliver Olympic scale achievements with and for the wider Team GB, ourselves no less.

It is hard to see how the political classes will manage to adapt their ways. Indeed the modest reforms attempted by the coalition government have fallen apart even as the athletes trained for and delivered the produce of their own teamwork.

It may prove even harder for the media to pick up the baton of positive thinking and pull together. Our trade is division and doubt, not trust and triumph.

We have seen in the past two weeks some of the most positive newsprint ever published in the UK. Our job is not merely to report but to question – question direction, cash, responsibility, delivery.

But there are ways and ways of questioning. Even at the Olympic level there will be many media folk who will blanche at some of what they wrote in the build up to the games.

Politicians, bankers, journalists have all been through the valley of the shadow of sleaze, criminality, and breezy dishonesty of late. We all have much to make up for.

Dare we trust ourselves to look for the good in each of us and build upon it? And can we do it without necessarily remaining vigilant over the bad within us?

Part of that bad is our cynicism and scepticism. Perhaps we should all take more exercise and se where it takes us; clear our lungs; cleanse our thoughts, and do what the Olympic builders and athletes did, go for the most extreme best we can possibly achieve.

Follow @jonsnowC4 on Twitter.

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

18 reader comments

  1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    That is my job, getting people to take deep breathes of air in ,whilst doing the physically possible. Down side of all this is that many of the atheletes will develop early osteoarthritis, but we won’t hover the mouse over that too long, although the condition is painful.

    Political parties have definitely lost it . I have thought of joining all parties at one time or another , but then each party has had a policy I don’t agree with and on every count I would have to U turn to meet individual circumstance.That is the problem . I was in a meeting the other day and was listening to someone billowing out management-speak about exactly following the government guidelines and not deviating from policy ( even if it causes harm). I can’t do that. I have socialist ideals , but the practicalities of life and individual performance affect how I feel about effort , reciprocation of trust and ethics in general. At the ballot I will usually vote by instinct and the policies which I think will work at a given time.I don’t want to put my self in a box of follow the rules even if they are wrong , so why should we join the rebel rousers when basically we don’t agree with the parties.

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    “…the discernable spirit in the country is one of pulling together…”? Are you KIDDING? What a load of twenty two carat nonsense, possible only in a deluded corner of England where manufactured illusion is the norm.

    Meanwhile, here’s a story closer to the actuality:

    A cockney zonked out of his head on crack cocaine wandered into a new Evangelical baptismal venue now occupying the former Aquatics Centre.

    A preacher stood in the shallow end dunking converts. The cockney slipped and fell in next to him. The preacher promptly grabbed him and dunked him for a second, then raised him up saying, “Did you find Jesus?” The cockney gasped “No,” so he got dunked again, this time for two seconds. He was brought up squirting water from every orifice as the preacher asked again, “Did you find Jesus?” and when the cockney just about gasped “No” he got dunked for three seconds. The preacher brought him up more dead than alive and asked, “Did you find Jesus?” and the cockney said

    Wait for it

    “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”

    And THAT, my dear Jon, has more veracity than the pile of jellied eels you posted above :-)

    But good luck anyway.

  3. Philip Edwards says:


    And as a rider to the above – sorry, I can’t resist this – that’s hardly an “articulate plan” is it? :-)

    More like a Daily Mailesque Little Englander op ed for rural Berkshire :-)

  4. Robert Taggart says:

    For the record – this couch potato be very much unfit – to run for the bus, never mind the country !

    As regards the future national dialogue – mefears the usual national verbal diarrhoea – will come to the fore come the Autumn ‘chill’!! We expect Snow, Paxo and co to ‘lead the charge’ !!!

    The position regarding the political parties be the ‘elephant in the room’ – membership down, voter turnout down, respect more generally down – what possible mandate do these cretins have to govern the rest of us ? On this matter we expect Snow, Paxo and co to ‘lead the charge’ !

    Over to you Johnny…

  5. Saltaire Sam says:

    The idea of a more balanced government in coalition was one of the reasons many of us were in favour of PR.

    Yet the current coalition has been one of the most extreme governments for years, the hapless lib-dems giving way on all their principles and allowing sharp rises in university fees, tax cuts for the wealthiest, and standard of living cuts for the rest of us.

    While Cameron & Boris tried to hijack the Olympics for their own advantage, they missed the lesson from TeamGB that applies to them most – success comes from dedicated hard work much of it unglamorous and out of the spotlight, a willingness to adapt strategy when your first plan isn’t working, and (whisper it) investment from public funds.

    Bet we won’t see any of those lessons applied to government in the near future.

    I hate my cynicism but the current set of politicians just invite i. None of them seems to have a clue of the effect their decisions have on ordinary people’s lives, or if they do, they don’t care.

    Their only interest is re-election and will do anything to achieve it, even pose for a photo watching boxing on TV. That wins a gold medal in cyncism.

  6. Cellarman says:

    WOW! London MUST be REALLY happening because of a sporty jamboree. Well, whoopie doo Mr Snow.

    Whatever the ticket allocating methods its enough to know that the rest of the country outside of London may have seen an odd footie match in the vicinity but other then that its been a London centrwed junket for international media , politicians and businessmen. Its all Cameron (and Blair before hime) could want – a stage to preen themselves on whist bullcrapping the peopkle about the benefits of increased trade. Well, he can flog as many arms to as many dodgy factions of any two bit anti regime group in whatever country he likes, to me, he’ll always be just another nasty little chancer who slimed up the greasy pole to the top of the filthiest profession anyone could want to go into.

  7. Ken Hall says:

    “Is any of us fit…” Is? John, Really? Are you educated?

    ARE any of us fit…

    if you cannot even ask the question properly, do you think that you would be able to understand the answer?

    1. Kate says:

      Ken – like you,and equally pathetic,I’m donning the pedant mantle here:

      “Any” takes both singular and plural verb, depending on context.

      “Is any of us fit…” is acceptable as “one” is implicit ie “Is any one of us fit…”
      The question is being asked of every single one of us.

      “Are any of us fit…” is also acceptable.
      The question is being asked of the collective.

    2. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      Is any one of us fit?

    3. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      I’m cleverer than you, coz I can put a word in where my institution says I should meeerrr!

  8. Julian says:

    While Jon is right to point to the decline in trust in politicians as a class he doesn’t seem to note the contradiction in his assertion that the Olympics demonstrates how things can get done and how the people responsible for delivering it have done so on the basis of trust. He lists many of the same politicians like Blair, Brown, Major and Cameron as being responsible! He thinks that the likes of Armitt and Coe have shown they can be trusted. He plainly has had little dealings with the LDA, ODA or LOCOG. Perhaps he would like to talk to people like those at Leabank Square, Leyton Marsh, Clays Lane, Wanstead Flats who have dealt with them directly. Maybe these communities are just too unimportant or small in number to count. Channel Four News has never, to my knowledge, examined the statements made by these agencies in any detail or tried to understand what has been going on in East London with the compulsory purchase of a valuable piece (yes valuable not a wasteland) to reshape the East End for a new population as happened in Docklands. This is a phenomenon which happens with every Olympics. Maybe C4News will report on this in Rio, it doesn’t seem to understand it in London.

  9. Hugh says:

    Jon Snow is right to say this, I certainly am fed up with the constant sniping between the political parties and the cynical attitude of the press.

  10. DavidBartlett says:


    Disappointed to see you enclosed in the same bubble as your bbc colleagues! They, in particular, were easy victims given the bizarre decision to base their whole ‘news’ output from within the stadium.

    Consequently detachment, objectivity, crass use of language – the alledged involvement of the ‘whole nation’ soon became that of the ‘whole world – and the exclusion of those many of us who wanted the facts without the hype.

    And your twitter feed was shot through with the lack of the professionalism that has, happily, characterised so much of your work.

  11. Graham Taylor says:

    Sports people surely do what they do because they believe it will make them be successful. Some get to stand on podiums as a result, most do not. Any of them may or may not be being successful as people, win or lose.
    Politicians are no different, they just have a different set of success factors. Bickering and opposition is built into the system that is the game that they choose to play. It doesn’t look constructive and the self serving as opposed to public serving nature of their use of power is very disturbing to the point of being destructive.
    Operating to a set of clear and transparent rules with integrity gives us a chance to see and respect and even admire the work of some sports people. Society, politicians, the media, the public, are surely much too complicated to be aligned too tightly to a sports or Olympic metaphor.
    If some of the afterglow of performing well at sport can be infused into the GB national psyche that would be a truly astonishing and valuable legacy.
    I fear that the desire of a few powerful people to win at all costs will continue to blight any notion of support and a team victory.

  12. Shirley Burnham says:

    Insufficient that we have recently had the Big Society label stuck on us ? Now you suggest “Team GB”. This is intolerable. You are starting to sound like a doorstep missionary. People are perfectly able to pick up batons on their own initiative, and have done so since you were in short pants, without being jollied along or patronised by politicians and the media. However sincere you are, please stop it.

  13. e says:

    It’s difficult to be always positive and I didn’t get past your first line! By omission you would imply Mrs Thatcher’s five million membership represents a success when in fact she presided over a continuing decline. I tried. I took a deep breath to exercise away my cynicism but nevertheless concluded that party politics own the road to Parliament (to power and influence over the law). Therefore, how can it not be the national lifeblood – leastways for those without the resources to evade the laws ever increasing reach?

    I agree there’s a “yearning….for pulling together” away from policies that don’t succeed because their laced with ignorance, anecdote and “lies damned lies and statistics”. The problem being the ease with which tabloid proprietors and others can channel us away from the lifeblood (participating in party politics, the democratic process) towards populist notions which nudge us into the grip of a stylish totalitarianism that will never need to work towards genuine positive change.

  14. Philip says:

    there you are Jon. It takes more than something like this to change mindsets – whether politicians or bloggers. Everyone retreats to their little castle with their own perception of the world & anytime anything which doesn’t fit comes along, they close their eyes & keep believing & saying that has become their comfortable custom. This is why the world is as it is. People are afraid to learn, to leave the comfort zone of their preconceptions & prejudices. As a result they miss chances to make their lives happier and to improve the common good of us all. After, isn’t being negative & critical so much more fun than suggesting that we might have caught on to something we could build on, beyond & outside the tired, empty, shallow rhetoric of posturing politicians. After all, if we were to embrace change, it might require us actually to DO SOMETHING to improve the world rather than be scathing about anyone who suggests that this might be a better way.

  15. Kate says:

    I had to check the calendar – is it St Crispin’s Day? Is this Agincourt? Bit of a rallying cry there,Jon. :)

    Sadly and much as I’d like to, I do not share your rose-tinted view that great things could and will happen in the wake of these Olympics.
    Call it cynicism, call it the learnings from lifelong experience – nothing has changed for Joe Bloggs.

    The legacy of the Games – that grandiose phrase – is mere rhetoric as far as improving life for us here in Reality Land.
    Your faith that those who stand to make most out of these Olympics – Cameron,Johnson,Coe and co. – can be trusted is misplaced, as is your rallying call.
    As Shirley above says, we rally ourselves on a daily basis – largely in an effort to surmount the difficulties and hardships imposed by Cameron etc.

    Which of our political masters is worthy of our backing? Who is looking out for US?

    The silence is deafening.

Comments are closed.