Sooner or later, the Olympics patriotism will kick in for curmudgeonly Britain

Gold! Medals! Wenlock! Mandeville! Rings! Official sponsors! Unofficial sponsors! Running! Jumping! Throwing things!

Sometime over the coming week, the tide will turn. There won't be a bat signal to let us know when to abandon our anti-Games curmudgeonry and adopt a red, white and blue blindfold, but it will happen.

It's not our fault that we're programmed to tug forelocks when required, but here it is: as soon as The Queen is activated, we will jettison all the complaints about G4S, crumbling transport networks, exclusive VIP lanes and brand bullying, and settle down like good little subjects to proclaim the glory of the Olympic Games.

Sure, right now we may be doing our best to predict Apocalympics - a running, jumping and throwing epic fail that will see our once-proud nation reduced to an international embarrassment. But to imagine that our collective Great British Grumpiness will last until beyond the opening ceremony is to underestimate our sense of subservience, and as Ronnie Corbett's working-class character in the Frost Report sketches put it, "I know my place."

The athletes will get stuck on cablecars taking them from one awful piece of rubble on the south of the Thames to one equally awful piece of rubble on the north of the Thames. And we'll look the other way. The tourists will be ripped off left, right and centre by staggeringly horrific prices and mountains of roadside tack. We'll laugh because it's not happening to us. The spectators will be brutalised by a series of bewildering security checks. And we'll stand in queues and love it, because it's "what we do best".

Oh, Britain, Britain. England. London. Britain. Whatever. I wish I could say that you'll maintain that fabled "sense of humour" as the madness grips the nation, and all critical media outlets put their very best Rule Britannia goggles on - coincidentally, at exactly the same moment as the deluge of FREE STUFF begins to arrive in newsrooms from sponsors. ("These games are a shambl... wait, a free Wenlock and Mandeville bath mitt!") But we won't.

I know how it'll be. Some of us, perhaps looking forward to the sport but dreading the commercialism, or looking forward to the commercialism but dreading the sport, will start to get that funny inkling that happens from time to time - that post-Diana moment when you looked around and started thinking "Has everyone gone entirely bananas, or is it just me who feels like that bloke from Day of the Triffids?"

Too late. This time next week, the patriotism begins in earnest. If you thought the Jubilee was faintly nauseating, that will be a trifle compared to what's about to come. Gold! Medals! Wenlock! Mandeville! Rings! Official sponsors! Unofficial sponsors! Sponsors! Running! Jumping! Throwing things! Jessica Ennis on every page of every newspaper, forever!

I'll resist it for as long as possible, but of course I'm no better than anyone else. I'm bound to succumb sooner rather than later - probably around Thursday afternoon, when I head off to the Olympic football at Cardiff. Bring on arriving two hours early and seeing nothing of any great import; bring on the wall-to-wall TV sports day. There's no beating it, so I'm joining it. Sorry.

 

By about Thursday, you'll all be this happy. Trust us. Photograph: Getty Images

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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