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

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.