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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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser