Let's celebrate the Games Makers on the fourth plinth

The anti-Paxmans in purple deserve public recognition.

The purple people. They were quite simply one of the big sensations of this London 2012 extravaganza.

Games Makers came in all shapes and sizes, and looked like us; just normal people, but with an extra dash of cheeriness harking back to the days of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, but without his insane accent.

So let’s do something to honour their contribution by placing a statue on that fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square where so many thousands of them gathered this week for the London 2012 parade.

We really should remember those purple volunteers. What they brought with them was a sense of fun, and a rather unbritish ability to talk to strangers and bounce throughout the day.

These were the anti-Paxmans. They didn’t have an ounce of British irony, they weren’t the masters of sarcasm we have come to believe we are and they really, really wanted us all to have a great day.

So all hail the purple people. They have shown us it can be British to be friendly in a public place, and to show a touch of enthusiasm. And it doesn’t have to come with a spoonful of Disneyified slush.

In fact the volunteers have a whole bunch of lessons for us. They have taught us (in case we had forgotten/or never known) that it can be fun to do something for someone else. They have shown us we can enjoy being part of something rather than sniping from the sidelines.

They helped transform London into a place where people do speak to each other on trains and buses. And, yes, there was always a purple person on hand to chat to about the day’s highlights, and share some excitement about the events of the night before.

During London’s summer of loving itself a little bit more than it did before, the purple people were there to help.

And the mayor of London and the city’s burghers should do something to recognize that contribution, by creating a statue to stand on that plinth.

Out on Fleet Street yesterday filming interviews with the public about wanted they wanted to see as a legacy to this heady period, people just wanted to talk about keeping the friendliness and spirit alive.  One interviewee wanted less negative stories in the media, another wanted to encourage more volunteering but said: “It’s about us, not the government, making it happen.”

The volunteers we spoke to for the film for the thinktank British Future wanted to keep on volunteering, and were enthusing about their experiences, the people they had worked with and what they might do next. One Games Maker told us at great length about the human resources manager at Stratford who had co-ordinated  the volunteers, and told us she would definitely make a great legacy leader.

Then when the floats went by, the athletes were as enthusiastic about waving to their volunteers as the crowds were at waving back, a sign of their recognition for all the efforts of those who wore the purple uniforms.

The volunteers may not have got any jazzy medals to show for it; and I doubt they will be receiving anything in the New Year’s list, so let’s do something creative to show our appreciation.

Boris should unveil a statue of the Games Makers on the fourth plinth before Christmas and invite all of them along to help celebrate; give them a proper party that’s just for them as recognition of just how much they have done to help cheer up this country.

Rachael Jolley is editorial director at thinktank British Future.

Games Makers waiting for Team GB on the Mall. Photograph: Getty Images
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Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman

The Conservative policy board chair on the meaning of Brexit, state intervention and whether "Mayism" exists.

Theresa May’s three months as Prime Minister have been marked by ruthless changes of both personnel and policy, from grammar schools to fiscal targets. The man tasked with overseeing the latter is George Freeman, a newly bearded 49-year-old who jokingly describes himself as “a designated thinker”.

“It’s a huge privilege,” Freeman told me when we met recently in Westminster. “As [May] has indicated, she’s determined to open up the policymaking process to good ideas from a much wider pool.”

After entering parliament as the MP for Mid Norfolk in 2010, Freeman distinguished himself as one of the most intellectually energetic Tory MPs. He founded the 2020 group of Conservative modernisers and became the first ever life sciences minister in 2014. Before this, he had worked for 15 years as a biotech entrepreneur.

Politics is in his blood. The Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was his great-great-great-uncle and Mabel Philipson, the first female Conservative MP, his great-aunt. Yet Freeman attributes his reformist zeal to the belief that “with privilege comes responsibility”. He boarded at Radley College after his parents, both alcoholics, divorced and has spoken of his “emotionally damaged” childhood.

It is unsurprising that May, confronted by the greatest policy challenge since 1945 – EU withdrawal – has called on his services. The chair of the Prime Minister’s policy board, to give Freeman his official title, was a passionate Remainer but told me “we are now all Brexiteers”. The “Brexit roar”, he explained, was “a mixture of very deeply felt concerns and complaints about globalisation, powerlessness and the growing gap between London and [other] places . . .

“There’s an understanding that if we simply delivered Brexit, and didn’t tackle the rest, we would only have dealt with some of the problem.”

His ambition was “to do for our generation what Disraeli did in the 19th century, in understanding that the extraordinarily challenging pace of franchise extension was also a huge opportunity to harness and fashion a New Model Conservative Party”.

Besides abandoning the surplus target (“to boost growth and investment in infrastructure”), Freeman cited welfare policy as a point of departure. The government would “better differentiate” between changes in the welfare budget and systemic reform – a division that May believes was eroded by George Osborne.

The Prime Minister underlined her commitment to industrial strategy by naming a new department after it. But what does it mean? “I think there is a recognition that we are embracing something unrecognisable from the failed ‘beer and sandwiches’ interventionism of the Sixties and Seventies,” Freeman said. “Twenty-first-century Conservative industrial strategy is about backing our science, innovation and knowledge economy, and other sectors where we have serious global leadership.” He spoke of “stepping in where only the state can”, citing the publicly funded Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility, which he recently visited with the astronaut Tim Peake. The government must be not merely “pro-enterprise”, but “more enterprising”.

May has endured her heaviest dissent over education, and Freeman was notably lukewarm about the idea of new grammar schools. “As well as her position” on the latter, he emphasised, “the Prime Minister set out a much broader vision”. Asked whether he understood MPs’ objections to academic selection, he said “there will be all the usual consultation and discussions through parliament about specific measures”.

The Prime Minister has entered office with greater ideological definition to her thinking than David Cameron, who struggled to reconcile his early vision with austerity. Can we speak of “Mayism”? “I’m not sure the ‘ism’ is helpful or appropriate at this stage. The Prime Minister is very strongly driven by her conservative values, and converting those values into effective policies to tackle the challenges we face. I think we have to wait for the judgement of history to define the ism.”

Freeman is close to “DC” (as he calls Cameron) and praised his premiership. “I was very sorry to see him go. But in the end, given the way the referendum turned out, it was inevitable. I thought he handled that whole last week in the most exemplary way: typical of the man. In time, I think he will come to be recognised as a transformational leader who brought the Conservative Party to terms with modern Britain.”

He rejected the former education secretary Nicky Morgan’s suggestion that May would struggle to “reach into” the marginal seats that the Tories won under Cameron. “Theresa May is appealing widely across whole swaths of the country as a One-Nation leader,” he declared.

With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, Freeman said, “the centre ground of British politics, once dominated by Blair and New Labour, has been vacated . . . That is a huge opportunity for a One-Nation Conservative Party to demonstrate our relevance beyond our core vote to those around the country who have clearly felt so marginalised.”

Corbyn’s triumph “illustrates the extraordinary challenge for mainstream political parties in this age of asymmetric, post-Brexit politics . . . We now have to use the opportunity of incumbency in government to tackle the root causes of the insurgency that has taken out the Labour Party.”

Freeman acknowledged the risk that Labour’s divisions would produce an internal Tory opposition.

“It also creates a question for the Conservative Party. Will we turn in on ourselves and generate our own arguments, or unite and reach out into the space that Corbyn has vacated?” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories