Olympic opener: madcap Britishness or "multicultural crap"?

How Danny Boyle's vision went down.

Apart from some dyspeptic grumbling on Twitter from Toby Young and a spectacularly ill-judged tweet from Tory MP Aidan Burley ("Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap"), the reaction to last night's Olympic opening ceremony, directed with astonishing panache and imagination by Danny Boyle, has been almost universally favourable.

The Olympic flagbearers included Doreen Lawrence. Photo: Getty Images

Like many observers, former deputy leader of the Labour Party Roy Hattersley, writing in the Times (£), "rejoiced at the tributes paid to the National Health Service" (Boyle's sly paean to the "nanny state" had a squadron of Mary Poppins ministering to children in NHS beds). "It is no longer the best system of medical care in the world," Hattersley went on, "but it is, after the monarchy, the most popular institution in the country. That is proof of our national compassion and evidence of our collective goodwill. It represents the true spirit of Britain."

The density of historical allusion conjured by Boyle might have struck foreign viewers as mostly incomprehensible, but for the Telegraph's Jim White it was a measure of the director's daring: "Boyle’s bravery was to say, never mind if outsiders didn’t get half the show’s many allusions, enough of us will have done. Which was fair enough. Because after all, we paid for it."

The Olympic "cauldron", made of dozens of copper petals. Photo: Getty Images

For Owen Gibson in the Guardian, Boyle's "attempt to define Britishness in the opening hour of his Olympic opening ceremony was a madcap, surreal, moving and often confounding affair". His colleague Peter Bradshaw, the paper's film critic, thought this was "Boyle's 3D multimedia masterpiece", while Marina Hyde praised those moments of "subversive lucidity" that so enraged Young and Burley.

The flying dove bikes. Photo: Getty Images

And what of the view from abroad? The New York Times described the ceremony, not unaccurately, as "weirdly and unabashedly British". El Pais in Spain struck a different note, however. Britain, it declared, had "presented itself to the world as it is - a country with more past than future". But France's Le Monde was more gracious, noting that the Queen had "embodied the sense of humour of her people" by taking part in a short film with the actor Daniel Craig.

The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London (Photograph: Getty Images)

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.