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28 July 2012

The Olympic opening ceremony shows why lefties should embrace pageantry

The NHS, the Windrush - this was a Britain to make us proud.

By Steven Baxter

Elizabeth II, long to parachute over us, plummeting from a helicopter with James Bond, is what will live longest in the memory, perhaps. (It certainly gives a new meaning to ‘I’ll treat you like a Queen.’)

But what we should take away from Danny Boyle’s stellar Olympic opening ceremony is how even the fun-hating wet blankets of the laughless Left – you know, us – can find something to enjoy in a bit of pageantry, celebration and (gasp) patriotism. If it’s done well.

If you put the right totems in front of the right people, they press the right buttons. I felt my liberal buttons being pressed a lot by Boyle: I knew I was being exploited, manipulated and whatever, but by jingo I enjoyed the thrill.

It wasn’t just the excitement of seeing my own favourite things about Britain – the NHS, multiculturalism, and so on – brought to the hillocky altar that floated my leftleaning boat. It was also the slightly more childish delight of knowing – and being able to see, through seething tweets – just how much it was going to irk my political foes.

I could imagine them fuming and wincing at scenes such as when the Windrush arrived. Some, Tory MP Aidan Burley for instance, were less able to think before they tweeted their reaction to what they were seeing. Others were more capable of biting their tongues, perhaps.

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There were other bits I was less keen on – the bowing and scraping to royalty, for example; the Seb Coe speech hinting at a future political rehabilitation for William Hague’s former judo sparring partner, in particular.

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We’ve all got favourites. Wasn’t it terrific, though, to see something like the NHS so publicly celebrated, at a time when it’s under so much threat? (No, you’re entitled to grumble in the comments, no, it was awful, the NHS is awful and it should all be privatised tomorrow morning. One person’s joy is another’s sorrow.)

Some lefties are uncomfortable about being patriotic, for a huge range of reasons. What’s worth noticing in a huge sporting event like the Olympics or a World Cup is the pride and passion of the participants. It’s not xenophobic, scary nationalism but a more benign celebration of what we have in common, despite our differences.

Not just that, though, but it’s worth remembering how much people from across a range of backgrounds can be brought together in a sense of shared endeavour and collective participation.

There’s nothing wrong with that and in a lot of ways it’s exactly what we’ve always been about: those of us old enough to remember trade unions have a faint recollection of banner-waving, galas and marches. There was a time when we weren’t so coy about getting together and enjoying ourselves, rather than sneering from the sidelines.

So. Let us take the lead from our gracious Queen, and take the plunge from that helicopter. Let’s not be afraid of pomp and pageantry; let’s just dive in.