Celebrate or be forever cast out!

The hatred heaped on a Tory MP who criticised the ceremony suggests this New Britain isn’t as diverse as we’re told.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics

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We might be only two years into the 2010s, but already the Irony of the Decade has occurred.

For the past 48 hours we have been told that Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was a brilliant and bonkers celebration of the diversity and disjointedness of modern Britain, a glorification of the ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘freedom’ that are the core values of our society.

Yet it seems we are not so inclusive that we can include in the national story any criticism of Boyle’s ceremony itself. We are not so free that we can have an MP slag off the ceremony without the commentariat calling for him to be sacked on the basis that he is ‘incompatible with modern Britain’. We are not so diverse that we can tolerate amidst the glowing frontpage paeans to the ceremony just a tiny smidgen of anti-ceremony sentiment.

The award-winning irony is that the feverish denouncing of any criticism of the opening ceremony disproves the message it was allegedly trying to send: that Britain is open and free and super-chilled about everything.

Consider the opprobrium heaped on Tory MP Aidan Burley for having the temerity to tweet that the ceremony was ‘leftie multicultural crap’.

Now, it doesn’t matter what kind of person you think Burley is (an MP who has previously been sacked for attending a Nazi-themed stag party? I’m going with ‘arsehole’). You should still be concerned about the fact that he was so severely rounded on by the political and media classes for ‘making the ill-advised move of publishing his thoughts’, as the Independent put it. Yes, in this zanily diverse Britain of ours, it is still ‘ill-advised’ for certain people to express their views in public.

Burley has effectively been branded un-British. Apparently, in criticising the opening ceremony he demonstrated his ‘incompatibility with modern Britain’, says Labour MP Tristram Hunt. Cast him out! The Independent welcomed the ‘mass flurry of outrage and indignation’ that Burley’s comments provoked – mainly on that twenty-first-century tool of intolerance, Twitter – and said he has surely ‘sealed his own fate… with his offensive comments’.

We’ve been told that Burley’s comments were ‘reprehensible’, that the Tory Party should send a signal that they ‘won’t be tolerated’. How? By sacking him, of course. One observer says this ‘Olympic-opening-ceremony-politicising MP’ should be dumped by Cameron, for the crime of trying to ‘drag us all back into his petty political ghetto [at a time when] there really has been a feeling of the country uniting’. That is, for expressing a political view, or rather a political view that runs counter to the blatantly political views expressed in the opening ceremony itself. Labour has launched a campaign called ‘Bye Bye Burley’.

What is extraordinary about this outburst of hair-tearing, chest-battering anti-Burley outrage is that it suggests that no criticism of the opening ceremony will be brooked. Burley is pretty much the only person in public life who slated the ceremony – alongside what the Guardian calls ‘angry tweeters’ belonging to the ‘cultural right’ – and yet we cannot even allow that. We cannot allow one voice to say ‘it was crap’ and instead must leap on him, ridicule him, denounce him.

The ceremony has been hailed as ‘iconoclastic’, yet it has been surrounded by a moral forcefield as powerful as any which once protected sacred religious images from moral critique. It is being protected from any iconoclastic criticism by an army of on-message conformists. You can be iconoclastic about everything these days, it seems, but not about this ceremonial icon of the New Britain.

The severe reaction to any criticism of the ceremony echoes the mood that followed the death of Princess Diana in 1997. It is reminiscent of the iron fist of conformism that likewise lurked within the velvet glove of the ‘emotionally intelligent’ episode of public mourning that followed her demise. Back then, we were told that Diana’s death was a watershed moment for Britain, ushering in a new, more open, more diverse, less stuffy UK – and yet anyone who expected their criticisms of the cult of mourning or of the values of post-Diana Britain to be included in the new ‘inclusive’ Britain was in for a rude shock. Critics of the era of AD (After Diana) were attacked, mocked, censored.

And so it is with the opening ceremony, which is also being treated as a watershed moment in our cultural life, and woe betide anyone who fails to go with the flow of it, who fails to genuflect before this diverse vision of Britain that is so peculiarly hostile to diversity of opinion.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty who, for shame, was included alongside Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest Olympians ever, in the carrying of the Olympic flag, says her inclusion in the ceremony shows how much better Britain is than the last hosts of the Olympics, the Chinese. Because where in China ‘human rights campaigners get locked up’, in Britain ‘even the most irritating’ – like Chakrabarti, apparently – ‘gets to carry the Olympic flag’. Yet there is more than one way to silence people and make them conform to your worldview. The Chinese do it by chucking people in jail, and we do it through public ridicule, through relentless assaults on any expression of the ‘wrong’ view, through twitch-hunts and the enforcement of an anti-diverse cult of diversity. The message of the ceremony’s influential cheerleaders is as clear as it is gobsmacking: you’re either with us or against us.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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