July 28, 2022 - 1:47pm

Yesterday, we marked the tenth anniversary of the 2012 London Olympics — and, in particular, the iconic opening ceremony. Today, the 2022 Commonwealth Games get underway in Birmingham. 

So two sporting events of global reach, but — much more importantly — a chance for the British commentariat to navel-gaze. 

Take a look at this contribution from Charlotte Higgins, chief culture writer of The Guardian. Like a lot of other commentators, she reminds us of Aidan Burley — the (now former) Tory MP who infamously described the opening ceremony as “multicultural crap”. But despite him having “utterly misread the public mood” at the time, Higgins goes on to claim that Burley would be more in tune with today’s Britain: “from the perspective of 2022, though, he feels like a time traveller from the future.” 

On what does she base this gloomy conclusion? You can probably guess. 2012 was a “gilded moment before the traumas of the Scottish and Brexit referendums”, before JK Rowling “became divisive” and before the Tories’ “lurch to the right.” Would that be the same Tories who have just held the most diverse leadership contest in British political history?

Charlotte Higgins believes that “if the [2012] ceremony were to be staged now, agitators would be all over it.” And indeed they would — except they’d be from the woke Left not the reactionary Right. Many, if not most of the key moments would have been “problematised”. The appearance of Winston Churchill for instance, or the singing of Jerusalem, or any reference — however oblique — to the British Empire.

The “deliciously anarchic” tone of the spectacle, which Higgins justly describes as variously “vaunting, ecstatic, angry, cheeky and reflective” would, today, be one of finger-wagging propaganda.  

For a taste of what might have been just look at the BBC’s look ahead to the 2022 Commonwealth games. In a section tendentiously entitled “A Commonwealth with less in common” — we are told that “the Commonwealth Games began life in 1930 as the British Empire Games. Now, the legacy of Britain’s Victorian-era expansion and exploitation is coming under scrutiny.”

For a start, the worst aspects of British imperialism started well before the “Victorian-era”. Furthermore, to say that they are “now” coming under scrutiny erases the past — just look at the history of the anti-slavery movement for instance. And as for the current explosion of self-indulgent, guilt-tripping wokeness, “scrutiny” is really not the word. 

In the next paragraph, there’s the misleading statement that when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Jamaica this year they were informed that the country wants “independence… And soon.” In fact, Jamaica already is independent — and has been since 1962. The only issue at stake is whether or not the Queen remains in the purely ceremonial role of Jamaica’s head of state. 

Most Commonwealth countries transitioned to republicanism decades ago, so why is the BBC now suggesting that this means the Commonwealth has “less in common”? In fact, the organisation is gaining new members. The BBC piece mentions Mozambique and Rwanda as new-ish members — but could have added Gabon and Togo which joined last month.  

We should never try to cover-up the evils of the past. But an occasion like the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games is a time for celebration. Ten years ago we still knew how to do that. 

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.