Danny Boyle’s Olympics ceremony reminded politicians: undermine the NHS at your peril
In the run-up to the Olympics, plenty of doubts were expressed about the value of the Games coming to London. Was it a waste of money at a time of austerity? Would there be any genuine legacy? I’ve been looking forward to the Olympics, but couldn’t help feeling those doubters may have a point. But Danny Boyle’s triumphant opening ceremony went a long way towards dismissing those doubts before the Games had really even begun.
Placing the NHS at the heart of a eulogy to all that embodies and is great about Britain sent a strong message not just to politicians about how dear it is to our nation, but also a message to its 1m-strong workforce. This institution employs maybe one in thirty people of working age in the UK while looking after many more, but has been under siege in recent months from the twin threats of funding cuts and reform. So what better way to demonstrate to NHS staff that even if politicians don’t always seem to value them, the public do? It sent a clear message to politicians of all parties too – undermine this building block of our national identity at your peril.
Talk about the Olympic legacy has centred on whether it would inspire a generation of children to take up sport, and whether it would provide lasting facilities for sport. But I don’t think it is beyond the realms of possibility that including the NHS in that opening ceremony could go some way to inspiring the next generation of NHS staff. And at a time when morale in the service isn’t great, that may prove a priceless achievement.
There were other elements of the ceremony that hit home, of course. What an amazing statement that Doreen Lawrence, Liberty founder Shami Chakrabarti and UN general secretary Ban Ki-Moon were among the group that carried in the Olympic flag, marking their contribution to society. Or the fact that for the first time, all countries in the Games are fielding female atheletes as well as men. These were powerful statements about progress and change in British and world social attitudes, to complement the observations about industrial and technological advances.
Meanwhile, Hey Jude was at the top of the charts in 1968 when gold-medal-winning US athlete Tommy Smith raised his fist on the podium in a black power salute, only to be booted out of his country’s team – asking Paul McCartney to play it seemed to be an attempt to right that wrong, a nod to the belief that modern Britain would have been on Tommy’s side.
The ceremony was also a triumph for providing a celebration of Britishness that felt far more inclusive and modern than the recent Jubilee. If this start to the Olympics is anything to go by, its legacy may turn out to be far broader and deeper than any of us could have hoped.