I just stumbled upon a back issue of Vanity Fair, which included this superb and disturbing article about the 2012 Olympic games. Warning: the quality of the journalism may translate directly into levels of anger experienced as a result. It includes interview access to a number of senior political figures, including Tony Blair and Tessa Jowell, somehow managing to conceal the author's critical intentions from them in the prcoess. There's a lovely anecdote along the way of Blair trying to chat up a stranger while taking a pee, on the mistaken assumption that the man was a voting member of the IOC committee. Gordon Brown's historical rehabilitation receives another small fillip, as it emerges that he told Jowell "we’re not going to be able to build schools or hospitals if you do these Olympic Games".
The outrageous riddle of the games is summed up in this quote from Tony Blair towards the end of the article:
What you make of the Olympics is in a way up to you. For a country like Britain, it’s a great thing for us to have the Olympics here. We can afford to do the Olympics. We’re Britain. We’re not some Third World country.
Here we have Blairism in all its nakedness, post-colonial hubris mingled with paranoia. It's as if the Olympics is sorely needed, primarily to demonstrate that we're still a powerful and wealthy nation - precisely the type of grand-standing usually associated with, ahem, "third world" countries. We do it because we can. But we really need to do it because we're worried we can't.
I seem to recall Blair saying something similar about the Iraq war in an interview with Jeremy Paxman. Pressed on why Britain couldn't simply stay out, as virtually all its major allies had done, Blair fell back on the empty justification "what? Britain? Standing on the sidelines? No, that's not Britain." This is what is often cruelly referred to as 'small man syndrome' (I can say this; I suffer from bald man syndrome), in which men push themselves into fights to demonstrate an absence of fear, jump queues to demonstrate a disregard for social norms, and drive dangerously to attract public ire. At a national level, it translates into what Paul Gilroy diagnoses as 'post-colonial melancholia', which rests on a toxic combination of aggression and fear. It signals a desperate desire to be loved and admired, combined with the resentful assumption that one won't be, no matter what. And it's about to ruin two weeks of my summer. Perhaps we should be grateful that our current Prime Minister is more interested in chillaxing with computer games.