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Re-framing Britain

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Against all my own expectations, the Olympic Games have emerged like unexpected blossom on a tree that only flowers erratically. When was the last time GB could stand so proudly tall? I'm reminded of the post war years when the response to the end of WW2 was to implement the Beveridge Report and build the welfare state. Am I comparing a few sporting triumphs to the construction of, amongst other things, the National Health Service? No - that would be pure bathos. But I am comparing a display of national character, where the choices that were made in a moment of coming together, were open, inclusive and dynamically forward looking.

Let me put this in context: it's hard to forget that the Olympic bid was won the day before the atrocities known here as 7/7 when 52 people were killed by suicide bombers. Only one day after Beckham, Coe et al spun a promise to celebrate global culture to the Olympics Committee, the 'clash of civilizations' landed on our doorstep. Could Britain transcend the differences the bombers were intent on bringing to a head?

The intervening years have not offered a clear response. Divisions of all kinds have increased in our crisis ridden societies across Europe. Gaps between the rich and poor have significantly increased and in the UK, the hand over from a Labour to a Coalition government allowed a shift in British tone and identity not seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher.

Once again, the rich and privileged (two different kinds of elitism) have been allowed to dominate not only political headlines but the cultural ones too: posh accents coupled with unaffordable consumer experiences - from congestion charges to concert tickets - have combined to make the zeitgeist a cordoned off area for the majority. Instead of being a genuine arena for democratic care and creativity, Cameron's Big Society became a new playground for smart and savvy entrepreneurs taking precious funding away from established charities and social work.

Unable to offer a genuinely new - authentic - vision, the Labour Party slipped into a number of least worst positions, fearful of losing the middle ground to the Coalition. In what will surely have been a tactical error, Ed Miliband has failed to take sides with the students on fees, the pupils on free-schools and maintenance allowance, the workers on the cuts, the unemployed on benefits and the huge population of mixed race Britons on immigration.

If he were a cyclist he would do well to study the failure of the 2012 British cycling team who stuck too long to the peloton - the middle group of cyclists who stay together to conserve energy: there comes a point where break away is no longer possible and those that risked their necks by standing alone in the front have got too far away from you to catch them up.

For all these reasons, as a freelance, single mother, mixed race British citizen, I was not feeling the buzz of the Olympics in the run up. I have always treasured my global citizenship, comfortably exercised in metropolitan London but distrusted brand Britain as the foster child of the elite - Blair, Cameron, Coe. I settled down to watch the Opening Ceremony like an unexpected guest at a big family dinner: just slightly envious of how it must feel to be on the inside of it all.

I can't remember another transformative experience quite like it. From those first shaky moments of the green and pleasant lands - errr, is that IT? - to the shock of slowly seeing Danny Boyle's socio-political agenda for the Opening Ceremony was, as they say, emotional. It could not have been more different from the shiny, technical displays of elegant unity in Beijing. His decision to use the ugliness of the Industrial Revolution, the vulnerability of the hospital beds, a wacky fondness for the Royal Family and an addiction to melodramatic soap operas as the very stuff of our national stickiness - that what holds us together - set us up nicely.

But his confidence in heralding a future made up of winged, multicultural, playful kids whose heroes are as likely to be Tim Berners-Lee as any blingtastic, plastic or macho celebrity was a golden ticket for Next Gen Britain. In a slowly building romance, here was their way out of a depression framed by the demise of our job defined, manufacturing mono-culture into a world of possibilities founded on their networked, digital, global diversity.

The real joy for me was not the spectacle or the brilliance of Danny Boyle - both of which podiumed - but the people who put him there. The last time i experienced this shift was when i went to New York four years ago just to be there when Obama was elected. For me the capability or attractiveness of the man, his story and his symbolism was not in question: he already had the global vote. What was on trial was the American people: would they choose this man? They did and it significantly changed the way I, and others like myself who had fallen out of love with America over the Bush years, felt about the Americans. A new trust was born.

Similarly, it was knowing that the British Olympic committee, the wildly enthusiastic audience and crucially the British Press all jubilantly embraced this Opening vision with pride, that has made a difference to me. This might be the first time I have felt unambiguous - safe - supporting the British efforts and I've been well rewarded with multiple triumphs.

So it was not the Opening Ceremony, but the context within which it arose. That's not a heady notion but one made up of all sorts of other equally observable developments. For example, we've all heard about the home-country effect but have we ever seen the audience playing such a material role in the chances of the athletes? Every one of the medal winners cites the audience as giving them wings, lifting them up and carrying them along. Some will shrink this down to psychology, but my guess is that science will prove the intimate relationship, the mutually strengthening energy flowing between the actor and observer soon enough. Its no longer all about the one in the spotlight, its about how the starting gun is a signal for everyone to make an effort.

I'm going to add one more factor in here - although there are enough for double this word count - and that is the conspicuous shift between male and female power at the Olympics. Not only did the women set the pace for medal winning but their soft power - their ability to attract audiences, attention and investment - has grown immeasurably. Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Ennis every bit as iconic as Sir Chris Hoy or the Brownlee brothers. And perfectly in concert is the spectacle of the new masculine: smiling, gracious, tearful men, every bit as muscly as their predecessors, but more emotional, more relational.

In a development between fathers and families I've been watching for some time - here is the man of the moment, 10,000 m gold medallist Mo Farah, modeling the winning mentality for the young British boys of the future. When asked what was the best moment of his career so far, he said, not the finishing line, not getting up on the podium to receive his gold medal, but "Seeing my wife and stepdaughter running up to me on the track was the best moment of my life."

Is it any wonder that I am feeling that bit more comfortable, that bit more fit for the future living in global Britain this week?