Letters: Raise the flag for true legacy

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Some people have to get a life. The Olympic Games was good, really good, but some people are grieving at its ending like they have lost a loved one.

The coverage was as breathless as Mo Farah after the 10K, the opening and closing ceremonies were at times clever, nearly always entertaining (let’s forget the episode of George Michael’s new song) and I have been reading what other countries have been saying and it’s nearly all good. The crowning achievement being one German newspaper congratulating London for its German efficiency!

Above all of the paraphernalia there has, of course, been some incredible sport, some unbelievable individual achievements, a few emotional moments and many, many memories to savour.

The number of times that I just happened to switch on the telly, see a canoe race (or such like) live before my eyes and, crash bang wallop, the United Kingdom had won another medal (gold is good but any metal is an achievement in my book).

When I was a kid, it was a marvel if there was a Brit in a final and would ask to stay up to see David Hemery or Lillian Board. Now I’d never be in bed if I followed all of Team GB’s sporting achievements.

That’s not to diminish the results of other athletes or nations. There were female competitors from some devoutly Muslim countries making their inaugural appearance and some medals won by nations for the first time. By all accounts, the predominantly British crowd was also getting behind everybody no matter where they came from.

Now as we move into the Paralympic Games, all the talk is of what the legacy will be – more sport in schools, what type of sport, are there enough facilities, do we spend enough money? Why, no sooner has the Brazilian flag been waved for Rio and we’re already back into politics again with a dull thud. Maybe that is an Olympic record, too?

I would like to proffer a legacy that is already clearly visible (sorry about the pun) and that is the elevation of our Union flag as a positive symbol of pride, effort, determination, love, solidarity and inspiration. I don’t think the Union flag has ever been so 
popular.

It is not that the Olympics has done this by itself – it has been a long process since those days in the 1960s when the Union flag was lowered for the last time in former colonies of the British Empire. Back then, the Union flag represented a stuffy, still class-ridden, out-of-sorts country that was not quite sure of its place in the world. Not any more, though.

It represented an often introverted narrow nationalism such as Harold Wilson’s “I’m Backing Britain” trade campaign – when what Britain needed most was for other countries to buy our exports. Carnaby Street and the roofs of Minis did their bit to make the flag seem cool but, like all fashions, it came and went. By the mid-1970s, the Union flag had been colonised by fascists, Labour would rather fly the red flag and Tories worried that waving the nation’s flag put them in the same bracket as the National Front.

Then there was the sporting confusion that most English people would wave Union flags at English matches, making it vexillum non grata to Scots and Welsh.

The change began in the 1980s. The nation was proud to see our flag raised at Port Stanley and Thatcher reclaimed it from extremists by using it at party conferences – famously berating British Airways for dropping it from its livery.

The next sea change was when England hosted the European football championships in 1996 and, with Scotland playing there too, suddenly the flag of St George was rediscovered and, thankfully, it has remained prominent at England matches ever since.

This released the Union flag from its confusing English servitude and made it truly British where before it was, for some, only in name. Meanwhile, Tony Blair knew that using the Union flag at Labour conferences would signal the change and show his patriotism, too.

Much was made of the cool Britannia period, but from my experience that resonated more in Britain than abroad. What I have noticed is that wherever I go I see young Europeans (especially the French), Africans, Asians and Caribbeans wearing the Union flag on their T-shirts, jewellery, handbags and sports gear. It is often in pinks, blues, distressed patterns and such like, but it is associated with good taste and if it is a fashion, it seems to be lasting longer and travelled far wider than it did in the 1960s.

I also see British sportsmen and women proud to wrap themselves in the flag, in recognition of what their country has done for them and supported them. It truly is now everybody’s flag.

When Mo Farah was asked if he would rather be running for Somalia, he said in his London accent: “Not at all mate, this is my country.”

Who can forget Andy Murray, Chris Hoy and other Scots showing their pride in being Scottish and British?

The Union flag has been a winner, and that is a legacy that will be 
lasting.