The weekend papers will be taking a common meme in trying to find a wider meaning to Britain's Olympic medal success. Is this indicative of Britain's broader superiority over Germany and France? Are we punching above our weight in the world? Do the results signal a renaissance in the UK's economic fortune? Government ministers are falling over themselves to announce more compulsory sport for children, and no doubt Whitehall mandarins as I write are drafting detailed prescriptive instructions to be sent to every headteacher in the country specifying exactly how many cricket bats, tennis nets and rugby balls should be held per pupil head.
In the post-games analysis never will the Chinese saw "Success has many fathers while failure is an orphan" be more proven. Every politician in the country will be elbowing a path to be identified with the country's medal success; Cameron and Boris are locked in a furious struggle to be more photographed at weekend games events than the other, and even socialists who secretly loathe the idea of competitive sports are grinning and struggling to crowd the podium pics. Even the vile and toxic Blair may pop up in the news claiming his part in the success. The coaches, families and small-scale sponsors of our winning athletes will be trampled in the stampede of publicity-crazed politicians as the contest draws to a close.
Charles Moore in the Telegraph this morning manages the rare feat of coming close to the answer but then veers off into cliche. "Again and again, the pattern has been that a few people take up something – kicking a bladder, whacking a ball with a stick, jumping over a pole – for fun....... Almost none of this was done by government. It was worked out by the Marylebone Cricket Club or the Marquess of Queensberry or the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, and by hundreds more ad hoc individuals and bodies."
Burke's little platoons in other words have nurtured and kept alive grass-roots sports; Alf Tupper's Greystoke Harriers Club, the little yacht clubs around the coast with programmes of Summer dinghy racing, a local group of cyclists banding together to pester the local highways department, with their fetes and bring-and-buys and sponsored parachute jumps, aided by committed families, supported by the local ironmongers or animal feed merchants.