20 August 2012

Have the Olympics ushered in a new, positive Britain?

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Britain is having a post-Olympic bounce; feeling a bit more confident, a bit more enthusiastic, and a bit more sporty than we did before.

Given the whirlwind of winners, anthems, and evenings when it didn’t seem possible to watch anything but the Olympics whatever the sport, Britain is feeling a bit more able to say to the world that “look this is who we are” and we are feeling pretty good about it, and we are feeling it might change Britain for ever.

Critics might have lapsed back into a post-Olympic slump, but they have not taken the public with them. Buoyed by the feeling of connection during the Games, we are now feeling surprisingly positive that it will have a long term impact, and confident in a Britain that reflects who we are today.

Not surprisingly there has been a shift in how many people think that the Olympics could be good for British mood, with a high  80% saying it has been, compared with 53% who thought it would be a good mood boost when British Future polled the question in December last year.

The reality has exceeded expectations, and how often can we say that? The combination of superb medal-winning achievements, an Olympic park that worked, avoiding a transport meltdown and a genuinely impressive opening ceremony has given the British public an uplift. When it comes to considering if the Olympics is making a difference to how the rest of the world perceives Britain, our expectations before the event were lower than now, after the Olympics has finished. That figure has bounced from a net positive of 56% (with 23% being very positive) before Christmas, to a much bigger 73% thinking Britain has impressed the globe with its innovation and sporting achievement, and of that overall figure, those thinking the Olympics will have a very positive effect on the way Britain is viewed by the rest of the world has bounced to 41%. All in all, we are feeling confident that Britain has shined up its global image, having proved that we can innovate and impress, while delivering massive projects on time. After all, who knew?

That doesn’t mean that Brits are walking around in a rose-tinted haze though, they are still realistic about the challenges ahead. Back in December, 52% were optimistic about 2012 for them and their family, and 26% pessimistic, and as the Olympics ended 47% were saying the year had been good so far, and 27% bad for them and their families. The majority felt it had not been a great year for Britain or Europe.

But despite the economic hard times, there was a massive vote for big events such as the Jubilee and the Olympics not being a waste of time and cash, with only 22% thinking they were an unnecessary distraction, and 70% saying that “events like this bring people together and improve the mood of the nation” and 58% agreeing that the Olympics will leave a long-lasting positive impact on British society. That’s a big yah boo sucks to those people who moaned about it all being a giant waste of money which could be better spent on something else. Actually it turns out to be a once in a lifetime experience for most of us, and unforgettable. Right now it also feels like a spectacular win for Britain, something that made a difference to our lives like nothing else could.

And going forward will it change anything? Will we find a new Britain or a Britain with a new attitude?

Our polling suggests there is a genuine belief that it could be, with 79% of the public believing it will increase our sporting participation, and 50% believing there will be an increase in volunteering on the back of our pride in the enthusiastic Games Makers, who made such a difference to our attitude to life.

So to keep this new Britain feeling more positive, and more confident, what do we need to do? Well, there’s a feeling that Brits could start by spending less time knocking ourselves, and more time taking pride in our achievements, with 65% agreeing that Brits don’t talk about the good things often enough. We are the nation that loves to knock success, and takes pride in cutting those with giant egos down to size. It would be a shame to lose that infamous British sarcasm, but could we combine it with a bit more positivity? If so, comedians and news programmes might suffer. Around 64% of Brits felt the British media doesn’t do us any favours by generally lashing on the misery in its coverage of life and the universe, although that certainly wasn’t true during those two recent heady weeks. We seemed to have recognised a different kind of Britain, one that we are happier with, one that represents who we actually are. While 66% agreed (12% disagreed) with the reviewers that Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony reflected the best of traditional and modern Britain, a sizable 75% agreed that the Olympics showed that Britain was a confident, multi-ethnic society. For most of us it is that memory of a confident, happy Britain that will stick with us, and our surprised pleasure at being part of a crowd, in a street, in a shop or around a television who just wanted to cheer on the team, and feel part of something great in Britain.

Rachael Jolley is editorial director of British Future.

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