London 2012: NHS confirmed as national religion

To summarise the history of Britain for those who missed last night’s Olympic opening ceremony: the island shire is populated by sheep, ducks and happy peasants inventing cricket, when Isambard Kingdom Brunel kicks off the industrial revolution, forging five rings to rule over all. The peasants protest, winning democracy, equal rights for women (such as to compete in the Olympics) and men (to wear brightly coloured Sergeant Pepper uniforms).

Then the heroic, jiving medical professionals (played by themselves, including 37 from Guy’s and St Thomas – some pictured below – more from Barts Health, pictured a bit further down, yet more from London Ambulance and around 50 from UCLH)* form Great Ormond Street Hospital (which itself contributed three staff and nine patients – pictured further down again in front of the Olympic stadium) and the NHS to look after Britain’s children, and get reinforcement fictional childcare professionals flown in by umbrella to thwart Voldemort and the Child Catcher. Job done, so the Queen and James Bond drop in and everyone watches some films and dances to the Arctic Monkeys.


I often remind Kable clients of former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson’s quip that the NHS is the nearest thing the British have to a national religion. After the Olympics opening ceremony, I reckon we can drop ‘nearest thing’. London 2012: NHS as crowning glory of British history and legend.

You could argue that Danny Boyle’s vision was a bit left-wing (a Tory MP already has and the Guardian’s Zoe Williams agrees, although obviously not on whether this was a good thing). But it had a balance of ingredients making it unsurprising that a libertarian centrist Tory like David Cameron agreed to fund it. Lots of the military, hardly any police, no sign of the surveillance state (including the camera-headed mascots of London 2012) and Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti helping to carry the Olympic flag (despite complaining about civil liberties infringements resulting from the Games… or perhaps because).

Good capitalism, such as Branagh’s Brunel, was OK when it stuck to engineering and manufacturing, such as the Mini and the stadium builders who formed a guard of honour for the Olympic torch. Bankers merely got a brief champagne-swilling appearance below James Bond’s royal helicopter. Talking of which, Her Majesty the Queen and James Bond aren’t exactly left-wing icons. The starting sequence that rushed along the Thames followed the southern edge of Cameron’s Witney constituency, which bears a striking resemblance to Boyle’s idyllic shire. And the prime minister’s affection for the NHS that treated his son seems genuine, even if much of the NHS doesn’t approve of his government’s reforms.

I once wrote about NHS logos for Health Service Journal, including the Great Ormond Street smiling baby with tear (strictly speaking, the logo of the hospital charity rather than the trust – it’s in the top-left corner of the tweeted picture panel above), which got such a spectacular amount of product placement last night, swiftly followed by a version of the NHS logo itself. That was, essentially, two corporate logos in the middle of the most-watched ceremony to be held in a stadium where even the logos of core Olympic sponsors are banned.

For the rest of the world, the NHS focus may have seemed bizarre, a point made by a rather brave French journalist on Radio Five Live this morning (France having an excellent healthcare system, although heavily subsidised rather than free at the point of use). Goodness knows what US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, watching from the stands, thought of this celebration of socialist healthcare, unless he imagined it was a hastily-organised extension of Boris Johnson’s riposte to his comments about London’s readiness.

For the NHS, sacred status makes its reconfiguration (in other words, fewer but better departments, such as the nationally-welcomed but locally-opposed cuts planned to child heart units) that managers and even now the medical profession say is needed increasingly difficult.

But it now seems impossible that any party wanting to form a government anywhere in Britain could suggest ending or even seriously altering the London 2012 NHS. You don’t mess with a national religion.

* Updated 30 July with more trusts and links of real nurses wearing old-fashioned nurse costumes. Further reading: opening ceremony cast member Scott Cawley on his pride in it all – thanks to Dave Coplin for the link.

One thought on “London 2012: NHS confirmed as national religion”

  1. Its a shame you don’t mention that many British politicians (including Cameron, connected to Mike Parsons and Lord Popat) so I would not trust anything he says about the NHS)) have financial links to private healthcare and insurance companies, which is the real motive behind the NHS reforms they advocate. They wish to line their own pockets by funnelling taxpayer money to their corporate friends (who then reward them with cushy boardroom jobs) in yet another corporate welfare scam.

    The NHS will, if Cameron gets his way, become like the universally despised Network Rail (aka Notwork Fail).

    You will surely have noticed that Britain’s privately run, but taxpayer subsidised public transport system did not feature in the Opening Ceremony. That’s because its a national joke and everyone hates it.

    If you want private run healthcare, not a penny of taxpayer’s money should go towards it.

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