By Bob Duncan
David Cameron is distancing himself and his coalition government from a number of Unionist MPs and MSPs who have been attempting to politicise the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
Mr Cameron’s intervention follows Friday’s opening ceremony, which was watched by millions and has been used by politicians north and south of the border in order to indulge in political point scoring.
Some Tories saw a left wing agenda in the spectacle, including Aiden Burley, who branded the Olympic opening ceremony “leftie multicultural crap”.
The Tory MP, who was forced to quit as a ministerial aide after attending a Nazi-themed stag do last year, delivered the barb on Twitter during the event last Friday.
One post read: “The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen – more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?”
Shortly afterwards he added: “Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows (sic), Shakespeare and the Stones!”
Burley later backtracked after the tweets provoked a flurry of criticism on Twitter, he said: “I was talking about the way it was handled in the show, not multiculturalism itself.”
Speaking later to the BBC, Mr Burley re-iterated that he had not been having a go at multiculturalism. “I agree it should be celebrated,” he said. “I wasn’t having a go at multiculturalism itself, I was having a go at the rather trite way, frankly, it was represented in the opening ceremony.
“We all love the NHS but really for all the people watching overseas, 20 minutes of children and nurses jumping on beds, that seems quite strange. And then we had all these rappers – that is what got me to the point about multiculturalism.”
Labour frontbencher Michael Dugher immediately criticised the Tory MP and said: “David Cameron should show some leadership and demand a full apology from Aidan Burley immediately. Burley has got form. His comments were stupid, ignorant and offensive.
“David Cameron has said that the Conservative Party has changed but it is clear from the words of his own MP that not a lot has changed.”
Downing Street moved quickly to distance Mr Cameron from the “leftie” comments, with a senior source saying simply: “We do not agree with him.”
Speaking last night, Mr Cameron insisted the London Olympics were “not about politics”, and said “what he said was completely wrong. I think an idiotic thing to say”. He added: “We all celebrate the NHS. We all think James Bond is fantastic. We all revere the Queen.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson was another who placed a political interpretation onto the ceremony, claiming it represented a right wing interpretation of English history and culture. “Danny Boyle’s filmic mixture of Blake, Dickens, Tolkien, JK Rowling … has confirmed London’s status as the global capital of art and culture.” he wrote.
“Right-wing critics should be reassured that the meaning of the Mary Poppins-Dementors clash has been widely misunderstood. I am told by one figure close to proceedings that the bellicose nanny figure was intended by Danny Boyle to stand for Mrs Thatcher in her struggles with the NUM and other militant trade unionists.”
In Scotland, anti-independence campaign chiefs seized on the opportunity to politicise the £27 million event by claiming its celebration of Britain past and present would drive support away from Scottish independence.
Labour MP and Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, a leading No campaigner, said: “Friday’s opening ceremony was a big cultural moment that will impact on our sense of ourselves and politics here in Scotland even after the athletes have headed home. To win the referendum the Nationalists need to convince us that the rest of the UK has become so foreign a place with such different values that we should split apart.
“Friday’s ceremony did something completely different – by attempting to capture and define the essence of Britishness it reminded millions of us what we so cherish.”
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser added: “… I think we have seen a reclamation of British identity over the last year with the Queen’s Jubilee and the passage of the Olympic torch.
“The ceremony wasn’t just about London or about England, it was about the whole of the UK. No matter where they lived, I think people will have associated themselves with a lot of what they saw.”
Mr Cameron’s intervention is a clear signal to pro-Union allies, both within and beyond his own party, that attempts at politicising the Games’ are unwelcome.
The claims by No campaigners prompted a spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond, who attended the event in London, to accuse the pro-Union campaign of a “puerile attempt” to make political capital out of the ceremony and the Olympic Games.
With athletes from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland competing – at times under intense pressure and after years of preparation – any attempts by politicians to use the Games for their own agenda will not be welcome, and may backfire.