It would be wrong to say that David Cameron has had a bad Olympics. After all, the Games went extremely well, both in terms of logistics and Britain’s wonderful medal haul. The Prime Minister is not responsible for the bouncy mood of the country at the moment, but he’s also not having to answer aggressive questions from the media about an awful security breach, total gridlock in central London or worse.
But the Prime Minister did rather let himself down by being drawn into the inevitable debate about sports provision in the state education sector during the Games. That discussion started so early into Britain’s rise up the medal table that at the time it was impossible to assess whether state-educated athletes were pulling their weight. Even as the Games drew to a close, the Prime Minister and Education Secretary Michael Gove would have been wise to resist the probably rather satisfying attacks on the teaching unions and comments about ‘sort of Indian dancing‘. The latter was presumably an attempt by the Prime Minister to appear on the side of common sense, but instead it led to him being roundly mocked. There was even a rather mysterious bout of bhangra in the closing ceremony last night, which conspiracy theorists (and most of the lobby) suspected had been inserted last minute as a gibe at Cameron.
This has left rather a nice gap for Labour to step into. By calling for a cross-party plan on competitive sports in schools, Ed Miliband and Tessa Jowell managed to suggest that they were above party politics on this issue. Today Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg has made sensible noises about devolving power to local communities so they can decide whether their local free school or academy is under performing in its sports provision. Twigg also pointed out that this weekend’s announcement that competitive team sports will be made compulsory for all primary-age children does not apply to academies and free schools, and said Labour would amend funding rules to ensure that it did. Whether or not you agree with that depends on whether you think the government should be dictating the curriculum to schools (and Fraser has looked at this in more detail here). But by sticking to policy details rather than slightly dodgy anecdotes about dancing, Miliband’s party has gained the upper hand.