Cast your mind back to the London Olympics: six years ago: a country at peace with itself, putting on one heck of show, celebrating athletic prowess in a generous British way. Cheering on a former refugee from Somali as he tore around the track, now Sir Mo Farrah. The thousands of game-makers, volunteers all of them. The Paralympics that followed – huge crowds roaring on these super-humans as they displayed such courage over adversity. Our country was inclusive and united, creative, selfless, open and kind.
Now look at us. Divided from top to bottom over the issue of the day, divisions among generations and even among families. Racism creeping back in, hate crimes on the increase. Hard-working Polish people who have lived her for years, told by children in the street to go home, black footballers screamed at with fanatical racial abuse as they pick up the ball for a throw in. What happened?
In every society, disagreeable attitudes lurk not far beneath the surface. In all of us, if we are not careful, the darker side of our nature can break through. The stunning book Lord of the Flies was an illustration of how human nature can quickly become depraved under extreme pressure. Good and bad in all of us.
But most of us also have a kindler gentler, more decent side that flourishes in the right conditions.
Leadership is a huge part of bringing out the best in people. For most of my time at Westminster political leaders of all parties have been careful with their language, doing their utmost to foster good community relations and a positive appreciation of diversity.
Unfortunately the referendum debate in 2016 appears to have changed all of that. That ugly period in British political history served as a catalyst to uncork forces in our country that had been dormant: for decades. It rumbles on still.
I am not blaming one side or the other in the referendum debate, but it seems to have marked an unfortunate turning point.
Some people do not like modern Britain. They do not like the diversity and change that each decade brings. They want to turn back the clock. But the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. This is who we are now.
I would not mind turning back the clock – back to the summer of 2012, when a united nation stood together and celebrated all that was good about our great country.