In his comment below my last post, Madfolly asks, reasonably enough, for an explanation of the strong and persistent strand of negativity and 'can't do' in what might pompously be called our national discourse.
Well, the first thing to say is that it shouldn't be taken too seriously: we indulge in a lot of 'can't do' moaning because we know that really, when it comes to it, we probably can do - as these Olympics prove. It was the perpetually grumbling, negative Poor Bloody Infantry that won us two world wars against overwhelming odds. Perhaps nations with less confidence - and competence - cannot indulge nay-saying on a British scale (though clearly America doesn't fit this picture).
Another strand feeding into our great national grumble is a deep-seated distrust of airy idealism - of Big Ideas, especially those of a progressive kind that promise a Better World. We rarely fall for it: the short period after the Last Spot of Bother when we accepted New Jerusalem thinking and got the NHS and the Welfare State (talking of mad folly) was an aberration, as was the Things Can Only Get Better madness that swept Blair to power. Most of the time we empirical Brits love to debunk big ideas, because we know that they are not rooted in human reality - just as we like to bring down the mighty and pretentious, who have similarly lost touch with what they are. This is deep in our cultural bloodstream, at the core of our sense of humour and of the comic imagination that suffuses all our greatest literature, from Chaucer on.
However, having said all this, I can't help but feel that the Great British Nay is not what it was. Ever since the London Olympics were announced - to whoops and air punches all round - the nay-sayers have been in a minority, and now that minority is dwindling to a rump. There's an awful lot of positive energy around, a lot of affirmation, and it all feels a bit odd and unEnglish - but then there probably always has been. It's just that we Brits like to balance it with healthy doses of scepticism, moaning and debunking humour, grumbling as we get on with it. Long may it be so.