Poppy politics eh? It’s enough to make you go red in the face. This morning, I bought my yearly poppy to mark the remembrance of those men and women who laid down their young lives so that people like ……well you know how it all goes by now.
Anyway. I can’t properly explain to you why, but for the first time since I bought my very first poppy I now feel like keeping it in my pocket, if only for the benefit of not having to associate myself with a bunch of frenzied Poppy Gestapo who, if you haven’t already noticed, come out from their trenches this time of year. It was my late grandfather who explained to me why it is that the poppy is worn each November instead of any of symbol of remembrance. ‘Poppies were the very first flower to bloom on No Man’s Land,’ he told me. And as I’ve grown up, the poignancy of that image always comes into mind as we approach Armistice Day.
However, I cannot pinpoint the precise moment when the wearing of a poppy became de-riguer and that to be seen without one on the lapel of your jacket by mid-October at the latest, means that you must be secretly goose-stepping around your back garden with pictures of Hitler and the Kaiser above your mantelpiece. Sadly, Remembrance Day has spread its bright red tentacles into almost every walk of life. To take just one example; It never used to be the case a few years back, but the country’s football teams now proudly sew the poppy into their shirt for the remembrance weekend, though half of the young foreign players in each team, who are basically forced to wear it, have little idea of its significance. And I as an Englishman fully support the Republic of Ireland footballer James McClean’s right not to wear the poppy on his football jersey. Indeed, we should all thank the young Irishmen who fought and died so that he can exercise that right.
For the best part of a century football managed to honour the war dead with a centre circle wreath and a minute’s silence on the nearest Saturday to Remembrance Day. The poppied crowds reflected and, perhaps more in years gone by, remembered lost friends, loved ones and relatives. But none of that is good enough to satisfy the social media fascists who by and large run our lives. Because once these arseholes got the poppy stalk between their buck teeth then the inevitable witch hunts began. So woe betide any TV presenter appearing from October onwards without wearing a poppy.
In fact, it’s clearly part of the BBC staff uniform during this period. So much for freedom to wear or not wear. Personally, the right to wear the poppy has nothing to do with a sense of national pride; nor even with principles of freedom which those who went before us have fought for. It is a small gesture of thanks and gratitude for their sacrifice. Yet poppy fascists are, of course, noxious and self-righteous, with their demands that every newsreader, presenter or weather-girl wears one. So, too, are the newspapers which ram the poppy down our throats….lest we forget eh? But this over-zealous and mindless coercion is nowadays so all-pervasive that any reasoned argument as to why there should be a right not to wear a poppy struggles to be heard.
It’s ironic don’t you think, that those young men and women who were needlessly slaughtered, laid down their lives for our freedom. But here’s the thing. The Poppy police just don’t do freedom of expression. And of course, to wear a poppy is just a tiny gesture; but tiny gestures matter. However, would I feel the same, though, if I were forced to wear one? Would I happily hand over my cash in return for that little scarlet flower? Or would I privately bristle at the thought of being told what to wear, what to think and whom to honour?
Politicians are the strangest creatures here as they wouldn’t be seen dead NOT wearing a poppy during October/November. They couldn’t bear to face the quivering rage on Twitter and Facebook, and the eye popping anger at their perceived lack of patriotism.
I find this peculiar because the same politicians, who drone on about national pride and patriotism, wouldn’t give the time of day to any lobby that wanted a national holiday to celebrate St George’s Day. ‘It will be hijacked by the far right’ is the usually trotted out excuse for refusing to embrace what has always been the greatest opportunity, once per year at least, for every citizen in England to celebrate that Englishness but which could also be extended to embrace every citizen of every race, colour and creed to participate.
The Irish have St Patricks day, which has become a fantastic worldwide event and rightly so. However when one considers the size of the English diaspora, a global celebration of St George’s Day would be an even bigger event. If politicians were really afraid of the far right then they would have taken steps years ago to control unfettered immigration. The far right has been marginalised out of existence and if continued mass immigration and Brexit failed to ignite them, then an all-inclusive celebration of our national day will do nothing more than attract the same kind of freaks who spend their lives in the shadows of social media.
In so many aspects of life today the call-out culture pervades and dissenting voices are strangled. Sadly this means that the poppy has become little more than the red badge of righteous conformity.
5th November 2016.