red faction

November brings cold nights, dark skies and the perennial tabloid topic; “How shall we fill 500 words on Remembrance Sunday?”. For as long as I can recall, there is never a bad time to start complaining about wearing a Poppy too soon, in the wrong lapel, or if wearing one at all is distasteful. Recently, Facebook and in the Internet generally has fostered a form of nationalistic hubris which mixes the remembrance of our fallen war dead with twisted nationalism and barely hidden racism. “You’ll never see Muslims wearing a Poppy!” screams the copy-and-paste status updates.

For every group where users speak in general terms – such as “Poppy’s {sic} show our gratitude to our boys injured and killed for our freedom and should be promoted by companies not banned” – it does not take long to find prejudice of a very unsettling kind. One status update in a Poundland group, hastily set up in the heat of the “Poundland ban the poppy” controversy, reads “Disgusting! I’m not racist in any way but if Great Brittain’s {sic} traditions and morals offend you ”Vistiors” then PISS OFF and don’t come back!!!”.  Some mouse clicks further and I find “The shop manager in question was probably some Muslim extremist let into the UK after claim political asylum from Pakistan or somewhere equally horrific.”

As a symbol of war and remembrance, the poppy has always been easily hijacked, adopted by those who push a very different message than that of peace and understanding. Its colour is vivid and unromantic, the blood of the fallen, the setting of many suns on the bodies of men and women who will never see loved ones again. It’s the colour of sacrifice and of England. Associations which would always attract disquiet and those who would like to cause disquiet. In an age where nationalism beats close to the surface of the news agenda, particularly the extremist English nationalism with its football hooligan connections, the poppy sits with the cross of St George and lions in Trafalgar Square as adopted symbols of a mindset completely at odds with the peace and understanding the end of armed conflict is supposed to promote. Yes, the burning of poppies by Muslim extremists is an incendiary act, but the anti-everything English nationalists who would rather smash up a town centre than engage in debate are extremists too. Ignorance and prejudice anger me more than the absence of a poppy on a suit-jacket.

The politics of the poppy has been tackled by two very different blog posts in recent days. Laurie Penny wrote last year an article in New Statesman which was reproduced at the start of this week in which she decries the “hypocrisy and showbiz” of poppy day. In an otherwise considered article – and there’s not often when Penny can be described like that – she spoils everything with a jarring paragraph on politicians “cheerfully author[ising]” cuts to jobs and education “in order to defend Britain’s military spending.”  Her attempt to tie the sacrifice of the fallen to “the sacrifice…of working class people” in a political diatribe is unfortunate and misplaces her anger.  Blogger “Stackee” brings Penny to task – objecting to the way Penny has chosen to use working-class people as a way to score crass political points.

In the middle of all this  are valid points teetering on the edge of hubris. The sight of Tony Blair at the Cenotaph every year did stick in the throat, his reasons for war so tenuous and weak, the justification for invading Iraq nothing less than a false prospectus. In the two minutes of silence on 11 November, how many prayers and thoughts can realistically balance the perfunctory orders which sent men and women to fight? 

Wearing a poppy is not a right. It is neither a symbol of piety. Armistice Day is not primarily a date to mourn the deaths of men who fought under our flag. Laurie Penny is right to feel awkward at the sight of politicians wearing poppies though her substantive point is way off the mark. 

Would any of this be resolved if the White Poppy was more readily available? It would certainly get the nationalists talking…

In no particular order…

As expected, Tony Blair has scribbled all over the newsgrids in place for January and his questioning at the Iraq War Inquiry. The former prime minister told renowned investigative journalist Fern Britton that had he known about the lack of WMDs in Iraq at the time of the Parliamentary vote on any proposed Iraq invasion, “other justifications” would have been sourced and used. This is the infamously grey area barely above the level of lying so favoured by the political class: the world of “known unknowns” and suppressed legal advice and other such curtains drawn to hide the facts.

The media have not done themselves any favours against claims of “dumbing down” in recent months, not least in their coverage of the Iraq Inquiry. With barely any headline news, it has become pretty much established fact that the war had its genesis years prior to the World Trade Centre attacks, that “regime change” was far above any other justification for invasion, and George W. Bush did not necessarily require the firm handshakes or solemn prayers of Tony Blair before sending American troops into battle. How the media will cover Blair’s actual questioning in front of Chilcott will be interesting now the “big admission” has been so subtly placed into the public arena “a month early”.

The bigger story for both BBC News and Sky News this past week has been Tiger Woods’ “moment of madness”. Interestingly, BBC News placed Blair above Woods in the running order only after placing them the other way around for most of the day. Sky News was still preferring Woods to Blair at first thing this morning. It is quite the unfathomable thing that the pulling out of British troops from Iraq and subsequent uncovered allegations surrounding the war have had barely anything like the media coverage at the time of the invasion. Is it boredom on the part of the news teams? Focus Group feedback?

As I potted down to Tesco this morning for a croissant and the NonLeague Paper, I noticed each and every tabloid front page was covered self-generated X-Factor press releases and speculation. The stars may not be the best or most talented – and anyway, why do I care now Stacy has gone – but the genius of Simon Cowell to ensure his empire strikes at the top of every office coffee break, breakfast table banter and indeed chart rundown shows no sign of being reduced. That he is considering taking the X-Factor model into some kind of international Eurovision-style festival of amateur talent should come as no surprise and as a warning to anyone who would prefer a return to the days when the ability to sing came above the ability to manipulate an audience to telephone vote for you.

It’s Christmas early-pay-day-week. And I’ve yet to start any Christmas shopping. I’m playing “Christmas chicken”, it’s a bloke thing. In any case, there’s every chance that financial pressures will tighten so why not wait until every scarf, chocolate box and voucher is available at cheapness for the right to say the purchasing was genuinely all in the spirit of Goodwill?

Yep, I’m convinced. More convinced than by Blair, I’ll say that….