Which is more disagreeable: the archive picture of David Cameron with the Remembrance poppy photoshopped onto it, or the one in which the war-hungry PM wears it for real? Downing Street on Monday bizarrely decided to use the (poorly) altered photo as its Facebook profile pic, before swiftly taking it down and replacing it with one of the Prime Minister wearing the red poppy in live-action; the change occurring because the suggestion that Cameron couldn’t be arsed to pose for a photo wearing the poppy might be deemed offensive (imagine the typhoon-level media shitstorm if Labour had done the same with Jeremy Corbyn). The replacement image – of DavCam beaming, blood-red paper flower on his lapel – is no less insulting or fraudulent, however.
Those in the public spotlight who shun the near-ubiquitous red poppy have their reasons. Derry-born footballer James McClean elects to forego wearing the poppy because of what it symbolizes in his home town, while news presenters Jon Snow and Charlene White won’t wear the poppy because they wish to remain impartial and not show favouritism towards any one charity or cause. The political commentator and WWII veteran Harry Leslie Smith, meanwhile, last year stopped wearing the poppy because he felt the symbol had been “co-opted by current or former politicians” to justify new wars.
You have to wonder whether those who routinely wear the poppy, like David Cameron, so carefully consider the statement they’re making every time they pin the paper on their chest. The Remembrance Day flower was inspired by the poppies that grew out of the graves of soldiers in Flanders during WWI. It stands for the wasted dead. It is a symbol of all those who lost their lives in battle from the Great War up to the present day. The poppy, plucked from the gore-soaked fields of one of WWI’s most notorious battlegrounds, is designed to remind us that war isn’t – to say the least – favourable.
David Cameron, who wears his poppy with pride whether the photo’s faked or not, apparently doesn’t understand the poppy’s red warning well enough to quell his appetite for ongoing military intervention in wars that aren’t his. It’s unclear as yet why exactly Cameron feels such a desire for British involvement in the Syrian conflict – a bid to protect interests in the region? To make a show of power? Both? – but what his solution boils down to is this: more war, more bloodshed, more Brits killing (and potentially dying) for little more than political posturing. What a way to remember Britain’s dead servicemen in the run-up to Remembrance Day.
And yet it’s Sienna Miller, who on Friday evening appeared on The Graham Norton Show minus a poppy, that has been declared the one of questionable patriotism. Never mind that Miller’s reason for not displaying the symbol was completely mundane (reportedly it was the result of a wardrobe malfunction), or that wearing the poppy is optional and not a national obligation. The Remembrance Day poppy is supposed to inspire thoughts of peace, but now its staunchest proponents dish out criticism for non-wearers with the same kind of jingoistic enthusiasm as those who planted feathers in the pints of conscientious objectors during WWI. Wear the poppy or “sod off”, says Babs Windsor; you’re either for the poppy, or against Britain.
Compared to some, Miller hasn’t had it so bad. Where she was the subject of some public and press ire, James McClean has been sent death threats for choosing to not wear the poppy, while Charlene White has been the victim of racist abuse for her decision to abstain. Still, these non-wearers at least have their reasons, be those based in the personal, political or sartorial. Can David Cameron claim to have put quite so much thought into why he wears the poppy?
The PM wears a flower in memory of Britain’s war dead, while pushing for further British involvement in the Middle East, having already sent UK forces into Libya. He does so after selling billions in arms to Saudi Arabia and “priority market” Qatar – despite both countries having deeply suspicious financial and material ties with ISIS, the faction that Cameron now wants British men and women to combat in Syria. Will it stop at mere bombing from up high? Already there have been ‘boots on the ground‘ in spite of promises that there wouldn’t be, and there are calls to send in the troops by ex-military leaders.
David Cameron also praises “brave and remarkable” British troops despite doing little to aid the growing number of veterans living on the streets and returning home with PTSD. Cameron wears the poppy, ‘supporting’ British soldiers even as his government literally doesn’t, with ex-servicemen nudged into food banks and forced to rely on charity drives to survive.
Cameron wears the symbol of remembrance, but is totally ignorant of its lesson. If he wasn’t, the history of British soldiers used up and discarded by the state would teach him not to allow for more of the same. The controversy this week shouldn’t have been about how Cameron initially wouldn’t make time for a Remembrance photo op – it should have been about how he’s had the gall to wear the poppy at all. As poppy-shaming continues, we should be asking whether this symbol is being rendered hollow by wearers who in no way support what it stands for.
Featured image: Number 10 (via Flickr)