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.
Which news item did you hear about this week – the fact that the NHS has been brought to its knees so severely that a third of UK GPs expect to quit in the next five years, or the fact that Jeremy Corbyn had help writing his Labour conference speech? The fact that the World Economic Forum has placed our ‘big picture’ economy 108th in the world table, below Haiti and Zimbabwe, or the proposal that Corbyn is a threat to what is claimed to be the fastest growing economy in the developed world? The fact that David Cameron’s government has been doing deals with human rights violator Saudi Arabia in secret, or that Corbyn borrowed a tie for Monday’s conference? Most likely, you heard the second story over the first in each case.
It’s obviously no accident: as we’ve highlighted before, the UK press predominantly supports the Conservatives, meaning news that reflects badly on David Cameron’s party isn’t as widely reported as that which affects Jeremy Corbyn’s. Increasingly, people are turning away from the mainstream media to alternative sources for their news, but not quite enough for the public opinion-at-large to change. The Tories wouldn’t have returned to power in 2015 otherwise, and the Labour party wouldn’t now be going through a crisis in search of lost votes. Unfortunately for fans of impartial news coverage, the right-wing control the conversation in this country. On Monday, Jeremy Corbyn made reference to that in his conference speech. Simply pointing out the bias against himself and his party, though, isn’t enough.
There have been some huge progressive successes around the world this past month – none of them, unfortunately, happened in the United Kingdom. Just this week it emerged that David Cameron planned to lower the threshold for what constitutes child poverty in Great Britain, while a US treasury official revealed that the UK had actually been hampering progress on tackling global tax avoidance. Such flagrant opposition to progress has not been uncommon of late; in the worldwide race to the future, Britain appears – following a brief pause on May 7th – to have begun actively running backwards.
Since the surprise Conservative majority win at last month’s election, proposals for radical change have come thick and fast. Just as the results of Portugal’s drugs programme show what a wild success decriminalisation can be, the UK bans legal highs (a characteristically ill-thought-out Cameron government policy that also technically makes tea illegal). As the United States opts to forego extending the NSA’s spying powers, the UK elects to expand its own. As Finland revolutionises education and embarks on a basic income experiment, the UK embraces ‘academisation’ and cuts welfare to the bone.