The politics of poppies

1 November 2012

1:40 PM

1 November 2012

1:40 PM

The politics of poppy-wearing shift slightly each year. The unofficial rule used to be that poppy-wearing began at the start of November. In recent years this has crept forward further and further into October, largely, I think, because of politicians and the BBC.

The BBC lives in terror of someone appearing on one of its programmes without a poppy and thus sparking a round of ‘BBC presenter in poppy snub’ stories in the papers. If you appear on the BBC during this period you will find people on hand to pin a poppy on anyone not already sporting one. To my mind this slightly misses the charitable, not to mention voluntary, purpose of the exercise.


But politicians have also fuelled this poppy mission-creep. Each year they begin to wear their poppies earlier. This too has a motivation. I suspect it is that if a politician wears a poppy early enough then the happy day may arrive when they will be seen wearing a poppy while their political opponent stands poppy-less. Thus they can imply, if never actually say, that their opponent is less supportive of the armed forces than they are. Ed Balls seems to have been wearing one for weeks. Again, this does not seem to me the ideal motivation for wearing a poppy.

Which brings me to my point. We treat our military appallingly in this country. We pay them abysmally.  We frequently misuse them abroad. Even apart from what we expect of them there, we also use them as an extra emergency-service at home. Last summer, when a private company looked set to make the Olympics a security disaster, thousands of soldiers had their leave cancelled and were bussed in to provide additional security for the Olympics. They did so not only superbly, but uncomplainingly.

Our military are worse paid than any other publicly-funded profession. Yet, unlike every other part of the ‘public sector’, they never protest about not receiving an above-inflation pay-increase or their ungenerous pension plan. Despite being expected to fight, kill, die and police the quarter-finals of the table-tennis, nobody in power ever seems to suggest that our soldiers actually get a proper pay-rise.

Every year when this time comes around I wonder if there is not a collective – and in particular a political – guilty conscience at work here. Is the reason why the politics of poppy-wearing becomes slightly more febrile and ostentatious each year caused by the fact that we all know that this country treats its armed forces abysmally, and in the back of our minds we know that putting some money in a box and pinning a poppy on our chest once a year does not quite make up for this fact?

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Show comments
  • bobby

    Politicians need to encourage as many naive youngsters (but never their own) into the millitary as possible. Politicians wear a poppy and throw the word hero around to persuade them that it is hounarable and heroic to kill and be killed, but really the politicians just need a millitary at their disposal for illegal and hypocritical warfare.

    I would never wear a poppy and I certainly do not believe soldiers are heros. Soldiers choose their career path like anyone else and I don’t beleive for one second they choose to be a soldier because they care about humanity, the opposit is more likely to be true. Having known soldiers, they are not the best of characters before or after war, so for them to be celebrated after they have taken a life is naive of the public. I’m sure some enter war with a completely naive frame of mind, and that is a shame. There was enough public opposition around the Iraq and Afghanastan wars for soldiers to entertain a moral concience and say no to participation, yet they continued to say yes sir no sir. Costa Rica does not have a millitary, we do not need one either, but if we are to have one we should teach soldiers to deny participation in contrrovercial warfare and wars which are not solely about humanity (which the majority of wars are not about). Soldiers need to wake up, only a minority of the public support poppy day.

    Participation in war is rarely if ever honourable.

  • tzwm1977

    will no one forget the role of the zionist bankers in both the 1st and 2nd world wars? does the british prime-minister from 1970’s Heath right through to cameron not serve these bankers today?the same bankers who want to rid the world of 7billion human beings? bill gates loves telling people…i want to throw up looking at them and knowing it means nothing…New World Order..more like NEW WORLD MURDER.

  • Roy

    Not to mention some in this country have been found to burn poppies as a public declaration of hate! Has the BBC covered this?

  • UncleTits

    Douglas, you also forgot to mention the ideological incorrectness of our Armed Forces personnel, that puts them beyond the pale of the metropolitan bubble people, who secretly despise them. Cameron wearing a poppy is akin to George Harrison’s burglar in a Beatles tee-shirt.

  • Mark McIntyre

    November the First – answer to the headline.
    Moi ? – a white poppy will do nicely – well, they did fight for our freedom of expression – did they not ? !

  • Fenman

    The slave trade was started by the Arabs thousands of years ago and still practiced in KSA. It was the Brits who abolished it in the civilised world ,long before the Americans, Spanish etc. If you are going to playy the intellectually shallow pc game of blaming the British Empire for all the ills of the world then at least get your facts right. The British Empire liberated most 3rd world people. It is ridiculous to criticise Britain in the 18th C by applying modern values of equality. In my 40 yr expat career, mainly outside of Europe, third world nationals overwhelmingly praised and admired Britain. Why do think so many want to come here to-day?

  • George Smiley

    I don’t wear a poppy and find the current enforcement of their wearing rather concerning; imagine the reaction if the BBC made everyone appearing on its shows wear other charity accoutrements, say a red AIDS ribbon…
    Personally, I believe that if someone is willing to give their life in defence of the state, the state should reciprocate by looking after them. Fund decent care for soldiers from general taxation rather than from charitable donations. Then we can lose this annual ritual for good.

  • Leonidas

    Douglas, spot on. Soldiers in peace are like chimneys in summer (Lord Burleigh, Elizabeth 1’s Chancellor) and ‘For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!” But it’s “Savior of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot. (Rudyard Kipling). So what’s new? Those who sign up as I did a few years ago sort of think this neglect comes with the territory but we put up with it because there is a lot more to military life which those who have not experienced will never understand. Will the Government change? Not a hope but for those ex-soldiers who suffer there are organisations that pick up what the Government fails to do so be generous and give to them. One in particular, Combat Stress who look after those who suffer the trauma long after the event


  • spiritof78

    You talk of ‘the papers’ whereas you mean certain tabloids. And if it is truly voluntary, what about defending not wearing a poppy?

  • Samson

    I no longer wear a poppy since it became a socially forced activity. I get some abuse for it, but I give to charities, support the care of veterans, read history and try to keep in mind the sacrifices our military has made over the last century. If wearing a poppy becomes a personal thing ever again I’ll wear one, but as long as it’s the sole nod towards history for millions of people, it will remain meaningless and offensive to me.

  • Damaris Tighe

    This is what happens when every symbol, every utterance becomes a manouvre to avoid offence. And it has the opposite effect from the intended. I now see poppy wearing by the great & the good as a sickening exercise in PR & coercion, not a sincere tribute to the fallen.

    • William_Brown

      Well said, absolutely right.

  • John Matthews

    I agree with much of what you’ve said, it may be worth taking into account a reason for the low pay is raw army recruits are much younger (and as a result ) often less educated than other public sector workers.
    Yes they face greater danger and I hope this is taken into account

  • The Commentator

    John Snow on Channel 4 news likes to make a point by not wearing a poppy. Not sure what the point is beyond “Look at me! I’m old, I’m white, I’m male,I can’t read the autocue anymore and I have total contempt for anyone in the armed forces.” Or have I misinterpreted his important message?

  • rndtechnologies786

    Good view.

  • xuanvu

    During the past six decades the American Empire often with British backing or profit making has murdered millions of people including 5 million Indochinese. There are NO memorial ceremonies for the victims of either the British nor the American empires.

  • xuanvu

    The BBC and British media enforecement of the Poppy is a quasi-totalitarian fetish !
    Both the original red poppy and the more recent white anti-war poppy were grass roots expressions by ordinary people. The red poppy is now an institutionalised cover for the warmongers, financial terrorists and a WMD bag of lies pushing media class. Right now sanctions on Iran are hurting Iranian people like the early days of the Iraq sanctions that killed 1 million people. The oil embargo on Iran has also cut off discount oil to Greece and Spain forcing those destitute countries to pay full price from the Saudis. The EU has placed a sanction on the very Iranian oil minister who gave Greece and Spain a special humanitarian compassionate discount on oil. Now they have to buy the stuff from the same gangster scum in Saudi Arabia that our British Queen has spent her life hosting lavish banquets paid for by the British people for torture loving, head-chopping Saudi tyrants.

  • 15yrold

    You sir, are a hero. I conscientiously object to poppies, I no longer buy one, because of the amount of hypocrisy in the way we treat the military.

  • Terence Hale

    It was interesting to follow over internet your parliament procedures
    as to who wears a poppy and to what time. From my recollection the opposition side
    of the house was first with the coalition being thereafter. Some gentlemen I
    think were conscious of their suit and some women of the danger of popping by incursion but toward the end most managed to wear a poppy.

  • david119

    If Freedom means anything at all, it means the freedom to wear or not to wear a Poppy.

    BBC Presenters clearly do not have a choice everyone wears them for domestic output and they are absent on World Service Television.

    Wearing a Poppy should always be a personal choice otherwise we insult the very freedom that our soldiers fought for in World War 2 and wearing a poppy becomes no more meaningful than a Young Pioneers uniform in the former East Germany.

    • xuanvu

      This year I have seen poppies on BBC WORLD last year no but this year yes.

  • Eddie

    What I hate about the competitive poppy-wearing amongst the political ponces who rule over us (or want to) is that it makes me cynical about poppy-wearing – something some in our vibrant diverse communities want to abolish anyway, and something we have always done with much more panache and remembrance than in places like blue-cornflowered France.

    I resent the buggers for spoiling what used to be a perfect symbol of remembrance (though before that it was a symbol of homosexuality). I hate the way some people start wearing their poppies as soon as September becomes October, and the way every politician tries to have a mega-poppy with leaves, leaving us plebs to have the common or garden ones.

    Having said that, I got my first Christmas card last week…
    I think pay and conditions are OK in the army. But I think follow-up care for soldiers is badly lacking: a lot of squaddies are pretty messed up when they join the army from their northern council estates anyway, and when they leave they often end up homeless: the duty of care needs to go on after soldiers leave the army. And the army needs to ditch its backwards class obsession so those in the lowest ranks can if they are able climb to the top, as in the USA. It’d be great if we could somehow get lots of disaffected ethnic youngsters into the army – as in the US. That would give them structure and discipline.

    • Eddie

      Just to add: it is VERY rare to see anyone with a brown face wearing a poppy, though no doubt some do. This seems yet another example of the lack of integration and the weak social cohesion in Britain due to too much immigration and inner city schools making the issue of immigrants hate the country they are in.
      Poppy-wearing for 11 November is the nearest we get as the British to a national day – and rremebering the dead is just good manners really. Anyone who objects is either: a pc leftie who enjoys properity and peace but is not prepared to thank anyone for it; 2) a hater of this country.
      I even know pacifists who wear poppies – it does not mean theyr support wars or would fight in any, but it is just an act of remembrance.
      I despise all those who have politicised what is not and never was a political day or remembrance and poppy-wearing.
      And anyone attcking or bullying those whon wear or sell poppies should be sent to prison. Including leftie teachers aho try to bully pupils into not wearing them.
      When I was at school we sold them – knowing the funds went to charity. Sadly, many schools do not do this. It is time perhaps for leftie teachers in inner city comprehensives to start educating their brown-faced veil-wearing pupils about our history and why they should wear a poppy.

  • Malfleur

    Frank P said he posted this earlier, but I don’t see it…?

    >The poppies are doing fine; one element of patriotism that lives
    on regardless of treacherous policies of governments of all stripes.

    What is more urgent and puzzling is your failure to follow up on the
    Benghazi story since your feature in the magazine on 22nd September. How
    have they managed to silence you? Can you perhaps explain the mechanics
    of the Left’s ‘D Notice’ – how does it work?

    How does it manage to silence you? Please enlighten us.

    This is the biggest story of US Presidential duplicity, mendacity and
    probably treason, if viewed through the prism of ME geopolitical
    intrigue, since Watergate and far, far more serious as the
    administration clearly abandoned its embassy staff, including the
    Ambassador and two covert CIA agents, to cover the President’s tracks
    and protect his electoral interests. Enlighten us Douglas – how does a
    leftist censoring facility silence someone like you who professes to
    lean to the right. Melanie Phillips is the only MSM columnist who has
    spoken out and even she had to do it via her blogs, rather than in her
    column. WTF is going on??

    Watch this Douglas, then tell me there is no story to be told – BEFORE NOVEMBER 6th.

  • Sarah

    My cousin left the army because he was bored stiff of sitting around doing nothing all the time.

    • Monty

      Well he could have read a book perhaps and mafde himself useful? I’d argue the army is better off without such whinging wallies.
      Shame really there wasn’t a good war so he could have been blown to pieces huh? He might have felt he was doing his bit (or bits) then.

      • Sarah

        He didn’t winge. He left.

        • Monty

          A coward as well as an idiot then. Did he think time spent in the army was like laser-quest? Most time in the armed forces is spent on training and preparation of course, and able soldiers educate themselves in the downtime.
          Only boring people get bored. What does he do now? Whinge and moan about his boring job?

          • John Matthews

            incredible that you can som1 who served (albeit briefly) a coward from behind a screen. A vast amount of being in the army is hurry and wait all day. often times this might be sitting in a trench where there is no book or ipad!! amazing I know

  • Baron

    Your point is valid, Douglas, very much so, the more the ruling elites kick the Armed Forces the greater their camouflaging effort, it cost but a few pence to get a poppy, it would cost millions to get the boys and girls what they richly deserve.

    Baron’s told if the soldiers want a subscription to Sky they have to pay for it, in prisons, the miscreants get it for free. It seems the right priority for the society we’ve become.

  • Jonathan Hill

    I’m a little worried the logic of this piece implies we need a defence trade union.

    • Clavers

      Maybe a federation, the police have one.

    • Bluesman

      Before you dismiss the idea – check the Dutch.

  • victor67

    Jon Snow from channel 4 news is one of the few brave journalists/presenters who has resisted this form of poppy fascism. The appeal has also been tainted in recent years by it being sponsered by BAE systems who make profits from war.

    • Baron

      Could it be he doesn’t wear one because he dislikes, like you, the association of the appeal with the Armed Forces’ fighting? It would fit his worldview perfectly.

      But you, as so often happens with your postings, are so right to point out the pollution of the appeal through the BAE sponsorship except that you missed that Roman Catholics also wear poppies even though some of the Roman Catholic clergy abused children, another glaring wrong that must taint the appeal, would you not agree, you blockhead. It never crossed your mind the BEA sponsors it because they make the stuff with which the brave fight, did it?

      • victor67

        Yes and the more the “brave fight” the more the bucks role into the coffers of BAE systems.

        I would not have a problem wearing a poppy if it was just about remembering those who gave there lives fighting fascism and defeating Hitler.

        The reality however is that virtually all the conflicts where servicemen have been killed since 1945 have been colonial struggles or maintaining American hegemony. So when the political elite say wearing a poppy is about remembering those who are defending freedom then it is just nonsense.

        In terms of being anti the military. I have some some sympathy with poor working class squaddies whose only alternative is the dole or killing Afghans or Iraqi’s defending their homeland.

        • Eddie

          Not true. Read some history: Britain did not fight to retain its Empire but allowed natives to take over their own countries, which then descended into the default setting of dictatorship and chaos known in Africa and Asia because the British and other higher civilisations arrived.
          Most killed since 1945 have died in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afganistan, The Falklands – and these are NOT colonial struggles at all. They are very tricky situations where armed force was needed to protect the vulnerable who would otherwise be butchered by the ‘freedom fighters’ you no doubt support (the IRA, the Taliban, any Israel-hating brown-faced person…)
          The British also saved Sierra Leone and protected civilians in Yugoslavis, including the Muslims (just in case any Brit-hating Four Lions style Islamist has forgotten).
          All the countries mentioned (and the orinary people there) would be worse off if the Brits and others had not intervened.
          But I am really not surprised at your attitude – lefties always support bullies and dictators, and don’t give a shit about ordinary people living under oppression (despots like Chavez, Castro et al)
          It IS about defending freedom and this country does not enter into a war lightly either.
          And anyone who uses the word ‘hegemony’ in a post immediately loses the argument!

          • victor67

            Protecting the natives like they did on bloody sunday? Britain reaped what they sowed in Ireland for support discrimination against the Nationalist community. While the post war conflicts were not about expanding the empire they were about trying to salvage the remnants of it.
            Do you think those died in Malaya, Palestine, Korea, Suez, Aden, Kenya, The six counties, Falklands , Iraq times2 and Afghanistan all died for our freedom, then you really are naieve. As I said they were either colonial conflicts or supporting Pax Americana against the “big red dog”

            • Eddie

              Well, in Northern Ireland the troops went in to protect the catholics against the violent protestants actually! The Catholics and nationalists there are responsible for at least half the problems of course – which come from history.

              The British empire was the most benevolent in history – way more civilised than anynculture in Asian or Africa before the brits went to those places and took their man made laws, decency, education, culture, reasonableness with them: the British Empire gave far more than it too, though it was not perfect of course and was of its time! It was way more decent than ANY Asian or African empire, and more so than the German, Russian empire and even the Spanish and French ones.

              But of course, you are anti-British and will always hate the British and blame them for everytning bad ever, whilst at the same time looking admiringly at empires of cultures whose leaders are brown-faced: that is the typical pc socalled liberal position. You are also defending the brutal terorirts of any group that rose uo against the British – like the vile pigs called the MauMau (which most Kenyans hate too!)

              If you ever get educated enough to learn the truth, you will learn just how modernand civilised the British Empire was – it spread good things around the world, it did not just rape and pillage and steal whcih is what many empires did. I can assure you that most educated Indians and Africans would agree with me there mate. What preceded the british empire was usually a brutal all-powerful dictator – like your man Stalin then eh?

              Don’t wear a poppy then. I just find it a shame that people like you are SO selfish and ungrateful that people died for this country’s freedom – most of the conflicts you mention were in the cold war, fighting the evils of communism, or were protecting British and native citizens in the colonies.
              How about examining how the Arabs, Africans, Muslims, Chinese, Japs etc behaved in their empires eh?

              • victor67

                You should really stop reading Niall Ferguson.

                • Eddie

                  You should start perhaps – and stop reading that lie-drenched left-wing self-hating 60s pc historian cobblers that bears no relation to reality or the truth.
                  Your position would be able to be respected if not agreed with if you chose to condemn ALL empires and acknowledged that the British empire was the most benevolent in history and 90%+ of it was positive – and we are talking about the 18th and 19th centuries actually, and the British empire was remarkably modern and positive for then.
                  Compare please with the empires of africa, asia, south america, china, japan, and germany, russia and even spain.
                  The British Empire was by far the most benevolent empire in history which spread democracy, culture, the end of slavery, and much else besides around the world.
                  Sadly, most teachers and academics are left wing liars like you who fill the brains of young people with self-hating dishonest fantasies. Your attitude is JUST liek that of the BBC – making shows whihc admire and coo over African empires (bloody, brutal, backwards) at the same time as constantly harping on about how awful the British empire was.
                  Lies and hypocrisy.

                • xuanvu

                  The British Empire ran the slave trade, killed millions of people, push drugs on China , conquered and stole billions in wealth and showed relentless callous cruelty that it dished out upon hundreds of millions of people. YOU STUPID brainwashed child. Adolf Hitler cited British Imperial conduct and control in India as one of his greatest inspirations.

                • Guest

                  Didn’t you guys also stop the slave trade? And if slave trade is the worst crime possible, you could try fighting it again in the countries in Africa and Asia where its never really gone out of practice.

                  My Malaysian Chinese father in law thinks his nation was better under the British rule. I’m not really a supporter of imperialism (my country used to belong to Russia), but its not like Britain was the only empire around, or the worst.

                  Godwin’s law

                • EV docmaker

                  Yes it was very rich of us to stop something we had been up to for 300 years but we rebranded it in a new form of endentured servitude across the empire. Under British rule 20 million people perished in one state in India alone. Before the empire took over India there was on average a famine once every 70 to 80 years somewhere in the subcontinent.
                  Under British rule there was a famine somewhere in the sub-continent every 5 years. In the Americas we instigated both the North America branch of the Americas Holocaust of Indian people including bio-germ warfare WMD spreading pox into Indian villages with either blankets or canisters. In India we grew opium then told the Chinese emperor that we wanted to push it in China when the Chinese objected the Royal Navy blasted Chinese coastal cities with cannon fire until the emperor gave in. China was then flooded with British opium resulting in millions of Chinese drug addicts and the British ruling class gangster scum laughing all the way to the bank. Adolf Hitler cited the British Empire as one of his strongest inspirations and the British in India as a model for the Reich.

                • mohdanga

                  British slave trade started in the mid 1600s, ended in 1807 so that’s 150 years not 300. Slaves were provided by blacks in Africa who had been at this for quite a spell before this. Slavery is nothing to be proud of but the British have self flagellated for 200+ years on this.
                  Deliberate smallpox infection of North American Indians has been discredited, it never happened. Millions in Europe were killed by the plague brought to Europe by the Mongols….never hear any remorse about this.

    • Eddie

      Jon Snow rejects poppy-wearing because he is sympathetic with hippy idealism and is supposedly anti-war, which often means pro-Muslim and pro-Palistinian terrorist these days. His stand is not as noble as you portray, and certainly isn’t brave; in fact it could be seen as being as cowardly as Channel 4 News’s decision not to show the Mohammed cartoons or its massive anti-Israel bias in all news stories. People like him often wear white poppies – and cash from that goes to so-called charities (often funding Islamists) and not soldiers’ charities.
      I would like new presenters to wear the poppy, and do think Snow is just trying to be different and pandering to Muslim pressure.
      But then, Jon Snow is rich and privileged enough to be a hypocrite like this, sitting like a silverback on top a=of an otherwise entirely diverse (ie ethnic) staff and discriminating against white men from much poorer backgrounds then him in all selection processes. Channel 4 news (funded partly by the licence fee) takes on 6 trainees per year, half of whom have to be ethnic minority. Now you know why it’s so rare to see any white man not called Jon Snow reading the news…

      • SarahAB

        I think it’s quite wrong to pressure presenters or other public figures to wear poppies. (Though I don’t like Jon Snow.)

      • bobby

        I dont wear a poppy because i don’t beleive in war. I beleive in peace. Wearing a poppy symbolises support for those who enter war without considering the consequencies or entertaining a moral concience. Quite often soldiers are at war because they couldn’t find an alternative career path, they enjoy playing with big boys toys and running around fields. They get better paid than many public serving jobs such as checkout assistants, workmen and cleaners. Soldiers are not in the millitary because they care more about their country (perhaps they care less about humanity).

        There were many conciencious objectors during the world wars and hence the white poppy for peace and true freedoms was created, keeping in mind these moral objectors where shot at dawn for their betrayal.
        I am also familiar with some soldiers and they are not the best personalities, so to assume they are deservent of a hero status after they return from willingly killing people is somewhat rediculous. Perhaps some are just completely naive and need a better education.

        We should support every type of person in this world regardless of their history, but to support the military alone because they are prepared to take a life is a very questionable idea and one that does not make sense. We need to bring up the next generation to know that war is wrong. Wear a white poppy for peace and freedom.

        Soldiers rarely bring anyone their freedoms. If they did, we would not have needed the suffrogetes movement, the conciencious objectors or Martain Luther King. These peacful warriors are the true spirit of freedom. I am neither muslim or religious. I beleive in peace.