Monday 11 November 2019

The Politics of Remembrance Day: From #BowGate to #WreathGate (and why remembering isn’t enough)

Yesterday in a series of tweets I wrote:

My twitter presence is much bigger than it was a year ago (thank you everyone) and inevitable this means I face more online 'critique' than previously.

Today the focus has been my 'politicising' o#RemembranceSunday

I have just a few things to say:

As the granddaughter and daughter of army and navy veterans I know personally about the costs of war & would suggest that my views are as valid as anyone's.

As a sociologist, and a critical thinker, I argue that ALL life is political and what more than war & peace, war related death (suicide included) and justice for veterans & their families.

As a @UKLabour member I applaud our party's plans for service personal & veterans, especially with SO many veterans experiencing homelessness and/or PTSD (issues cruelly ignored by the current government).

As a media observer I note once more the implied criticism by some of the MSM (BBC R4 included) at the depth of Corbyn's bow whilst a dishevelled looking Johnson lays his wreath upside down. [NB Johnson also spent the two minute silence looking around and made another gaffe by stepping forward too soon when it was his time to lay his wreath]

As an experienced twitter user I see again and again that those criticising myself and others for politicisation are the very people who constantly, unrelentingly criticise Corbyn for the size of his poppy, the depth of his bow etc. and so on. Corbyn the man who drinks tea with veterans (before attending a service in his own constituency) rather than attend a dignitaries lunch.

With all this in mind I humbly suggest that in always working for peaceful solutions and looking for ways to support veterans whilst genuinely honouring all those who have served our Corbyn-led @UKLabour social movement should be applauded and celebrated not vilified and mocked by anyone who truly cares for those we have lost and those that return from war.

There I’ve made another POLITICAL statement and I’m proud to stand by it. #Solidarity


Today like many others I was shocked, if sadly not surprised, when BBC Breakfast showed footage, not of yesterday’s ceremony but of the ceremony in 2016. 


I have written not one but two complaints to the BBC. The second one following their 'apology'. Thus: 

The ‘apology’:

This morning on the programme we incorrectly used footage from a Remembrance Day service that was not filmed yesterday. This was a production mistake and we apologise for the error.

My complaint:
Earlier today I send a complaint re BBC Breakfast use of footage from Remembrance Sunday 2016 instead of 2019. I have just read your apology on twitter. I cannot accept that this was a ‘production mistake’ not least because it is clear in the 2016 footage that Theresa May and not Boris Johnson was the Prime Minister. Additionally, it surely take some ‘skill’ to mix up footage from yesterday with footage from three years ago. I, and I know many others, can only conclude that your intention was to present the PM as more statesman like, more respectful, than yesterday’s performance showed him to be.

You might find the following from Louise Cooke interesting also:

I used to work for @BBC news. The previous day’s footage is right there in front of you. Footage from 3 years ago needs to be specially ordered from the Library. What sort of ‘error’ is that? #WreathGate If they’re lying like that, this needs investigation. #bbcbias

I’ll leave it there …..

This isn’t the first year I’ve written about Remembrance Day, including the frequent attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and why remembering is not enough. If you are interested please see below (in backwards chronological order).

Last year I wrote three pieces about Remembrance Day:

The following is an extract from the first:

Of course Sunday was not by any means the first time that the Leader of the Opposition has been criticised either for his appearance or his supposed lack of patriotism. I’m sure there is no need to go into detail although it is interesting to reflect on how, and possibly why, these issues collided (yet again) last weekend. It is well known, by those who look at little further than the mainstream media outlets that Jeremy Corbyn practices 'Lest we forget' differently to many other politicians. Just a little research uncovers pictures and stories of him meeting with veterans after the man event (rather than attending lunch with dignitaries) and attending and speaking at Remembrance events in his own Islington constituencey as he has done for many years. And yet year after year the focus is on his appearnace - from his 'poorly knotted tie' to his 'scruffy coat' - and his so-called lack of respect - 'he did a jig on the way to the Cenetaph' (no he did not and the papers that reported this had to retract) to 'he's wearing such a tiny poppy.' 

And here is a section from the second of the three pieces:

A few days ago I wrote a piece about my father and grandfathers’ wartime experiences which also included some reference to our current remembrance reflections in the 100th anniversary year of the end of World War I (2).There is an irony here which I pointed out in my piece. There are an estimated 13,000 homeless veterans and there are also obvious deficiencies in the health, work, educational and financial support (for this group and many others). Yet, despite this, it was Jeremy Corbyn’s clothes and his poppy that was the focus of much media discussion (3). This is surprising (or maybe not given that our mainstream media increasingly seems to be unfit for purpose (4)) given that on the same day the Labour Party made a pledge to veterans, summarised in the following tweet:

Our veterans deserve security when their time in service ends:
Here’s our pledge to veterans:
Proper mental health services to treat PTSD
And end to rough sleeping
Free education, retraining, and more apprenticeships

In 2017 I wrote two related ‘stories:

Remember, Remember …
Remember, remember when it was only kids, proudly displaying a man made of paper, dressed in dad’s old clothes, that people gave money to on the streets. That was before an increased awareness of stranger danger; the favouring of the North America fancy dress accompanied candy-fest over bonfires and apple bobbing; and a more nuanced understanding of the gunpowder treason and plot.

I was one such child.

My sister was lauded by all as ‘the artistic one’ so it was she who was responsible for the PENNY FOR THE GUY sign, decorated with colourful drawings of firecrackers, Catherine wheels and fountains. Susan also had the job of painting Guy’s face. But, I could stuff as well as the next boy and I made sure that no newspapers were thrown out for weeks before. Complete with our effigy we’d walk into town, via the seafront, every afternoon once school was over and early on Saturday morning, for two weeks prior to bonfire night. We generally did pretty well and we always had enough to buy sparklers and some toffee to supplement the box of fireworks and the potatoes to bake our parents brought to the party.

Remember, remember the war that, many argue, won a prime minister and her government a further term or two in power. But less of the consequences of that and more of long-term personal impacts of conflict. Once abandoned HMS Sheffield continued to burn for six days until it sank. Twenty crew members were lost and more than that number suffered serious physical injuries. Others, lots of others, from that battle, from all the battles during the conflict, were left with wounds not visible to the naked eye. Post-traumatic stress disorder; just one of the legacies of military activity for more men and women than we like to admit.

I was and I am one such man.

My mental scars influenced by life from then on; my choice to leave the service, my inability to hold down a job, my increasing awkwardness in both intimate and acquaintance relationships. I felt such guilt you see. Guilt for my survival. Guilt for the opportunities which ironically I was ultimately unable to make the best of. Finding joy in nothing and in nobody I retreated from the individuals and the things I once loved. Even now when I experience a little pleasure from the kindness of strangers, an occasional hot meal, an overheard snatch of once beloved music I push it away; unworthy as I feel that I am.

Remember, remember when you next pass by a homeless person on the streets or in the park that you too, or someone you cherish, might be one experience, one crisis, one pay packet away from a life with no security and little comfort. Remember too that an estimated one in ten rough sleepers are thought to be from a service background.

I am one such statistic.



It’s my birthday today.

I’m eight years old.

My name is Poppy Rogers.

I was born at twenty past nine in the morning on November the 11th. Mum says if I’d waited a little longer we’d have scored a hat-trick. I think that’s a funny thing to say.  

Last year I had a party but this year I am going to a restaurant for a pizza instead. My friend Beth is coming with me. Mum is taking us but not coming in. I’m going to text her on my new mobile phone when we have finished our pudding. She says she’s going to go for a walk in the park to see the ducks. It’s raining so she’ll probably wear her old mac. Nan bought the phone for me as my birthday present and it’s got a whole five pounds worth of credit on it. I got some new shoes and a book from mum. I’m excited about going out. This place is too small for a party anyway. Mum and I live on our own in one room in a big house. I’ve never met my dad. We have a sink, a kettle and a microwave so we can make ourselves hot stuff to eat. My favourite is tomato cuppa-soup with bread. The other day we had tinned rice pudding which was nice too. Mum said that there was a whole box full at the food-bank. She hasn’t been eating much lately. I think she must be on a diet. We have to share a bathroom with three other lots of people which neither of us likes much. The boys in the room next door wee on the seat. We moved here just after Easter when the rent on our flat went up. Nan used to take care of me after school on the days that mum was at work but we live further away from her now. Mrs Barsar from the room across the corridor sometimes makes my tea. Mum says we are part of the hidden homeless. But we have a home, even if it’s not a very nice one, and everyone knows we live here so that doesn’t make any sense. Tomorrow we will probably go to church with nan to say a prayer for grandad. I’ve not met him either but mum says it’s not because he doesn’t want to see me but that’s he’s poorly and finds it difficult to be with people, even us. Nan doesn’t see him either and he is her husband. We don’t even know where he is. Grandad was in a war a lot of years ago and his ship was attacked. We learned about another war in school this week and wrote some poems about it. Mr Potts asked me to read mine out first. He said it was ‘fitting’ but I’m not sure what he meant by that. We made poppies out of red tissue paper, black wool and a safety pin. I wore mine all evening and asked mum why she didn’t have one. I was worried because when we walked home Beth’s mum said that everybody who loves our country and is patrotic – I think that was the word – wears one. Mum just snorted though and said that of course she loves the country and proves it when she pays her taxes, unlike some people. I don’t know what taxes have to do with anything.

Grown-ups are really weird. 

NB: Remember, Remember … - although stand alone, could be read as a sister piece to Poppy.

I also wrote a story in 2016. Here it is: 

Hold the Front Page: TIEGATE

'Not good enough, not good enough Frost. We need something catchier, more sensational. Our sales figures have been down recently and this is hardly going to improve them.' As he speaks the newspaper's editor in chief tosses aside the piece his junior colleague has been working on for two days. 

He continues, 'Celebrity break-ups and royal babies just don't do it anymore sadly. The great British public want more, demand more, these days. Having said that there seems to be quite a bit of attention for our latest piece on Brexit, Toberlone and Marmite. What else have you got, anything?'

'Yes, in fact I do.' Frost clears his throat nervously and continues. 'The new figures on child poverty and homelessness are out today and I've also got an idea for something about the human rights agenda and of course there's the recent NHS cuts and creeping privatisation story.' 

'No, no, too depressing and doesn't really portray the country in a good light now does it?' I know you're new Frost but I expected better. This doesn't really cut it in terms of your personal key performance indicators. Haven't you been to the company values induction session? I can get someone else to take over this assignment, if you're not up to it.'

'No chief no. I've got something else. The leader of the opposition has just made some really interesting comments about the US presidential election. I could easily put together a piece with some facts and figures to support his concerns and write something detailed on the Left's position on the similarities of some of the issues facing the UK and America and maybe something on how our 'special relationship' might be from now on.'

'For f*&k sake, are you serious? I really am losing patience now. The PM has already made a speech, everything's going to be fine, and even if it isn't our readers don't want to hear that. Surely it must be clear even to someone as stupid as you that we're not interested in what any of the opposition has to say. What do you think our job is; to educate people? Huh!' He laughs. 'If you'd got in first with a piece about the size of his poppy or his poorly tied tie. Now that would have been a little more acceptable. Look, I guess I'd better do the job for you. Just write something about the refugee issue, we haven't published anything on that for a few days. If you can't think for yourself just rework the usual. Be sure to emphasis the cost to the country and the taxpayer's purse and words such as surge, swarm and scrounger are always good for copy.' 

'But, but...' 

'No time for buts I'm busy and you've taken enough of my time. Just get on with it. It's the annual Children in Need fest next week so your next assignment can be something on that and the goodwill and generosity of the nation, blah, blah.'