I’m not going to wear a poppy this year.


There I said it. I’m out. And in Britain, it’s quite a confession.





Before I go on, I will make a few things clear. Firstly, I have worn a poppy every year for as long as I can remember. When I was very young, I loved the way they looked, I loved the fact that we were allowed to wear them to school and I liked being one of the kids in class who had one.


When I was old enough to understand the message, being quite a serious child, I wore them solemnly, taking the time to ask my parents about my relatives who had served, trying to make myself remember them as I pinned it on.


If it went through the washing machine, got torn in the playground, or if I lost the pin, I would drop another 50p in the box and buy a new one.




Secondly, I’m still going to make a donation to the Poppy Appeal. The fact that people who have given their lives, their legs, even their sanity to the service of the government are made to rely on charity is sickening. The government should repay their sacrifices and make their lives as comfortable as they can.


And if the government isn’t willing, then someone needs to step in. I have nothing against a national day fundraising for veterans and their families, other than that they should already be provided for.


Lastly, I have literally no problem with people who choose to wear the poppy. In particular, I have nothing but sympathy for the families and friends of those serving, and those who have been bereaved.


I would imagine the poppy appeal to them is a show of solidarity, an acknowledgement that regardless of any political questions, they are grieving for real people, real relatives, real friends.


Even in these days, it’s hard to find people who haven’t got someone they’ve lost, or someone they fear losing. And in so far as they show sympathy and unity with these people, I have plenty of time for poppies.



Why I’m choosing not to wear the poppy comes down to something else. A part of it is the level of taboo that surrounds criticism, or even questions, of the poppy appeal and what it stands for.


The poppy has reached such an untouchable status in our national conscious that there is a certain amount of hysteria surrounding it. Every year, some unfortunate employer with a penchant for rigidly enforcing dress codes, and a lack of awareness of the national mood, finds themselves splashed across the tabloids for asking staff to remove a poppy.


This year, it’s a bigger scandal than normal, and the villains of the piece is FIFA. After classifying the poppy as a political symbol, they sought to prevent the England team from wearing them in the friendly against Spain at the weekend.


In the outburst of national condemnation, that drew in our ever-P.R.-aware, opportunistic Prime Minister, one issue was never really addressed.


PM David Cameron rails against FIFA in Parliament


The Poppy is a political symbol, at least in part. It always has been, and it may be more so now than it ever was.


The Poppy is all about remembrance. And the politics comes into it when you ask what it is we’re remembering.


We take the symbolism of the poppy from the fields of France, the grave of a generation of young men, wiped out between 1914 and 1918.


These were men who were sold a vision of noble battle, victory and heroism, or else conscripted and forced to fight.


Trench Warfare



What they got were some of the most squalid and inhuman conditions faced by any human beings this century. They suffered in the trenches, and were massacred, while the generals and politicians of Europe got the chance to experiment with modern methods of waging war.



If they broke down or tried to back out, they were unceremoniously shot by their own commanders. They were sent to the slaughter, to kill and be killed, cut to pieces on barbed wire, drowned in mud, or slowly and agonisingly gassed by men who didn’t care for or understand their sacrifice. Generals who never truly sought peace, who could waste a thousand lives to see if certain tactics worked, who dined in mansions while ordering thousands off to the most horrible deaths imaginable.


We shouldn’t forget the First World War, but in some ways the Poppy Appeal tempts us to remember it in the wrong way.


The military tricking young people into giving up everything for someone else’s gain is not a thing of the past. Poor areas in the UK are flooded with army recruitment posters, that paint army life as part Call of Duty, part health and fitness boot camp. Go get yourself a better life, the army says to young people fed up with the empty and unfulfilling services industry careers which is all they have been offered post-16.


A part of selling this, and gaining the man power they need to fight the economic wars the government has embarked upon this decade, is to keep alive the idea that no matter what, joining the army is a heroic and noble thing to do.


And there is a part of the poppy appeal which plays into that. I’m talking about the politicians who wage wars never being seen on screen in November without a poppy on their lapel and the military top brass at the remembrance day parade.


It’s not the people who remember lost relatives, who show their support for people suffering in the service of the armed forces, but the poppy appeal does its bit in encouraging young people to rashly sign up to the army.


And in the hysteria that surrounds criticism of it, this message can be pushed without question by those who have a vested interest in more young men giving up their lives.


My own personal remembrance of everyone that died in the wars of the last century, my relatives and all the others, is that if we really remember what happened to them, this is the last thing we should do.


The Queen at Remembrance Sunday


The poppy is a very powerful symbol to a lot of people. I won’t question the personal choice of those who wear it.


But from this year on, it’s not for me.



Farewell to readers – this will be my last column for FAB.


Thanks to everyone who has read it, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity, and I hope you have enjoyed my output!

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