Every year when the clocks go back, two things happen. Firstly, Chappers will text me with some banal comment about how it’s getting dark early as he knows that winds me up – it has happened every year for the last 48 years to my certain knowledge, so why is it remarkable!? The other thing is, like a starting gun has been fired, every talking head on the television and every corporate representative sprouts a poppy.
Please don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against the Royal British Legion. I maybe question their pre-eminence in this age of Help For Heroes et al and, in an ideal world, there would be no need for such charities. Wars will always happen, it is inherent in human nature, but having sent the fittest and most physically productive tranche of the population off to fight for the country’s security and interest, then it is incumbent on the State to adequately care for those who are injured along the way. Instead we rely on the haphazard tactic of well meaning veterans rattling collecting tins on street corners. Just a thought.
All of that is an aside, however to my current rant. Why is it, unlike absolutely any other charity appeal, no matter how worthy, that it is evidently compulsory for public figures to show that they have dropped a pound coin in a tin? I well recall Michael Foot’s donkey jacket at the Cenotaph, and recognise the bear trap which is lying in wait for a politician who steps out of line on this point. Yet is it really such a charged subject for, say, newsreaders and sit-on-a-couch-and-waffle-inanely television presenters (yes One Show, J’accuse) that they HAVE to wear one WITHOUT FAIL from the last Sunday of October?
As I sit here typing this in Starbucks, the Nottingham trams are passing by, each with a large poppy in both driving cabs. What does that mean? Presumably that NET have made a sizeable donation to the Poppy appeal, which is entirely worthy but does it need to be shouted about? I hope this isn’t the only charitable donation which that company makes, but it is the only one which results in all its vehicles being adorned. Are they intended to serve as mobile war memorials? Again, a highly worthy aspiration but I somehow doubt that is the intended message.
By Remembrance Day (three weeks away when the poppies began to sprout) I may or may not have made a donation to the Royal British Legion. If I do, it will be on line and I will give my personal details allowing them to claim back tax on my (theoretical) donation as Gift Aid, thereby making it more valuable than coins in a tin. What I will not be doing, however, is shouting about it what I may (or may not) have done.
In short, the poppy seems to be no longer about honouring the memory of those who gave their life, or paid in other ways, in defence of this country. Now it is simply a shield to be worn to ward off criticism. I think that is shameful.