Growing up as a good boy scout with family members in the army and with two grandparents as WW11 veterans, (one in the Royal Navy, one with the French Resistance) the Poppy was a solemn and unifying symbol. Even my Pollokshaws grandmother - who never objected to being called a communist - respected the poppy as she’d lived through WW11 while her husband was at sea. She called herself one of the lucky ones as her husband returned. Many of his closest comrades, friends and brothers are still lying in the sea bed.
The poppy was a unifying symbol because there was nothing unique about the experience related above. In fact, it was fairly typical of British childhoods of the 1970s. As youngsters we were unaware of the behaviour of many of “our” troops in Ireland, or other places they should never have been.
But what has changed is the atmosphere of the Poppy and of Remembrance. It is no longer a common longing for the horrors of war never to be repeated. This once unifying symbol that belonged to us all, bringing differing political views and classes together, has been press-ganged into the service of the British imperial Establishment. Ironically, by attempting to insist that we all feel the same, and indeed, be the same, those forcing the Poppy down the throats of everyone have not achieved the hegemony they sought to impose. Rather, they have succeeded in dividing society and have done so by using the stem of the Poppy to prise us apart. They have succeeded in weaponising the wooden cross above the graves of soldiers into a stake through the heart of our communities. The sacrilege is complete.
On the street today, wearing my poppy as I have done for decades, I felt conscious that I was wearing a symbol that could be misinterpreted as support for mass murder and slaughter in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria. And, of course, Ireland.
I’m sickened by commentators like Sky’s Kay Burley and others who point out someone who is not wearing the Poppy. It’s like the stupid people handing out white feathers during WW1. I thought we were passed that. In fact, I know we were passed that. But the Establishment has succeeded in rowing us all back to 1914. Once again, we are all just cannon fodder of one sort or another. We’re in the front line against both real and imaginary foes; austerity, militarism, racism and of every type of religious and ethnic phobia that our establishment conjures up.
While as a socialist I’ve been aware of these contradictions since the late 1970s, I’ve always applied the balance rule. My hatred for all imperialism and war was balanced against my love for family members who I know behaved with honour. However, the sheer scale of the Poppy Fascism we’re now subjected to by a cynical Establishment and its slavish media has made me realise that now, in 2016, for the first time in my mind, that balanced has tipped.
So, congratulations to all you Poppy Fascists. This is my last year wearing the Poppy. And I can only imagine how many more thousands of Poppies are being taken off lapels due to your attempts to wear them like medals you're awarding yourselves for wars I doubt you ever fought in. Rather than respect what brave and often terrified people thought they were dying for – freedom of choice for us all – you’ve decided to take sides with the fascist enemy.