By Leon Spence
Do you ever listen to BBC local radio? Although I probably don’t fit the profile of a regular listener, even now I’m way too young but every now and then, if my phone is out of battery and my music streaming service unavailable, I tune in on the way to work.
It always strikes me as a strange mix. Always two presenters, a man and a woman, speaking oh so proper BBC English with a very slight hint of an accent whose artificiality is only given away when they revert to chuckling in received pronunciation.
I do feel sorry for them though, in those studios in our provincial cities talking in to microphones knowing just how few people are actually tuning in. The breakfast shows in particular are a tough gig in which the local producer has somehow had to cobble together two or three hours of news every day with a local slant. How difficult must that be?
There are only so many times you can talk about a small market town being regenerated or engineer a way to put a local slant on a national story. In my own county of Leicestershire I’ve literally lost count of the number of times I’ve heard pieces about threats to protected food designations after BREXIT; just what will we do when folk in Norfolk start making Stilton cheese?
So as I embark on my moan today in no way am I criticising my local radio station, which has a legal duty to be balanced and objective; no it is their interviewee that I have a problem with.
As I sat at traffic lights waiting to travel further on into town Jo or Ben or Jim or whatever monosyllabic friendly English name trailed the next story “…and in a minute we’ll be talking Remembrance…”
‘Of course’ I thought ‘the Poppy Appeal is a staple for local radio.’
“…with a man who won’t be wearing a poppy this or any other year.” JoBenJim continued.
My immediate reaction, with a purely professional head on, was ‘good on them’, they’re looking at an annual story in a different way. It was only when I started to listen to the fool they were interviewing that I started to get cross.
In short, the interviewee didn’t like the Government. For that matter he didn’t much appear to like any government, especially ‘Tony B Liar’s’ administration that took us into ‘an illegal war’ in Iraq. This interviewee was wheeling out all of the far left bon mots that he had undoubtedly had impressed upon him by the Trots and Marxists of the Stop the War coalition; by his own admission he was a member of that group so long associated with Jeremy Corbyn.
He talked about how poppies represented the First World War, the so-called ‘war to end all wars’, and ever since they had been hijacked by a political establishment seeking to engender public support for their reckless campaigns.
Now, I have no difficulty whatsoever in any of us holding government to account and disagreeing with the decisions of our representatives. It is one of the beauties of living in a democracy that we can do that.
Perhaps it is ever so slightly ironic then that it is over the decades that our servicemen and women have had to fight and give their lives for us to remain a democracy that we now have the right to dissent as this political activist was doing.
The brave men and women who sign up to protect us don’t have the freedom to say they disagree or dissent; they believe in the rule of law and the concept of following orders.
And isn’t that the key point? When we remember we don’t reflect on those who gave the orders, all too often based on incorrect or even corrupt assumptions; but those, all too often, who gave their lives selflessly following them.
Last week the Daily Mail reported that research carried out by Consumer Intelligence, a market research company, revealed that this year one third of 18 to 24-year-olds will refuse to wear a poppy as they believe that doing so glorifies war.
Meanwhile over in the once reputable, and tangible, Independent, one of their ‘voices’, Otto English, opined ‘With each year, the run up to Remembrance Sunday seems to become less about paying tribute to the fallen and more a litmus test for a particular sort of nauseating pub bore nationalism, that has nothing to with the great sacrifice of war.’ The title attributed to English’s column was ‘The poppy has lost its original meaning – time to ditch it’.
Perhaps saying a great deal about those who read the online Independent a poll at the bottom of English’s article asked ‘Is it wrong not to wear a poppy?’ Just 24 per cent, me included, had clicked ‘Yes, it’s disrespectful to fallen soldiers and civilians’; 54 per cent at the time of going to press had chosen ‘No, it’s an outdated tradition, and we should ditch it’. How depressing.
For the past six years now I have maintained that the single greatest privilege of being an elected representative of the people is being part of that civic party that marches in every Remembrance Parade behind our forces veterans.
The role of MP or Councillor is one of being chosen by local people to walk on their behalf at such occasions, always behind and subservient to those few that put their very lives at risk for us. The order Remembrance Parades are set out in is no accident.
Remembrance is not about just the Great War of 1914 to 1918, all of those who fought in that war are now gone although their children and grandchildren live on; no, remembering is about all those who have seen conflict on our behalf or have been prepared to do so.
Whilst the poppy itself is there to emulate those fields that saw so much bloodshed 100 years ago in northern France and Belgium, what it represents lives on forever; it represents service to one’s country; it represents sacrifice; it represents the notion that each of us is a part of something far bigger than just ‘me’.
Each of us of course has a choice of whether to wear a poppy or not, I shall wear mine with humility and reflection of the massive debt that each of us owes to ordinary men and women who do extraordinary things not for themselves, but for us.
I shall choose to think of their selflessness and not of the selfishness of those seeking to make a political point.
One of the most important television shows of my youth was Blackadder, the quasi historical and at times very silly sitcom that I could quote word for word.
It was, of course, created by left wing comedian Ben Elton and his writing partner Richard Curtis. I am fairly certain that Elton wasn’t a fan of politicians in general or a great supporter of declarations of war.
But who can forget that final minute of Blackadder Goes Forth when Rowan Atkinson’s character with George and Baldrick are gunned down as they go over the top and the scene fades from a battleground to a field of poppies?
If an agitator like Ben Elton could understand what remembrance represents in that classic televisual moment I’m sure we all can.
Sunday simply isn’t about politics, it’s about people who have given their all for us. We will remember them.
Leon is a councillor, writer and charity trustee. You can follow him on Twitter @cllrleonspence
Picture: Remembrance Sunday isn’t simply about politics it’s about people who have given their all for us. We will remember them.