It’s time we grew out of PDC (public displays of care)

Sympathy and grief are best expressed privately, rather than than publicly and in competition.

Yawn. It's the wretched poppy debate again. It comes up every year, although this time it's marginally more interesting as FIFA is the premier poppyless bastard rather than poor old Jon Snow. (Although, as Giles Coren cogently asks on Twitter, "what diff whether these joyless overpaid spit-roasting thickoes wear a mark of Remembrance or not?")

We've all heard all the arguments. People should be free to choose; those who don't wear poppies are heartless bastards; poppies glorify war; they've become a social obligation not a genuine act of remembrance... and so on. I was talking about this on the radio this morning, just as I do every November.

And, every year, I say pretty much the same thing. I was clearly on autopilot. This time, the producer even joked that they looked forward to having me on again in twelve months. (For what's it worth, I'm in the free-to-choose camp.)

However, the debate should really be broadened to include other "sympathy tokens" -- such as Aids ribbons and Marie Curie Daffodils -- and indeed, other manifestations of sympathy.

As a nation, we are way too mawkish. We seem to be constantly wailing and gnashing, as though sympathy and grief are the only wellsprings of collective expression. Perhaps they are. Every time someone famous dies, complete strangers tweet their condolences. It's hard to go to a sports fixture during which there isn't a two-minute silence. If you go out not wearing some sort of badge or wristband, you feel underdressed.

Why do we feel the need to advertise our sympathy? Of course we all care! Only a sociopath could fail to be moved by the death of a 21-year-old in Helmand. We all know people who have suffered from either Aids or cancer. But is it really necessary to show the world that you sympathise? Are we really working on the assumption that most people are heartless bastards who have to be shamed into giving? Probably. Indeed, not wearing a poppy is to invite being labelled a pariah.

There's a kind of grief fascism at work here. Once it was the Queen who was rudely forced to show us she cared; now we all are. The consequences of obligatory public grieving and sympathising are all too obvious. It renders these acts as pure tokenism, things we ought to do rather than things we want to do. Sympathy and grief are best expressed privately, rather than publicly and in competition.

To paraphrase Smashy and Nicey, we should all do our bit, but shouldn't like to talk about it.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

0800 7318496