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.

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Owen Smith apologises for pledge to "smash" Theresa May "back on her heels"

The Labour leader challenger has retracted his comments. 

Labour leader challenger Owen Smith has apologised for pledging to "smash" Theresa May "back on her heels", a day after vigorously defending his comments.

During a speech at a campaign event on Wednesday, Smith had declared of the prime minister, known for wearing kitten heels:

"I'll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When pressed about his use of language, Smith told journalists he was using "robust rhetoric" and added: "I absolutely stand by those comments."

But on Thursday, a spokesman for the campaign said Smith regretted his choice of words: "It was off script and on reflection it was an inappropriate choice of phrase and he apologises for using it."

Since the murder of the MP Jo Cox in June, there has been attempt by some in politics to tone down the use of violent metaphors and imagery. 

Others though, have stuck with it - despite Jeremy Corbyn's call for a "kinder, gentler politics" his shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, described rebel MPs as a "lynch mob without the rope"

Smith's language has come under scrutiny before. In 2010, when writing about the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition, he asked: "Surely, the Liberal will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?"

After an outcry over the domestic violence metaphor, Smith edited the piece.