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5 November 2009

Poppy pushers

By Kevin Maguire

The Labour staffer had a wild glint in his eye as he claimed a knock-out win for Gordon Brown over David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions: his man was wearing a poppy, the leader of the opposition wasn’t. A Tory backbencher looked equally gleeful noting paper-flowerless appearances on the front bench by Harriet Harman and Jack Straw.

This could be dismissed as just a silly House of Commons game. But it feels as if a law has been passed making poppy-wearing compulsory. It’s nigh-on impossible to switch on the TV without seeing a Flanders field. The BBC has been thrusting poppies at TV guests (making presenters wear them on sports and entertainment shows as well as the news) since 24 October. Sky began sticking them on lapels soon after. Birmingham City players were even wearing red stickers at a recent Premiership game.

It’s true that heavy casualties in Afghanistan and the passing of the Great War generation have rekindled interest in Remembrance Sunday.

But the creeping intolerance directed towards those who don’t wear a poppy makes a mockery of the freedom we’re told soldiers die defending. In Kent, a group of villagers is boycotting a pub where the landlady didn’t have room on the narrow bar for a poppy tray. “Tyranny,” says the Royal British Legion’s weary-sounding Robert Lee, “is what we want to avoid.”

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Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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