Poppy pride…or posing?

By DAVID WOODING

REMEMBRANCE Sunday is 17 days away and already politicians seem to be racing each other to be first to wear a poppy.

A host of MPs were proudly – and perhaps a little ostentatiously – sporting one in their lapels during Prime Minister’s question time in the Commons today.

They are sold to honour brave troops killed in action since the First World War – and raise millions for the Royal British Legion’s charitable work.

But in recent years, the well-observed tradition seems to have taken on an unfortunate political edge.

Etiquette dictates that the poppy should be worn in the week leading up to Remembrance Sunday – on November 13 this year.

But Labour MPs today stole a march on the Tories with nothing short of a sea poppies on Opposition benches during Prime Minister’s questions in the Commons.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham chided: “Not a Tory on the front bench with a poppy.”

He tweeted: “They have been on sale in Parliament for days and large numbers have them. Surely wearing them encourages others.”

Isn’t this all a little unseemly? Nobody is forced to wear a poppy yet 26 million are sold every year raising an estimated £35 million for ex-servicemen, women and their families.

I’m sure that David Cameron and his MPs will all have bought and worn one before he lays a wreath at the Cenotaph next month.

Demanding the PM pins one to his jacket now is a bit like complaining he hasn’t sent his Christmas cards out by mid November.

No doubt nervous TV presenters will be pinning on a poppy fast lest they get a dressing down from righteous MPs.

Twisted

Channel 4 News man Jon Snow fiercely refuses to give in to what he calls the “poppy fascists” and appears on screen with bare lapels all year round.

While some may find his stance a little extreme, many believe it is unfair to criticise MPs for being poppy-free in October.

Mr Cunningham’s followers accused him of a “petty partisan attack” and “twisted point-scoring”.

Amy Jackson declared: “My father spent 37 years in the Army and always taught me to start wearing poppies on November 1.”

Blogger Harry Cole added: “You used the war dead to try to score a point against the government.”

So what is poppy etiquette? A quick check in Debrett’s guide to good manners says poppies can be worn from the end of October to Remembrance Sunday – but adds it is acceptable to wear them from November 1 or just the week leading up to that day.

The Royal British Legion would probably settle for that – and scowl at the blatant politicisation of the biggest event in their calendar. Besides, the vets’ organization hasn’t even launched this year’s poppy appeal yet.

What is your view on the “poppy police” and “poppy etiquette?” Please leave your comments below.

EU referendum – a running sore for David Cameron

By DAVID WOODING

DAVID Cameron faced the biggest Tory revolt in modern history tonight in a row that looks set to dog the rest of his Premiership.

Mr Cameron crushed the rebellion thanks to support from Labour and Lib Dem MPs but it left wounded and festering backbenchers vowing never to surrender on the issue.

Up to 80 of Mr Cameron’s own troops opposed him in the Commons tonight and voted in favour of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

It was biggest revolt suffered by a Conservative Prime Minister since 41 defied Sir John Major to oppose the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

Labour leader Ed Miliband taunted: “This massive Tory rebellion is a humiliation for the Prime Minister.”

Some 111 MPs of all parties backed the referendum call, not enough to clinch victory on the issue. Early estimates suggest that about 80 of them were Tories.

Resentment is now mounting not only over the result, but his handling of the issue, with some claiming they were threatened by heavy-handed government whips.

Costly mistake

Two ministerial aides have quit and one private parliamentary secretary is said to have needed medical attention after he fainted during a stern showdown with the PM.

The rebels were given a further boost by two polls tonight which show voters are overwhelmingly on their side

Two-thirds of the public want a straight “in or out” referendum onBritain’s membership of the European Union, according to a ComRes survey for ITV News.

More than half – 54 per cent – believe that joining the union has been a costly mistake, delivering more problems than advantages.

But they are equally divided on full withdrawal – 37 per cent agree and 37 per cent disagree – but 41 per cent want the government to negotiate better membership terms.

And more than half would support pulling out if striking a better deal was not possible.

More than 130,000 have already signed a petition demanding a say on Britain’s future relationship with Europe.

An ICM poll for tomorrow’s Guardian shows 70 per cent want a referendum, with 49 per cent prepared to vote to pull out and only 40 per cent to stay in.

UK Independence Party chief Nigel Farage said: “It is fascinating watching the Conservatives tear themselves apart over this.

Wrong 

“Polls over the last few days have shown clearly that the general public believe MPs should be able to vote how they like regarding an EU referendum.”

But Mr Cameron insisted voting to leave Europe at a time of financial crisis would be like deserting your neighbours when their houses are on fire when you should be helping and stopping it from spreading to your home.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs a referendum on our future in Europe was the “wrong question at the wrong time”.

With the euro in meltdown, and Britain having to stump up billions to keep it afloat, the row looks set to drag on.

After the economy, it could turn out to be one of the biggest issues to dog Mr Cameron’s premiership.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Justice for the 96 Hillsborough disaster victims is a step closer

By DAVID WOODING

IN the end, it didn’t even need a vote.

After 22  tireless years of fighting for justice, the families of 96 fans killed in Britain’s worst football disaster finally got their way without a murmur of opposition.

In a long-overdue debate, MPs agreed to the full release of documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster.

Hillsborough Memorial and eternal flame at Anfield

The historic decision means the grieving relatives – many of them in the public gallery of the Commons tonight – have cleared a final obstacle in their hard and lonely struggle to find the truth.

The debate was triggered when more than 139,000 people signed a government e-petition demanding uncensored publication of 40,000 papers relating to the disaster and its aftermath.

But there was no need for a vote after Home Secretary Theresa May apologized for the anxiety caused to fans in the past and vowed to put everything into the open.

She revealed that all documents had been handed to an independent panel set up by her predecessor Alan Johnson in the last Labour government .

Mrs May told MPs: “I shall do everything in my power to ensure that the families and the public get the truth.

“No government papers will be withheld from the panel, no attempts to suppress publication will be made, no stone will be left unturned.”

Merseyside Labour MP Steve Rotheram, who was at the ill-fated match as a fan, took six minutes to read out the names of all 96 victims to a hushed Commons chamber. When he had finished, MPs and those in the public gallery burst into applause – rarely heard in the chamber.

Pat Joynes, who lost her son Nicholas, 27, in the pre-match crush before the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, was among those who travelled to the Commons to hear him.

Caged

She said: “Twenty-two years is a long time to wait to find out the truth about what happened to our loved ones.

“I am hoping Nicholas and the others are looking down on us and the spirit of the 96 is with us as we hear the debate.”

Ninety-five Liverpool fans were crushed to death in caged pens in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium as crowds were still arriving for the match.

The 96th victim, Tony Bland, was in a coma for three years after the match and died in 1992.

In the immediate aftermath, police “sources” claimed the tragedy was caused by drunken Liverpool fans whom they say arrived late for the match.

A carpet of flowers near the Kop goal at Anfield on the day after the tragedy.

While the allegations were discounted at an inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor, the slur has dogged the club for years.

The long-awaited release of these documents will finally reveal the original source of these vile stories – and why they were given so much credence.

It is also hoped they will disclose what the government of the day was told about the disaster and how journalists were briefed.

The families, the club and their fans will never forget that awful afternoon. It is etched into the very fabric of Liverpool FC, with an eternal flame flickering outside the Shankly Gates.

But perhaps the release of these papers, which is expected next year, will help them find closure.

And allow the 96 to rest in peace.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Liam Fox survives Best Man storm…for now

By DAVID WOODING

LIAM Fox gave his stalkers the slip today – but he’s not out of the woods yet.

The Defence Secretary left a string of questions unanswered in a statement to MPs about his relationship with his Best Man.

Dr Fox (pictured left) revealed close chum Adam Werritty had linked up with him 40 times on overseas trips and at the MoD – but pledged it won’t happen again.

He admitted it had been a mistake to allow the lines between professional duties and personal loyalties to become “blurred”.

But he failed to explain why he apparently ignored warnings from military top brass over his “improper” dealings with 34-year-old Mr Werritty.

Nor did he reveal whether his former rent-free flatmate made any financial gain from acting as a self-styled unofficial adviser.

Dr Fox now faces an extended inquiry by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, which will report within a fortnight.

But the pressure will continue to mount in the days ahead as Labour turns up the heat. They are likely to focus on a controversial meeting Dr Fox and his pal had with a military equipment salesman in Dubai last June.

Arrogance

Labour accused Dr Fox of “driving a coach and horses through the ministerial code” – and identified at least six breaches.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: “We may never know what got the Secretary of State into this mess – arrogance, naivety or hubris.

“This whole crisis is self-inflicted. There have been daily revelations, which barely 36 hours ago he described as baseless. But yesterday he was forced into a partial and belated apology.”

Premier David Cameron said he will not make a final decision on the minister’s future until he has seen the full report on the case. He is no doubt hoping the storm will blow over by then – but if it gets worse he risks looking indecisive.

In his Commons statement, Dr Fox admitted Mr Werritty – who is not a government official and had no security clearance – had accompanied him on foreign trips and been inside the MoD on numerous occasions.

He met him 18 times  on overseas trips and on 22 occasions at the Ministry of Defence in the past 16 months.

Dr Fox insisted his pal received no payment for fixing and attending a controversial meeting with a defence equipment trader inDubaiin June.

But he confirmed he was paid £5,800 for research work while he was his intern

He told MPs: “Mr Werritty was never present at regular departmental meetings. During private meetings we did not discuss either commercial or defence matters.

“He had no access to classified documents, nor was he briefed on classified matters.”

Dr Fox added: “I accept, with the benefit of hindsight, I should have taken great care to ensure a more transparent separation of government, party political and private business and to ensure that meetings were properly recorded to protect myself and government from any suggestion of wrong doing.”

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding