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.

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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.”

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