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.
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.
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.
By DAVID WOODING
KELVIN MacKenzie isn’t one to pull his punches – and was his usual knockabout self when he spoke to the Leveson inquiry on Press standards today.
Love him or loathe him, the former Sun editor knows how to get his point across in concise and often colourful language.
Mr MacKenzie revealed how:
– HE only checked the source of one story when he was editor of The Sun and it ended up costing him £1 million in libel damages.
– A MOLE hunt launched after a major defence exclusive was chaired by the MI6 colonel who leaked the story.
– GORDON Brown threatened to “destroy” Rupert Murdoch in a 20-minute phone tirade hours after one of his paper’s endorsed the Tories.
– DAVID Cameron hired ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson only as a gesture of political friendship to the newspaper tycoon.
“Nothing,” he declared bluntly.
He said the only new law needed is one to ban “under-talented” MPs from kissing the a**es of newspaper owners.
In a bravura performance, he gave both barrels to David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove over their “gut-wrenching” crawling to Rupert Murdoch. He even tore into Lord Leveson himself.
Mr MacKenzie told how he had suggested Labour MPs should set their mobile phones ringing every time the PM stood up to talk in the Commons – in a jibe at his “potty” decision to hire ex-News of the World boss Andy Coulson as an aide.
Mr MacKenzie gazed around the room and asked: “Where is our great Prime Minister who ordered this ludicrous inquiry?
“After all, the only reason we are all here is due to one man’s action; Cameron’s obsessive a**e-kissing over the years of Rupert Murdoch. Tony Blair was pretty good, as was Brown. But Cameron was the Daddy.
“Such was his obsession with what newspapers said about him – and Rupert had three market leaders – that as party leader he issued all his senior colleagues, especially Michael Gove, with knee pads in order to protect their blue trousers when they genuflected in front of the Special Sun.
“Cameron wanted Rupert onside as he believed, quite wrongly in my view, that The Sun’s endorsement would help him to victory. “When the paper did come out for Cameron the Sun’s sale fell by 40,000 copies that day.
“There was never a party, a breakfast, a lunch, a cuppa or a drink that Cameron and Co would not turn up to in force if The Great Man or his handmaiden Rebekah Brooks was there. There was always a queue to kiss their rings. It was gut-wrenching.”
He added: “Cameron had clearly gone quite potty. And the final proof that he was certifiable was his hiring of my friend Andy Coulson.
“I remember telling anybody who would listen that if I were Brown, every time Cameron stood up in the Commons he should arrange for mobile phones to ring on his side of the House.
“It would have killed Cameron. Nobody took me seriously. And then the phone hacking scandal erupted. Not a scandal of Rupert’s making but the order went out from Cameron: stop the a**e kissing and start the a**e kicking.”
Turning to “this bloody inquiry” chaired by Lord Leveson (pictured right), he continued: “God help me that free speech comes down to the thought process of a judge who couldn’t win when prosecuting counsel against Ken Dodd for tax evasion and more recently robbing the Christmas Island veterans of a substantial pay-off for being told simply to turn away from nuclear test blasts in the Fifties. It’s that bad.
“I have been forced by what sounds like the threat of a jail term to give a witness statement to this inquiry.
“The questions not only made me laugh through their ignorance but also that a subject as serious as free speech should be dealt with in this manner.
“Question seven basically wanted to know if an editor knew the sources of many of the stories. To be frank, I didn’t bother during my 13 years with one important exception. With this particular story I got in the news editor, the legal director, the two reporters covering it and the source himself on a Friday afternoon.
“We spent two hours going through the story and I decided that it was true and we should publish it on Monday. It caused a worldwide sensation. And four months later The Sun was forced to pay out a record £1 million libel damages to Elton John for wholly untrue rent boy allegations. So much for checking a story, I never did it again. Basically my view was that if it sounded right it was probably right and therefore we should lob it in.
“How will this inquiry change that? Question six also deals with sources and I disclosed another story that happened during my 13 years as editor of The Sun. That morning we had led on a Ministry of Defence story revealing some kind of secret we felt our readers should know.
“The reporter concerned came in and said there was problem. No 10 had gone nuts and an official inquiry was starting into who had leaked the story with a colonel from MI6 being drafted in to head it. The reporter told me the MoD were determined to get to the bottom of it but it was not all bad news. Why was that I asked.
“Because the colonel heading the inquiry was the bloke who gave us the story in the first place. How will this inquiry change that? Yes there was criminal cancer at the News of The World. Yes, there were editorial and management errors as the extent of the cancer began to be revealed. But why do we need an inquiry of this kind?
“There are plenty of laws to cover what went on. After all, 16 people have already been arrested and my bet is that the number may well go to 30 once police officers are rounded up. Almost certainly they will face conspiracy laws, corruption laws, false accounting laws. There are plenty of laws that may have been broken. Lord Leveson knows them all by heart.
“Supposing these arrests didn’t come from the newspaper business. Supposing they were baggage handlers at Heathrow nicking from luggage, or staff at Primark carrying out a VAT swindle, or more likely, a bunch or lawyers involved in a mortgage fraud. Would such an inquiry have ever been set up? Of course not.”
Mr MacKenzie said Mr Coulson’s appointment at Number 10 was down to the PM’s personal lack of judgment.
“I don’t blame Andy for taking the job,” he said. “I do blame Cameron for offering it.
“It was clearly a gesture of political friendship aimed over Andy’s head to Rupert Murdoch. If it wasn’t that then Cameron is a bloody idiot. A couple of phone calls from Central Office people would have told him that there was a bad smell hanging around the News of the World.
“Rupert told me an incredible story. He was in his New York office on the day that The Sun decided to endorse Cameron for the next election. That day was important to Brown as his speech to the party faithful at the Labour party conference would have been heavily reported in the papers.
“Of course the endorsement blew Brown’s speech off the front page. That night a furious Brown called Murdoch and in Rupert’s words: ‘Roared at me for 20 minutes’.
“At the end Brown said: ‘You are trying to destroy me and my party. I will destroy you and your company.’ That endorsement on that day was a terrible error.
“I can’t believe it was Rupert’s idea. Strangely, he is quite a cautious man. Whoever made that decision should hang their head in shame. I point the finger at a management mixture of Rebekah and James Murdoch.
“The point of my anecdotes is to show that this inquiry should decide there is nothing wrong with the Press, that we should enshrine free speech in Cameron’s planned Bill of Rights and accept the scandal was simply a moment in time when low-grade criminality took over a newspaper.
“If anything, the only recommendation that should be put forward by Leveson is one banning by law over- ambitious and under-talented politicians from giving house room to proprietors who are seeking commercial gain from their contacts. In tabloid terms, a**e kissing will be illegal. Should have an interesting passage through Parliament.
“Do that and you will have my blessing – and I suspect the blessing from Rupert Murdoch, too.”
See also: “Keep taking the Tabloids” – this page, October 6. 2011.
Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding
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.
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
By DAVID WOODING
TWO former ministers have quit the shadow cabinet tonight as Ed Miliband prepares to beef up his frontbench team.
John Denham and John Healey stood down from frontline politics just hours before the Labour leader is expected to begin drawing up his new line-up.
Mr Miliband is certain to take advantage of a change in the rulebook he forced through, ending election of party spokesmen – giving him a free hand to pick who he wants.
But the departure of two big guns is a major blow to his leadership. Mr Insiders insist the departures were “civilised” and both men had indicated some time ago that they wished to stand down.
Mr Denham, 58, said he had decided some time ago not to seek re-election at the next election and it would be wrong to stay on if he had no chance of becoming a minister if Labour were to win.
The shadow business secretary, who served in Gordon Brown’s cabinet, has agreed to stay on as Mr Miliband’s unpaid Private Parliamentary Secretary as a sign of loyalty to his boss.
Shadow health secretary Mr Healey said his decision was made for “family reasons”. But he was said to be furious over the leadership’s decision to allow tobacco firms to take part in a business even at last week’s Labour rally.
And critics had been whispering for some time that Mr Healey had been under-performing and had failed to make political capital out of the coalition’s shambolic NHS reforms.
Last night there were some nervous-looking faces on Labour front benches as they awaited the call from Mr Miliband.
Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham could be switched to the health brief – as he was secretary of state in that field in the last government.
But Mr Miliband is certain to seize the chance to inject some fresh blood into the party, with rookie Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves tipped for a place on the front benches.
Senior figures such as shadow chancellor Ed Balls and, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander are expected to stay in place.
New talent tipped for promotion includes Michael Dugher, a former Downing Street aide and now MP for Barnsley East, Stoke MP Tristram Hunt and ex-TV reporter Gloria del Piero, the MP for Ashfield.
Suggestions that the former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer would return to politics as shadow leader of the Lords, opposing Lord Strathclyde, were dismissed.
A Labour spokesman said: “We do not comment on reshuffle speculation.”
Who would you bring into the shadow cabinet if you were Ed Miliband?
Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding