I thought twice about writing this blog. About sticking my head above the parapet. Taking on the Poppy. At this time of year. By a woman who was born on 11 November. But it has been something that has interested me for years.
The Poppy – in its paper form, and increasingly in a plethora of bling styles – is moving into ‘must wear’ status from 1 November onwards. Not to wear one – at work, at school, in parliament and on TV – is to show a lack of respect for those who fought in the war .
But is it?
Most Poppies are sold by the British Legion who are this year aiming to raise £40million to support service men and women and their families. So in essence it is a fundraising pin. Comparable to the Marie Curie Yellow Daffodil or the Red Cross week sticker. Now it’s an admirable place to be when not supporting a charity is frowned upon – we need to increase the levels of philanthropy and giving in this country (especially from the rich but that is another blog.) But is it right that schools and other public institutions are so clearly pushing one charity over another – the Poppy is becoming not far from mandatory.
Would it not be better to separate the fundraising aspect of the Poppy from its symbol as a sign of respect for all those who fought in pursuit of freedom?
What about giving a wreath to every school in country and encouraging them to have a meaningful discussion on how to use it and where to place it and to explore what remembrance actually means? How about a national collection of books that people can sign to give a personal view of why they grateful and respectful of the sacrifice – something that would take more thought than £1 in a tin when you are rushing out of the supermarket.
Ah – but the cry would be what about the money for our service men, our service women and their families?
Well, this is what has always interested me the most. In Parliament and in the City the pressure to wear the Poppy is at its greatest. Woe betide the unadorned banker in Threadneedle Street or the poppyless politico on the Rochester campaign trail. And yet – these people who would have us remember and would look on indignantly at those who do not wear the ‘sign’ are those that have the power to pay £40million each year and every year. They could ensure that ‘less we forget’ becomes ‘we will always support them’. And when I think that – then suddenly and sadly – the Poppy becomes less a symbol of remembrance – or even of charity – but more an exercise in ‘showing we care’ rather than ‘delivering care’.