When did we get so silly about poppies?

HO-HUM silly poppy story season is with us again. Sienna Miller is ticked off by the Daily Mail for not wearing a poppy on the Graham Norton Show after ‘eagle-eyed viewers’ spotted her apparent disrespect. Eagle-eyed viewers or a gimlet-eyed news editor with a black hole for a heart? You decide.

Maybe Sienna’s flimsy-looking dress wouldn’t stand up to a poppy pin. Maybe the colour clashed. Perhaps she forgot or decided not to.

Whatever the case, fellow actress Barbara Windsor wouldn’t be impressed. She was asked on Sky news what she thought of people who didn’t wear a poppy and replied: ‘They can sod off.’

Sodding off is the West Brom midfielder James McClean who refused to wear a poppy on his shirt. The Irish footballer denies that he is being disrespectful, saying: ‘If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I’d wear it without a problem.

‘I would wear it every day of the year if that was the thing but it doesn’t, it stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in. Because of the story where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that.’

Last Saturday in a match against Leicester, away fans booed McClean for his poppy-less stance. Perhaps they hadn’t read his perfectly reasonable explanation in the West Brom programme. Maybe they forget to learn how to read. They certainly forgot to learn how to think, but that’s common when it comes to poppies.

When did we see the start of what the Channel 4 newsreader John Snow has called ‘poppy fascism’? A few years ago stories started to pop up about BBC news readers appearing on screen without their poppy. Any newsreader, politician or mildly famous person seen on screen without a poppy was decreed to be cold and unpatriotic.

This led to an idiotic nervousness about this matter in the BBC and elsewhere. This jitteriness about poppies explains a very silly buy enjoyable story doing the rounds this morning. Downing Street has been mocked for digitally adding a remembrance poppy to a photograph of David Cameron on its Facebook page. The clumsily pasted-on poppy was spotted and a Twitter-storm blew up, as can happen nowadays over nothing much. People started tweeting mocked-up montages of Cameron covered in poppies or of a giant poppy wearing a small David Cameron badge.

All very daft but telling too. I guess this only happened because someone in the Downing Street press office panicked on seeing a photograph of the prime minister without a poppy. So they popped a poppy on him. Later the amended photograph was removed and replaced with one of Cameron actually wearing a poppy.

This non-incident was predictably dubbed ‘Poppygate’, following that media tradition whereby any scandal big or small has ‘gate’ attached to it. This now more or less ironic habit dates to the Watergate scandal of 1972 in the US and will continue long after people have forgotten how that ‘gate’ came about.

The photoshopped poppy is what happens when we overreact to whether or not someone chooses to wear a poppy at this time of year. And it should be a choice. To wear a poppy is a fitting and meaningful act of remembrance, but to turn this act into an annual poppy witch hunt is ridiculous and demeaning to the cause it purports to support. Wear a poppy with pride if you wish to: yes. Be forced to wear a poppy: no.

Sadly I suspect that the media are to blame on this one. Once the clocks go back reporters are sent out to comb through the day’s news on orders to discover anyone famous who is not wearing a poppy.

All this nonsense is itself disrespectful to Remembrance Day. Private respect has its place too. On Sunday I will think of my grandfather who refused to carry arms but went to the Trenches as a stretcher-bearer. He survived the Battle of the Somme and did an unimaginably dangerous job helping his fellow man.

Just in case the Daily Mail news editor happens to be passing my window, I would like to make the following full disclosure. As I sit here in typing my pyjamas I am not wearing a poppy. I’ll buy one before Sunday, if I remember.

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