The White Poppy

Jeremy Corbyn. A name that most people outside of the constituency of Islington North had never heard six months ago, but one that is now imprinted on the the nation’s consciousness. The man has amassed a great public following and an even greater sense of outrage from the right-wing and its bulldog; the (mainly Rupert Murdoch-owned) British press.

Why so much panic and indignant sneering? A whole bunch of reasons (Corbyn has been an MP for over thirty years, after all), but for starters here are a few that stand out to me:

  1. The man embodies substance over style and the media can’t seem to understand why he chooses to walk or cycle to work (rather than expensing a cab fare) and why he doesn’t wear sharper suits (prefering comfort with an unbottoned top button and a natural look). The man lets his principles speak for him rather than his appearance.
  2. He has values that he does not wish to compromise, believing instead that honesty and integrity should power the political process instead of bluster and wildly hyperbolic make-believe (as has sadly become the norm in the Palace of Westminster).
  3. He’s ‘Old Labour’, which is to say that he is more left-wing than ‘New Labour’. People are genuinely freaking out that the party that brought about the creation of the NHS and the minimum wage is now being led by a man with a huge conscience of social responsibility. Crazy, right?

The big controversial outrage that I want to talk about, however, is more specific; Corbyn’s decision on whether or not to wear a white poppy for Remembrance Day commemorations instead of/as well as the traditional red poppy. Why is this a big deal for the newspapers and the nightly talking heads? Because the white poppy is a symbol of peace and pacifism and it is seen as a protest to armed conflict. Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Corbyn is a self-confessed pacifist who does not agree with the taking of human life for any reason. Wearing a symbol of peace at a ceremony to remember the end of a war and to reflect on those violently taken by it seems to make sense to me.

Let’s think for a moment about pacifism. Why is it a dirty word for politicians? Pacifism is the belief that human life is important enough not to waste it warring with each other. Believing that diplomacy is better than sabre-rattling shouldn’t be something that is criticised or ridiculed. It should be a concept that is aspired to. Jeremy Corbyn wants to live in a world without war. I’d quite like that too, but the usual politicians and media outlets do not. Why not?

It is possible to show respect for those who died without having to respect the war itself. Who honestly respects warfare? It is a truly terrible thing that we do to each other and no one should ever have to go through the traumas of it, neither as a soldier or as a civilian. Corbyn believes that wars should not happen and if he chooses to wear a symbol of that belief there should not be a massive uproar over it. I would rather have that than a Prime Minister who would wish to glorify war. Think about that for a second. The person in this country with the greatest ability to send people into combat wants to make out that battle is glorious and pacifism is a dirty word. This concept does not fill me with confidence of a lasting peaceful future.

Everyone should be a pacifist, really. If everyone in the world was a pacifist, we wouldn’t have wars that slaughter millions. Nobody would want to start one, preferring instead to talk things through diplomatically. Maybe this is a fairytale and people will always want to fight and kill each other. Perhaps that is so, but I believe that change has to start somewhere. Possibly even with just one man.

So, Jeremy Corbyn, I hope you wear the white poppy. I hope that you show up at the Cenotaph in a plain suit, with your top button undone. I hope you maintain another respectful silence whilst David Cameron belts out ‘God Save the Queen’ until he’s red in the face. Most importantly though, I hope you keep hold of the principles that have gotten you this far, because although Cameron is the kind of politician that we probably deserve, you are the kind of politician that we need.

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