Image Credit: Harry Mitchell
The things that unite us in contemporary Britain are few and far between. I had hoped that the importance of Remembrance Day events was one of them. It should be an occasion that, when asked, ideologies are put aside as leaders go and honour the fallen. However, at the annual Festival of Remembrance hosted by the Royal British Legion, when the camera panned to Corbyn’s seat his absence became inconspicuous and it was clear that Emily Thornberry had attended in his place. The Labour leader and his right-hand man, John McDonnell, had made the decision not to attend.
Now, Jeremy Corbyn is hardly the poster child for acting in a traditional way when it comes to public appearances. Earlier this year, he came under fire for boycotting a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in honour of Donald Trump’s visit to the UK. Instead, he joined the protests outside, giving a speech highlighting the president’s misogyny and xenophobia. Although Corbyn faced no issue meeting with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, during a state visit back in 2015. However, this is a different debate. Trump tends to divide opinions; the need to take a moment to remember those who have sacrificed their lives should have the opposite effect.
Devising strategy for general elections is difficult. In fact, they are tricky in the best of political environments, unlike the state the country is in now. It is hard to gauge what the general public will choose to prioritise. Or indeed, what the media will choose to focus their attention on. When contextual topics arise during campaigns, politicians can face a conundrum that whichever course of action they choose, it’s the wrong one. Corbyn has faced this problem during this debate as it is important to note that, while missing the festival, he was present at the Sunday Remembrance service at the Cenotaph in Central London. So, it appears to me that there are two ways of approaching this; the political debate and the moral one. As a political strategy, his absence was a miscalculation. Corbyn tweeted that he missed the festival because he was visiting firefighters in Doncaster who work tirelessly to serve their community. While both Doncaster North and Central may have been held by Labour in the previous election, both saw significant increases in the Conservative vote share. In Doncaster North, they gained a 13.6 per cent increase in votes compared to 2015. If the 2017 election taught us anything, it was that the concept of a ‘safe seat’ is becoming an increasingly inaccurate way to describe the electoral map.
Corbyn could have scheduled this visit at, essentially, any other time. His absence at the festival gave media attention to the trip, perhaps in an attempt to show Corbyn out with communities rather than in a grand concert. This appears to have backfired as the soundbite has been about his decision to turn down the invitation to the Festival of Remembrance, and not his interest in the Northern community. As Labour looks increasingly in danger in the polls, with You Gov reporting them at 28 per cent as of 12 November, it was a decision that did not pay off. Unfortunately, it was made at the expense of disrespecting fallen soldiers.
Historically, Remembrance Day is a chance to honour those who died during the First World War. As time has passed, it has evolved into a time to pay our respects to the men and women who have given their lives during conflict. While it may be naïve, I’m a great believer that politics should stop at the water’s edge. There are some issues that transcend the boundaries of political ideologies to affect us all. Enemy fire in conflict is unable to distinguish between left and right-wing ideals when aiming at a target.
The irony of this issue is something I am well aware of. By claiming that the event should not be politicised, it is placed at the very centre of debate. It takes up hours, days of coverage that should not be focusing on it at all. By talking about it, we are doing the very thing that we are complaining about: drawing attention away from the purpose of Remembrance: remembering our fallen troops. Nonetheless, despite opinions of Britain’s role in conflict, the harsh reality is that we all owe a great deal to those we remember during this time, and the actions of petty political leaders should not be detracting from that sacrifice. People all across the political spectrum have laid down their life for the ideals of this country; it should, therefore, correspond that leaders of all political beliefs honour their sacrifice.