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Ed Miliband's wreath was a mistake, but can we really call him unpatriotic?

Questioning a leader's allegiance has always been an easy way to tarnish their image

Being labelled “unpatriotic” is an occupational hazard for a Labour leader, as Mr Miliband has found. After the offensive remarks about his father, we now find he has shown insufficient respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in the Great War.

It’s nothing new. Perhaps Major CR Attlee, more familiarly known nowadays as Clement or Clem Attlee, who served in the first world war before he become the nation’s reforming Labour Prime Minister in 1945 escaped the charge of cowardice. Serving at Gallipoli and being shot in the leg in Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq – excused him most of the right wing press’ abuse. He was lucky.

True, the rather childish writing on the wreath lacks a certain dignity, but it looks like an admin mistake. Someone should have asked Mr Milband to sign it, as presumably someone made sure David Cameron signed his. Or maybe Mr Cameron was a bit more thoughtful. Either way, it does not call for a firing squad at dawn.

This latest rather synthetic row about “red Ed” is reminiscent of the famous “donkey jacket” episode at the Cenotaph in 1981, when Michael Foot’s dark coat attracted unfair and inaccurate comparisons with a road sweeper’s jacket. As Mr Foot later pointed out, the Queen Mother complimented on his coat after the service, though it has never been clear as to whether she was being ironic. Foot, who failed his medical for the Second World War (“suited me done to the ground”), was not one of life’s militarists, but he was an intensely patriotic man.

He just didn’t want to start a nuclear war with Russia, that’s all. Neil Kinnock, with nothing to substantiate beyond his party’s defence policy and some ill-judged remarks about a home guard being able to resist a Russian invasion, was also routinely labelled unpatriotic. Gordon Brown also got it in the neck for alleged not equipping the armed forces properly – it even emerged during the 101 TV debates – and for not having sufficient neat handwriting in a letter to a bereaved parent. Again, totally distorted and unfair.


There is another side to all this; Thatcher, the great victor of the Falklands whose defence cuts in the South Atlantic virtually invited an Argentine invasion in the first place, while David Cameron and his defence ministers have brought the armed forces to an all-time low; aircraft carriers with no aircraft, for example.

I am sure that if he was called to serve Mr Miliband would do just that. I am not sure about some of the journalists engaged on their knocking copy.