First impressions count. They are particularly important if you’ve made an active decision not to speak to the mainstream media. With no prior explanation, the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, decided not to sing the national anthem at a commemorative ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This is his first official ceremonial engagement since becoming Labour leader.
To make matters worse, the Stop The War Coalition, which Jeremy still chairs, later posted “Why Jeremy Corbyn remained silent” on Twitter with a link to a poem about the Queen’s alleged criminal record. This was followed by a series of posts about how the Queen profits from the arms trade.
Like many people in middle England, I see the national anthem as an intrinsic part of wider British identity and culture. It isn’t just political. God Save the King was the national anthem at the time many veterans at the ceremony served in World War Two. During the war, the Queen served alongside these veterans, working as a driver and mechanic in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
For years, I’ve been waiting for a Labour leader to make the case for socialism and the abolition of the royal family. I believe we should have an elected, democratically accountable head of state; it shouldn’t be a birth right.
But to win the next election, Labour needs to win seats in Tory middle England, particularly in places like Southampton Itchen. I’m writing this article from a primary school in Hampshire, in a safe Tory constituency, and I decided to conduct an office poll. The view from teachers, administrative workers and parents is unanimous. Jeremy’s behaviour was disrespectful, and embarrassing. He looked like an awkward teenager being forced to go to church by his parents - and if he can’t even sing the national anthem, how on earth could he possibly represent Britain on the global stage?
When shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Kate Green said on Radio 4 this morning that it would have been “respectful, right and appropriate” to join in, I wholeheartedly agreed with her. A key part of government and representation is doing things for the sake of perception, in recognition of the position one holds. Quite simply, respectfulness is key. There’s no reason why Jeremy couldn’t have lip-synced his way through the ceremony. He could have sung the Red Flag under his breath instead of the national anthem, and nobody would even have noticed.
Labour’s already run this experiment before, and it failed. Michael Foot was ridiculed after wearing a so-called donkey jacket to the Remembrance Day Ceremony in 1981. The public’s reaction was scathing, and the party split a year later. But at least he waited until he’d been a Labour leader for just over a year to do it, rather than three days.
Deep down, I think Jeremy Corbyn knows he needs to improve his public image. It was, at least, heartening to see that he decided to wear a tie, and don a red poppy out of respect for veterans. Hopefully these are just teething issues, and he will begin to start to explain his position properly and with the requisite deference for public ceremonies we’ve honoured for years.
I, like many socialist republicans, don’t want to see our ideas discredited through poor communication. I hope he can do better in representing us next time.Reuse content