Poppy politics? Make your own mind up

THIS one is rumbling on in corridor conversations at Camden Town Hall. Election candidate Jo Shaw’s apparently unexpected appearance laying a wreath at the war memorial in Euston on Remembrance Sunday has split opinion and letters have been arriving at the New Journal’s offices on the subject in the last few days, some defending her, some adding to the criticism raised last week.

I wrote the story up last week here because a rare alliance had formed with the Labour and Conservative councillors suspending their normal feuding to come together to raise concerns in a joint protest. It also appeared to have been an issue in the minds of senior council officers.

Since last week, I’ve heard some sharp words from Jo’s colleagues, obviously angry over what they see as an unfair attack on their parliamentary candidate. They maintain she was just laying a personal wreath and that a video of her at the memorial was not being compiled as an election resource.

Whatever the colour of their party allegiance, what everyone seems to agree on is that these kinds of sensitive, unifying occasions should not be used for party politics. All sides deny doing so.

To draw a line under it all and in the interests of fairness, here’s what the two sides were saying last week in a bit more detail, and readers can decide for themselves what they think.

Letter from Councillor Andrew Marshall, leader of the Conservative, and Councillor Nasim Ali, leader of Camden’s Labour group:

“The Mayor of Camden represents everyone, regardless of politics. Never is this more so than on Remembrance Sunday, when the Mayor lays a wreath on behalf of the people of the borough and of all its councillors, as has happened every year in the borough’s history. It is not a time for political grandstanding.

Attendees were quite taken aback when Liberal  Democrat parliamentary
candidate Jo Shaw simply attached herself without any warning to the civic
dignatories at the war memorial at Euston this  Sunday, laid a separate
wreath on behalf of Camden Liberal Democrats as part of the formal
proceedings, and then jumped into the civic procession (in which she had no
role), cutting in ahead of some of the borough’s former mayors.

If there was a real desire for each party to lay its own wreath, as indeed
happens at the Cenotaph, then there are established procedures for the political groups on the council to reach agreement on this. This is to  ensure that the memory of
those who have paid the greatest sacrifice is properly – and respectfully –

Instead, this was simply rather transparent one-upmanship: Ms Shaw’s real
motivation is made plain by the fact that she arranged for herself to be
videoed by her team while laying her wreath, presumably for future political
use on YouTube etc. Can’t we protect civic traditions from bandwagon

Jo Shaw, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Holborn and St Pancras:

“Members of my close family have served in the armed forces.  I laid my wreath on Sunday in a personal capacity and as a local resident to remember the brave work that they and countless others do and have done.  Also I wanted to pay my respects to all those who have died in the World Wars and in more recent conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq.

I sat behind the children from the Air Cadets at the service and I was struck by the tragedy that young people only a couple of years older than them have died in the last few days in Afghanistan, fighting on my behalf.

This was a very personal moment of reflection and remembrance.  If Remembrance Day is not a time for political disagreements to be put to one side then I don’t know when is.

I attended the service and wreath laying at St Pancras Church last year.  The number of deaths in Afghanistan in the last few months have made the sacrifice made by others much more at the forefront of my mind this year, which is why I wanted to lay a wreath.  It didn’t occur to me to make my tribute at a time other than at the official service .  I didn’t know Russell would be filming on Sunday.  I’ve no intention of using his footage.  I spoke to the Mayor’s office in advance of the service, they brought the wreath (signed by me alone, not on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, as I was attending in a personal capacity) to the service for me and told me when and where  to stand in order to lay it.  Like many people, I wanted to pay my personal tribute.”

1 Comment on Poppy politics? Make your own mind up

  1. Albert Shanker // November 18, 2009 at 9:49 pm //

    The (neutral) Chief Executive broke convention and wrote to Ms Shaw about her about this. It’s important that politics is kept out of it and she should’ve known better.

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