Top Buttons and Saving the Queen

The RAF Association is holding a number of commemorative events around the country offering veterans and the public the chance to come together, remember and pay their respects to those that played their part in winning the Battle of Britain.

Our main service will be held on Tuesday 15 September 2015 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

“Paying their respects to those that played their part in winning the Battle of Britain.”

One doesn’t need a history lesson to know the importance of the Battle of Britain for this country and the world and nor do we need reminding of the bravery demonstrated by the pilots, ground crew and indeed population of our country. It’s huge, to me moving, and it is 75 years since it occurred.

Humans can be a funny bunch, for some reason scoring 100 runs in a cricket game is worthy of far more celebration that scoring 99 even though, to the end result, the difference is generally meaningless. We divide 100 into quarters and somehow think 25, 50 and 75 years are a better time than others to get together and remember things than the years in between. We spent billions getting together to watch our arbitrary calendars roll over from 1999 to 2000. And so what? Though it might be natural for one to realise that there is no logical reason why 74 years should be celebrated any less than 75, it would take a bit of a prick to complain about it or act on it. It shouldn’t take serious intellect to realise that accepting something illogical can, in and of itself, be valuable and therefore in its own way, sensible.

Realisations like this are made all the time. Hence, for example, why we might attach a certain significance to wearing a strip of material around our necks, knotted in a certain fashion, and pushed up to our necks. We collectively see this and respond accordingly. It really doesn’t make you of superior mind to realise that expressed thus, this isn’t particularly logical. Dress codes and rituals may well not be but again, so what? They bring us together, they provide us with other forms of language and methods of making statements. Both in adhering to the rules, norms and mores, and sometimes, in breaking them.

The other day I visited the Abbazia di Montecassino to see the site of the fearsome battle in 1944. Outside the abbey was the following sign:

Monte CNeither I nor the woman accompanying me would have dreamt of choosing to flout these rules despite my being an atheist and not personally fond of such restrictions. And nor was it a case of ‘when 80 miles South-East of Rome…’. I just didn’t see the point. My disliking them is less important than their liking them. My conformity in this instance loses me nothing and I can’t see a wider justification for causing a fuss. So I conformed to their conventions and expectations because I wasn’t there to confound them.

For some people however, making gestures against conventions, which they don’t see as logically important, is important to them. That’s often illogical. And quite often narcissistic.

Top Buttons

Today at St. Paul’s Cathedral the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn attended the event mentioned at the top. An event I don’t believe he would have attended had he not been representing the party he has chosen to lead. It was a formal event, an event of national importance, in a cathedral and alongside military personnel, other politicians, members of the public and peoples of various ranks and titles. Not to mention TV crews.

And he turned up looking like a sack of shit.

I tend to avoid doing a top button up and I look fairly slack, generally. But when a friend is getting married, putting in a bit of an effort is the least I can do. It’s a special day so ritual demands we make a special effort and that in turn is relevant to the value of ritual.

If I were representing a political party dear to me, at an event like this, I wouldn’t dream of appearing the slackest person in the room. At the very least I would wear a proper suit rather than mismatched jacket and slacks, with a belt. The leader of the opposition earns about £140k, get down to Marks and Spencer’s and spend 150 of it on a suit.

A question I would like to ask therefore, is what point is he trying to make?

Don’t go, that’s a statement. Wear your weekend clothes, that’s a statement. Both wrong, but this? A more important question then, is whether this is in anyway the suitable occasion to make a point like this? If, as some have suggested, he isn’t making a point, then he is a fool. For it is obvious to any thinking person that at a ritual such as this, conformity has a value and non-conformity is noticeable.

If you are trying to win election to lead your country, if you believe it is your moral duty to win that office to represent the poor, and you’re not trying to make a sartorial point, don’t bring attention to yourself in that way. Toe the line. THAT’s how to not make a point. You’re not the star. You’re not the purpose.

I’m reminded of a line from a film favourite of mine, The Great Beauty:

So the fundamental rule, one must never cry at a funeral. You must never steal the show from the family’s sorrow. That is forbidden. Because it is immoral.

Toeing the line here is more moral than not doing so. His dress shouldn’t be the topic on conversation, but nor is it my fault for talking about it as he is being deliberately conspicuous. So this is either disrespectful to a cause that should be respected or it is politically rash and incompetent while in the service of what is supposed to be a vital, life saving, movement. Probably it is a combination of both.

Saving the Queen

Predictably, Corbyn declined to sing the national anthem of the country he now wishes to lead. The country which is overwhelmingly monarchist and the country he says he will lead in a style that takes in opinions from those he disagrees with. Clearly this doesn’t extend to singing a variation of the song those people who died, including many a Labour voter, would have sung many times.

Well, with this one I can see a semblance of a principle at stake. He might be making a point. He might think that the lyrics are so important that he cannot simply campaign for a different anthem while singing the one that exists and has been sung my so many millions. Ok. That too reeks of grandstanding and posturing to me. It’s an empty gesture and once again it takes away from the occasion which is far more important. Though, I would have to concede he would have made a story or two if he had sang it knowing his republican principles.

This was an event held by the ROYAL Air Force and for those that died wearing a uniform with royal references upon it and which many, if not most, of whom were proud to sing that song. It was good enough for them… But Corbyn is an honorable man so being the only person there not singing it is clearly of more importance to him.

I have always been happy to assume my monarch is a conduit or a metaphor for the nation. When I am singing that particular song I am singing about protecting my country, government, constitution and way of life, etc. Perhaps for Corbyn it is something else, perhaps it is important for him to demonstrate constantly that he is above such anachronisms. I can’t see the value in it myself. I also think it conflicts with his rhetoric about leading his party while adopting policies and principles he doesn’t actually agree with but others do.

The looking like a sack of shit does bother me and when compared it bothers me more than his refusal to sing our national anthem.

In my first piece on Corbyn I said about him:

This is merely adolescence dragged out into late middle-age.


Corbyn should be seen as what he is, a 66 year old teenager…

I don’t see that I was at all wrong and, increasingly, this will be the prism through which I assess his motivations and arguments.

Culturally, we don’t all wear the clothes of a farmer like Mao. If that’s what he wants us to do, state it. Make it policy. Then live by it. Until then play ball. Observe the standards and expectations. Much bigger people have done so without bother. If you want to change the anthem, sing it while trying to change it.

But a national, commemorative event, for those who died fighting facists, isn’t the time to make such petty gestures.

3 thoughts on “Top Buttons and Saving the Queen

  1. This is asinine. The men who died for our freedom didn’t die so that you could prate on about fancy dress, nor did they all express respect in the way the Victorian era you obviously yearn for dictated. It’s the 21st Century, and we’d rather have a PM who stopped illegal wars than one who was nicely buttoned up while “respecting” the men he sent to die in them.


    1. “The men who died for our freedom didn’t die so that you could prate on about fancy dress”

      Amazing how everyone has a handle on what they died for.

      “nor did they all express respect in the way the Victorian era you obviously yearn for dictated.”

      As you say, asinine.

      “It’s the 21st Century…”

      Just rolling out the cliches now.

      “and we’d rather have a PM who stopped illegal wars than one who was nicely buttoned up while “respecting” the men he sent to die in them.”

      What a bizarre dichotomy. Is this the option? Illegal wars or top buttons? Either way you don’t want somebody to stop wars, you want somebody who doesn’t start them. If you wanted somebody to stop wars you’d be speaking about intervention in Syria.

      Move along.


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