What a Waste of Ink: Miliband’s Wreath vs. Foot’s Donkey Jacket

First published in Clarity: August 5,  2014

Fire up the Quattro! We’re back in the 1980s! It appears that when David Cameron threatened to send us all back there in 2010, he was being serious. The Conservative Party and the media have conspired to ensure that the 2015 Election will be a greatest hits package of that decade. Only today, Guardian commentator Peter Kellner likened David Cameron to James Callaghan circa 1978, approaching a “Winter of Discontent,” that could greatly influence his fate at the polls. Even Argentina is onside with the idea. Their recent financial woes have pushed the Falkland Islands back onto the political agenda. Perhaps General Galtieri will be resurrected for a cameo appearance?

Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Apt words, considering the criticism that Miliband has faced today over his memorial wreath for the First World War memorial. Some said the wreath was the wrong size, others that it was insulting due to the lack of a handwritten message. No further mention of the event will be recorded here, given how ludicrous the allegation is. Certainly, it even more ludicrous than when Michael Foot, who was 66 at the time, was criticised for wearing a “donkey jacket” to the 1981 Remembrance parade. Such vacuous criticism, then as now, completely cheapens the solemnity of the act of remembrance.

The news coverage might be heartening to Conservative Party members desperate to recapture some of that 1980s sparkle. In that decade, the Conservatives rode high, and Labour reached their electoral nadir. The Conservatives won the 1983 election in spite of a huge unemployment rate and a recent recession. This time round, it is stated that we have returned to growth, and that more people are in work than ever before in our history. Favourable conditions for history to repeat itself? Labour is recovering from its biggest electoral defeat since 1983, and if we want to be consistent with Marx’s statement, Ed Miliband’s is the new Neil Kinnock, and Labour is destined to another electoral defeat?

I would suggest caution. If history does repeat itself, as tragedy, then farce, then in this instance we have already encountered the tragedy. In 2009, Gordon Brown faced similar criticism for an act of remembrance, when his poor handwriting in a card to a war widow was found by the media to be wanting. If we count that, then Miliband’s wreath incident is the farce. A year away from a General Election, the last thing that David Cameron needs is to be associated with farce. At best, the story was a waste of ink, and at worst, an example of immature mudslinging that will end in hubris for all concerned.

 

 

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