We will remember them
This is our day.
Our National Day.
We need no other celebration of ‘Britishness’; no flag-waving or jingoistic expressions of pride in what it means to belong to these islands or appreciate their history.
The Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall marks the eve of Britain’s Day: Remembrance Sunday. It is not about the Union Flag, the George Cross, the Scottish Saltire, the Welsh Dragon or the Ulster Banner.
It is about a red poppy: the symbol by which we are united.
It is about death, and life;
duty and sacrifice.
It is about the past, and tomorrow;
honour and respect.
It is about Britain, and the world;
the British and all peoples who stand for liberty and justice.
Remembrance Sunday transcends partisan politics, religious rivalries and petty dimensions of political correctness.
It is simply about what it means to be British.
And one action this week by the Prime Minister exemplifies this spirit.
On a visit to China to reach out in friendship and bolster our trade, David Cameron sported a red poppy.
To us, it is symbolic of our war dead and has been since World War I, when the flowers grew on battlefields.
To the Chinese, the poppy is symbolic of national shame and humiliation, reminding them of 19th-century conflicts with Britain when they fought and lost two Opium Wars. Those resulted in the UK forcing the Chinese to open their borders to trade, including in the narcotic derived from the Asian variety of the poppy. Britain also gained the territory of Hong Kong, which was not handed back to China until 1997. This year is the 150th anniversary of the Second Opium War, which ended when the British and French armies arrived in Peking, as Beijing was then known, and destroyed the emperor’s Summer Palace to remind the Chinese of their defeat.
It is reported that the Chinese authorities requested that the Prime Minister and his delegation remove their poppies from their lapels before they arrived in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where they were greeted by Premier Wen Jiabao and inspected an honor guard of the People’s Liberation Army.
David Cameron refused.
A lesser man would have acquiesced or simply have re-scheduled the whole visit in order to avoid any embarrassment.
In addressing an audience of students in Beijing, the Prime Minister told them that multi-party democracy, a free press and independent judiciary make Britain stronger, and he urged China to open up its political system.
The poppy is a remembrance not only of the millions who have died, but of what they died for.
Lest we forget our liberty, traditions, faith and democracy, we will remember them.