There’s a bit of a phoney war going on about the extraordinary Sea of Red memorial at the Tower of London. It’s an art construction that plants one poppy for every British and Commonwealth person who died in the First World War – over 800,000 of them. I rather like it, and so do the public: there are reports of queues across Tower Bridge to see it. This has not stopped the Daily Mail from taking the opportunity of a rather precious review to do its normal ‘right is patriotic, left is treacherous’ rant.
Hmmm. Let’s just remind ourselves that the owner of the Daily Mail was a great admirer of Hitler, and that the Daily Mail published articles in favour of the fascist Mosley. Let’s remember, too, that when those who fought in the Second World War were asked to vote on the country’s future, they gave a resounding victory to the Labour Party. And can I add a small footnote of my own. Checking through the bookshelf of an aging relative, I came across a reproduction of a 1941 edition of Picture Post, a historic magazine. It reports the following:
“Tom Hopkinson, the editor of Picture Post in 1941, wrote later ‘Early in the war a dispute arose between those who said Britain should have war aims, and those who said “get on with the fighting and think about that afterwards”. Churchill was against talking about war aims, fearing the argument might breach national unity. But papers such as Picture Post, which was receiving hundreds of letters from men and women in the armed forces, knew what they were thinking. They were ready to fight, but wanted to know what they were fighting for. One of the things they were not fighting for was two million unemployed living on £2 a week or less (the situation at the outbreak of war in 1939).’
Now then. You can go on the web to discover that £2 in 1939 was worth £117.40 in today’s money. Today, Job Seekers’ Allowance will yield “up to” £72.40. And, even using the flaky official figures, there are still 2m unemployed. So it may be worth remembering not just those who were killed and injured in the war, but the hopes they were fighting for. And still haven’t got.