Just when I thought a week had passed without cause for heckles being raised, I read with pleasant surprise that a local EDL march and counter-demonstration had passed off peacefully with no arrests.
And there it was in the accompanying photograph… a military beret and associated hoody. “Heckles! Heckles ‘shun!” I won’t dishonour the ‘unit’ by even hinting at its identity – but it was plain to see the wearer of this paraphernalia addressing the EDL rally.
How dare you?!
As a very proud Englishman I am already dismayed that our national flag has such far-right connotations associated with it as to render it un-flyable without drawing unmerited assumptions. Whenever I see the flag of St George fluttering I am reminded of the lyrics of one of my favourite Morrissey songs ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ in which he dreams of a time when “to be English is not to be baneful – to be standing by the flag, not feeling shameful, racist or partial” (sorry, Morrissey – I am still a staunch Royalist though)!
What part of being English are the EDL defending? Are they proud Engels (Angels)– our Germanic ancestors who founded the original English kingdoms? Perhaps it is the Italian side of being English (remember the Romans) that you wish to protect? No? The Nordic settlers, then?
Perhaps they actually want to protect the British? Is it the migrating Bretons who gave our name those they wish to protect?
But let’s put aside the spectre of far-right groups who wish to defend our wonderful immigrant history from… well, immigrants.
I am also an immensely proud Brit, and unless sport is involved I am proud of my Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish compatriots. Of all that it means to be British I am most proud of our promotion and tolerance of free speech; and have no issue with groups like the EDL campaigning and marching for what they believe in. I share none of their views on immigration or religion et al, but accept with stoicism that they have a right to air their views; as long as they break no law, and intimidate no one.
What I cannot accept is the risk of having our Armed Forces associated with such organisations. Having served ‘Queen and Country’ for 16 years I am sickened to the core to see HM Armed Forces insignia at a far-right rally. Even if this individual I spotted is in fact one of the many Walter Mitty characters who dress up at events up and down our land, there should be a law enacted that prevents the use of HM Government insignias by protesters or activists at ANY political rally – right or left-wing.
I cannot pretend that I didn’t encounter bigotry during my Service – the Armed Forces are but a representative cross-section of society. But the point is that my Armed Forces forebears have fought and died to prevent xenophobia, racism, intolerance, anti-Semitism, and the forces of hatred from taking a foothold.
Our brave boys and girls and their families continue to sacrifice ‘normal family life’ in humanitarian operations across the globe – and do not deserve to have the insignia of their units ambushed by hatred and intolerance.
By all means carry on with your misguided and ill-informed mission; but don’t dare to presume that you can associate our proud history of defeating radicalisation with your intent to segregate and disrupt.
What are your thoughts on Armed Forces insignia being worn at political rallies? Do you believe they have a right to wear them? Let us know in the comments section below.
Matt is a columnist and author on all things freelance, engineering and consultancy – with rants and thought-provoking observations thrown in for good measure. He also runs a freelance consultancy in Lincoln; fulfilling his lifelong ambition to be his own boss after 16 years serving in both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. His consultancy attracts and employs high quality engineers alongside the finest defence and business professionals. Matt is a Chartered Engineer, and avid reader and huge football fan.