WITH each passing year in Brexit Britain the degrading of the poppy grows fiercer. Once, this quiet symbol of reverence for those who fell fighting tyranny and fascism in two world wars stood for something pure. Now it has been weaponised by forces resembling those we resisted with the lives of our sacred youth.

Each year a self-appointed popular Stasi monitors our television screens and scours the internet seeking out public figures who are caught in flagrante without a poppy. At this rate the poppy dissidents will soon be getting rounded up and sent to a month-long re-education camp to ponder their wilfulness.

The poppy raids would begin around the middle of October with known troublemakers and curmudgeons targeted and taken off the streets for their own protection. That way too it would stop the possibility of them inciting UK patriots appalled at their traitorous behaviour.

Michael Stewart, the only football pundit on BBC Scotland who doesn’t speak English as a foreign language, found himself under scrutiny last week for appearing on air without a poppy. November hadn’t even begun.

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Nowhere, it seems, and nothing is considered inappropriate to bear this symbol of self-sacrifice and quiet heroism: the bigger and more belligerent the better. Once, not so long ago, we watched the Queen lay a wreath silently at The Cenotaph while the rest of us were invited to observe two minutes of silence on Remembrance Sunday or at our workplaces on November 11. No smartphone vigilantes were scanning the crowds for poppyless delinquents.

Curiously, this form of cultural enforcement has grown more malevolent the further in time we travel from the end of hostilities in 1945. I’m willing to concede the possibility that there is something benign in this. That it’s impelled merely by a desire never to forget the deeds of the fallen as the passing years thin the ranks of their surviving comrades.

However, I think something much more sinister is happening here. You’re tempted to ascribe it to the dark forces unleashed by the process of Brexit: the British triumphalism, the celebration of imperial tyranny, the hostile environment for foreign nationals and the dehumanising of refugees and immigrants.

But the stirrings of this malevolent Britain First culture could be observed in the previous political generation of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The falsehood and deceit deployed by Blair and his senior advisers to justify war in Iraq and subsequent endorsements of indiscriminate bombing in the Middle East laid the foundations for this insidious culture.

Blair and Brown carried the hopes of all working people whose communities had been devastated by Thatcher’s war on trade unionism and our old manufacturing and industrial bases. Yet, despite being handed the greatest mandate ever enjoyed by a Labour administration to tilt the scales in favour of the workers, they chose instead to spend the next 13 years bending the knee to corporatism and neo-liberalism.

Throughout this period they chose to advance British exceptionalism and a false sense of togetherness and national unity. Remember Cool Britannia and Blair’s public affection for Margaret Thatcher? Remember Gordon Brown and his astonishing “British jobs for British workers” slogan, not to mention his desperate attempts to seek favour with Middle England by pretending to cheer on the English football team at the 2010 World Cup?

Later still we had the London Olympics and an opening ceremony that could have been designed and choreographed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage. This was a fetishisation of Britain where the NHS and working-class heritage and culture were caricatured in a music-hall parody even as our nurses were being denied better pay and conditions and the Windrush generation was being rounded up and cancelled. The wretchedly contrived stitch-up of Jeremy Corbyn by a morally bankrupt Labour Party is part of this timeline too.

This new fetishisation, this gross distortion of what the poppy is supposed to represent, must be seen in this context. As UK workers and businesses prepare for the consequences of Boris Johnson’s worst-of-all-possible Brexits we will see more of this. The poppy, long associated with defiance in the face of tyranny, will be commandeered even more gratuitously by a hard-right, neo-liberal elite to stir patriotic fervour. Thus, another smokescreen will be created to switch the attention of communities who stand to lose the most.

There’s a reason too why Nigel Farage chose this time to re-name his Brexit Party to Reform UK, posing as an anti-lockdown party. As we reach the peak period for poppy fascism Farage is seeking to manipulate the bewilderment and uncertainty in working-class communities to feed his psychotic need to remain in the public eye.

Thus a millionaire stockbroker who has the money and the means to protect himself from coronavirus wants the most disadvantaged people in society – people whom he truly reviles – to put themselves in harm’s way by exploiting their very real concerns about feeding their families and holding on to their jobs.

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ONCE, I simply wore a poppy, choosing not to over-think it and instead regard it as not much to ask to remember all the dead of two wars. Yes, of course the First World War was waged for the conceit and wounded pride of Europe’s ancient and half-mad royal families. And more recently the scope of remembrance was widened to include those who fell in Britain’s dirtier wars in Ireland, the Falklands and Iraq. But like most people I wore it as a personal token of love and gratitude for those in my own family who had fought and served and fallen in those two wars.

In recent years though, I have struggled to justify wearing the poppy. It no longer represents something noble and selfless but something altogether more belligerent and cynical. It’s now owned by those who seek to declare their allegiance to a smaller, more mean-spirited and hollowed-out Britain. And it’s now wielded to root out those who don’t conform.

As we travel further down this road there will be more cultural distortions. Don’t be surprised to see spot fines for those caught in the hours of daylight without a poppy. It’s already happened at the BBC where you are compelled to wear one before you’ll be allowed a voice. And on those few occasions when a commentator or presenter is permitted to appear without one they will be hounded on social media where firing squads will be assembled to take them down.

It’s become emblematic of the new post-Brexit Britain where flag-waving and patriotic fervour have come to replace honest inquiry and the right to refuse.