Last night, Green Councillor Ben Duncan published this extraordinary tweet:
As on numerous other occasions, to call Cllr Duncan for a lapse of judgement seems barely adequate.
To be clear – it’s not as if there is not an issue here. Politicians continue to use Armed Forces Day, and the armed forces in general, for party political ends. I personally find anything that smacks of the glorification of war and militarism profoundly uncomfortable – and I believe that Armed Forces Day can be a time of reflection and questioning too.
But it is one thing to hold politicians to account over their decisions to promote or go to war; absolutely another to launch this kind of cheap, unthinking insult against those who serve or have served in the armed forces. I cannot believe that Cllr Duncan has not had those conversations with people who have served in wartime – in my case with people who served in both world wars – where veterans describe both their horror and loathing of war and their belief that they did the right and proper thing. There are nuances and complexities here that, as so often, Cllr Duncan misses or ignores – and I am not sure at what point he acquired the right to dismiss those ambiguities in this way. I am guessing that those Greens who told me to “grow up” after calling Cllr Duncan for his remarks on Twitter don’t really get those subtleties either. In precisely what terms does Cllr Duncan talk to the current and ex-service personnel he represents as a Councillor? Does his party regard calling them “hired killers” as an adult or appropriate conversation?
A few weeks ago, along with hundreds of other people – including Caroline Lucas and councillors of all parties, including Greens – I took part in the annual remembrance ceremony at the Chattri for the Indian soldiers who died in Brighton when the Pavilion was turned into a military hospital during the First World War. It was an occasion of remembrance but also one of solidarity and diversity, and rooted in respect for those who served and died. It was certainly not a glorification of war. And it was an occasion in which service women and men played a substantial role. Would Cllr Duncan regard that as a case of “hired killers” on the South Downs?
The question for Cllr Duncan – and indeed for the Green Party and its MP – is whether he (and they) will apologise for this deeply insulting remark. But, and by no means for the first time, it’s also a question of whether that Party and its councillors are willing to promote a political debate rooted in respect and understanding rather than name-calling and gratuitous insult. And, yes, that Green tweeter in a strange way had it right too – it’s a question of personal and political maturity.