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Getting it right

Betsan Powys | 12:17 UK time, Thursday, 3 September 2009


Politicians know that striking the right note at memorial services and funerals matters a lot. Get it wrong and it matters even more.

Decide not to turn up to celebrations in Normandy because you have already agreed to discuss Wales hosting the Ryder Cup and a great many people won't forgive you.

Turn up at the Cenotaph to lay a memorial wreath in a short overcoat that was pretty sensible given the weather but that looked to many like a donkey jacket and people won't let you forget it.

Tell a shocked audience of millions that the "People's Princess" will remain in their hearts and memories for ever and people will remember it.

Over on ConservativeHome David Davies MP questions the wisdom of advising Ministers not to turn up at all to the funerals of servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan.

Here's a taste:

"The experience of sitting a few feet away from the mother, father, brothers, sisters and wife or girlfriend of a young man who has lost his life because of decisions taken by Parliament is sobering. I walk away asking myself a lot of questions about the rightness of those decisions and whether things could be done differently. Now more than ever we need to be asking those questions. For that reason alone, if the families are happy for us to do so, MPs have a duty to try to attend these funerals.

For the same reasons, if not more so, Ministers should be present at as many funerals of service personnel as possible. Currently it is their policy to attend none. That is reprehensible.

The MoD claim, ludicrously, that attending funerals would give publicity to the terrorist cause. Nonsense. The funerals are widely publicised in any event. The ones I have been to have all been attended by the Lord Lieutenant - the Queen's representative - and the appearance of a Minister would be unlikely to make them any more noticeable to members of the Taliban hiding out in the Hindu Kush".

The MoD might well argue that their number one priority is to respect the fact that the families are going through a difficult time. Staying away, rather than turning up as per some sort of official rota system, is a sign of that respect. Ministers wouldn't, after all, be welcome at all funerals and memorial services.

David Davies, who tends to call a spade a spade, suggests that's easily resolved. Just pick up the phone and ask the family. They may well jump at the chance of having a Minister there when they're laying a son, or daughter, to rest.

But what then?

David Davies might hail their courage for being prepared to stomach the result of sending troops to war. No point pretending, though, that others won't slam them mercilessly for pulling a cheap PR stunt.


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