Sheffield’s Lord Mayor Magid Magid has attracted a swell of support after being criticised for wearing a white poppy as a peace symbol, rather than a red poppy, at the city’s Armistice service.
Mr Magid defended his choice saying he always wears a white poppy out of personal principle but Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, claimed the decision not to wear a red poppy was inappropriate in his position as Sheffield’s “first citizen”.
Sheffield City Council said it was “normal protocol” for its lord mayor to wear a red poppy as a sign of remembrance, while the Royal British Legion said there is no right or wrong way to wear a poppy.
Mr Magid’s decision attracted both criticism and support from people on social media, with some saying the colour of his poppy was unimportant.
Asked to explain his choice, Mr Magid, who was appointed Sheffield’s Lord Mayor earlier this year, sent a lengthy message to The Yorkshire Post which read: “What the white poppy represents is an unwavering commitment to peace.
“It is founded upon the idea of ‘Never Again’ - a concept that is often forgotten and extremely pertinent especially today when bombs and missiles made in Britain continue to cause havoc and ruin in Yemen, Palestine and elsewhere.
“Central to the white poppy is also the belief that all victims of war should be remembered and mourned. War is destructive and devastating. That is why I, like so many others, have always worn a white poppy.
“While I lay both a red poppy wreath and a white poppy wreath out of duty, I wear my white poppy as a matter of personal principle and consistency for all it represents, and in solidarity with all who are intimidated and bullied for practising their values and beliefs.”
The Lord Mayor went on to highlight how, as a councillor, he has personally organised a memorial event to mark the centenary of Sheffield’s war memorial trees, in honour of the 77 former Crookesmoor school pupils who lost their lives during the First World War.
He said he had also enthusiastically partaken in fundraising for the ‘Sheffield to the Somme’ charity bike ride, has supported the South Yorkshire branch of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, and has been a regular donor to Combat Stress, a mental health charity for veterans even though he “sincerely” believes that veterans should not have to rely on charity.
“The state should support them financially and otherwise for forcing them to experience the dehumanising horrors of war,” Mr Magid said, who went on to say: “I think, however, that there has been a generational shift in how war is perceived.
“It is now a widely acknowledged reality that war is political - and that it has often been utilised by warmongering politicians and powerful business interests at the expense of working people and their children and loved ones. “That is why the white poppy is so important to me, and to so many of us - it symbolizes for us the respect and remembrance of those that have passed while also allowing us to envisage a future where we do not partake in anybody’s suffering anywhere on the planet, and where peace, a reality so many made the ultimate sacrifice for in the first part of the 20th century, reigns supreme.”
Nonetheless, his decision to opt for a white poppy instead of the traditional red, was criticised by some on social media - including Ms Smith MP.
The Labour politician, who attended a service in Barnsley to mark Remembrance Sunday, tweeted: “Relieved I didn’t have to witness the behaviour of a Lord Mayor who forgets he is the city’s first citizen. He was not there to represent his own views.”
Other social media users backed the mayor.
Adam Griffiths tweeted: “He is a pacifist so the white poppy shows these beliefs while honouring those who gave their lives, as a Green Party supporter (and fellow pacifist) I couldn’t be prouder of the job @MagicMagid has done as mayor of Sheffield.”
Another tweeter Iain Roberts wrote: “Many people find the idea of a Poppy Police telling folk which poppy to wear, how and when to wear it, deeply wrong. Respecting the views of this group means doing what’s right for you.”
Explaining the stance of Sheffield City Council, the local authority’s chief executive John Mothersole said: “It is normal protocol for the City’s Lord Mayor to wear a red poppy as a sign of remembrance. The current Lord Mayor clearly chose to exercise his own personal preference in wearing a white poppy.”
The Royal British Legion also commented, saying it was thankful for every poppy worn.
A spokesperson for the charity said: “The decision to wear a poppy is a matter of personal choice. If the poppy became compulsory it would lose its meaning and significance.
“The Legion will always defend the rights of individuals who choose not to wear a poppy, and we oppose those who attempt to coerce or criticise people who make this personal choice.
“We are thankful for every poppy worm. There is no right or wrong way to wear a poppy, the best way to wear a poppy is with pride.”
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