The Royal British Legion has accused Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, of trying to politicise “one of the nation’s most treasured and beloved symbols” after he repeatedly wore a poppy badge during the European parliament election campaign.
In an open letter published in The Guardian, the armed forces charity said it had written privately to Griffin last month “appealing to his sense of honour” and asking him not to wear the badge or any other emblem associated with the legion.
Griffin, one of two BNP candidates elected to the European parliament last week, ignored the request and wore the badge at campaign events including the launch of the East of England Campaign in Thurrock.
Yesterday the British Legion demanded that Griffin stop using the armed forces to further the BNP’s agenda.
“The poppy is the symbol of sacrifices made by British armed forces in conflicts both past and present and it has been paid for with blood and valour,” the letter says.
“True valour deserves respect regardless of a person’s ethnic origin, and everyone who serves or has served their country deserves nothing less … [our national chairman] appealed to your sense of honour. But you have responded by continuing to wear the poppy. So now we’re no longer asking you privately. Stop it, Mr Griffin. Just stop it.”
The legion’s demand follows criticism of the BNP from Winston Churchill’s family after the party used his image and quotes from one of his speeches in its campaign. Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames, described the BNP as “monstrous” and said its use of Churchill was “offensive and disgusting”.
The BNP was also caught up in a dispute with 1940s singer Vera Lynn after she objected to the party selling copies of her White Cliffs of Dover CD on its website to fund its European election campaign.
Today’s letter states the poppy emblem is the trademark of The Royal British Legion and adds that the charity has remained “scrupulously above the party political fray” for more than 90 years.
“It is vital that everyone – the media, the public and our beneficiaries – know that we will not allow our independence to be undermined or our reputation impaired by being closely associated with any one political party. This is more important now than ever.”
Griffin said he had worn the badge in solidarity with injured British soldiers returning from Afghanistan. He added that he would stop wearing it if troops recovering in hospitals in the UK were not charged to watch television.