A former Army Reservist who became a Labour MP in May has defended Jeremy Corbyn’s decision not to sing the national anthem.
Clive Lewis, elected MP for Norwich South this year, dismissed the idea that a person’s patriotism is defined by the singing of God Save The Queen as “preposterous”.
Mr Corbyn did not sing the national anthem during a Battle of Britain memorial service, with a spokesperson saying he stood in "respectful silence".
In an interview with The House magazine the former Reservist, who served a tour in Afghanistan, also accused MPs of having a “lust for war” of intervention in Syria.
Mr Lewis was one of Mr Corbyn’s strongest backers during the Labour leadership battle, and was made a Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change after the Islington North MP won.
Mr Lewis said: “I’m a humanist. I’m an atheist humanist. If he decided not to sing the national anthem I would have defended him. I would have said I served in the Army, I don’t think my love for my country and my patriotism can be defined by a song – from a very jingoistic period of our history – singing about what I believe to be a non-existent deity, saving an unelected head of state.
“To try and define your patriotism based on that is preposterous. There are lots of things you can judge people’s patriotism by, and I think singing a song isn’t necessarily one of them.
“I understand that for lots of people the national anthem is extremely important. It is part of a ritual that they are part of, and I respect that. But there are also people who don’t believe in God, and perhaps are Republican, and say ‘I love my country. But I don’t want to sing that.’ I think we should respect both positons and not question their integrity when it comes to the fact they love their country and they’re patriotic.”
Reflecting on the possibility of Parliament voting to allow UK planes to carry out bombing raids against ISIL in Syria, Mr Lewis said the plan “hasn’t been thought through”.
He said: “If we’re talking about no fly zones and safe havens for refugees, how are we going to stop ISIS from infiltrating no fly zones? That to my mind means boots on the ground. Most military experts say you cannot comprehensively defeat ISIS, an asymmetrical guerrilla force, from the air. It needs boots on the ground. So has this been thought through?
“Ultimately the solution here has got to be diplomatic. We should be putting pressure on Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Turkey, working with Russia and Iran, for a regional settlement. Stop their funding, stop the arms shipments and let’s go for the diplomatic options first and exhaust them rather than this knee jerk reaction that we see in this House time after time, which is ‘we’ve got a problem in the Middle East, bomb it’.
“I’m tired of it. As someone who, to be quite frank, has had my fill on my short tour of Afghanistan of death and mayhem, I sometimes think if we had a few more MPs in there seeing the direct consequences of their lust for war, maybe they’d think twice about it.”
Mr Lewis advised Mr Corbyn to stay true to his beliefs, but did concede the new Labour leader would need to understand how to “frame his message” to get passed a hostile press.
He said: “They’re trying to portray Jeremy as an anarchic, socialist nightmare who can’t do his shoelaces up. You’re getting some hysterical stuff, there’s been a bit of a feeding frenzy down here. The thinking is throw enough mud and some will stick. They want as many bacon sandwich moments as possible, and I think it’s the job of the people around Jeremy to minimise this as much as possible.
“Jeremy wants a new kind politics. We don’t want to spin. We don’t want the kind of approach that New Labour took dealing with the media. Sometimes the relationship was not one that was particularly healthy for democracy. Jeremy is very different to former leaders. He’s genuine. I think that came across in PMQs for the first time for many people, and that’s a big contrast to David Cameron. I’m not saying he’s Teflon, but I think people will say ‘actually this guy is straight talking’.
“But at the same time we need to also understand you’ve got to frame your message. Jeremy is going to have to make a transition very quickly from being a backbencher where he had a kind of modus operandi to being leader of the Labour party and being under constant scrutiny. That will have to develop and change, without changing the kind of USP of what Jeremy represents.”