By Lynn Malone
BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman has derided David Cameron’s “cloth-eared” plans to mark the centenary of the First World War.
The 63-year-old broadcaster told the Radio Times that only a moron would “celebrate” war after hearing of the UK Prime Minister’s plans.
Speaking at London’s Imperial War Museum last October David Cameron said he wanted “a commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, says something about who we are as a people” and that “remembrance must be the hallmark of our commemorations.”
Mr Cameron has promised a “truly national commemoration” to mark 100 years since the outbreak of war – in 2014, Armistice Day in 2018, and the dates of big battles in between. And he said that more than £50m has been allocated for the “historic” commemoration.
Perplexed, Mr Paxman said: “Our Prime Minister promised the First World War commemoration would be ‘like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations’. What on earth was he talking about?”
The Imperial War Museum includes the Trench Experience among its exhibits. Members of the public can walk through the mock trench and experience the awful sounds and smells realistically created to reinforce the horrors of the First World War.
Mr Paxman added: “His address also included the cloth-eared ambition to spend lots of public money to make the Imperial War Museum ‘even more incredible’. The whole point of the place is its awful credibility.”
The BBC broadcaster, whose great uncle died in the war, spoke of his concern that the outbreak of the First World War should be seen as a celebration. He said: “The commemorations should have almost nothing in common with the Diamond Jubilee, which was an excuse for a knees-up in the rain. Only a moron would ‘celebrate’ war.”
The University Challenge presenter admitted it would be “wilful myopia” not to acknowledge the war’s significance and said the “the whole catastrophe has been overlain with myth and legend.”
He claimed it was “an excuse for a knees-up in the rain to celebrate the happy fact that our national identity is expressed through a family rather than some politician who wants the job to gratify his vanity.”
Newsnet Scotland reported of fears that the commemorations of the First World War was being planned by the UK government and used in order to promote ‘Britishness’ in the run-up to the independence referendum earlier this year.
UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller had confirmed a series of Olympic style cultural events would be staged in order to mark the centenary of the conflict that led to the deaths of almost one million allied servicemen and sixteen million lives in total.
Writing in the Sunday Times, she said: “In much the same way as culture played a huge part in the Olympics, we think it is vital that in a national programme of such importance that the cultural element is at the fore of our commemorations.”
Mr Cameron’s description of the events as “like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations” were criticised by artists who wrote:
“Mr Cameron quite inappropriately compared these events to the diamond jubilee celebrations and stated that their aim will be to stress our national spirit.”
The group, including high profile actors Patrick Stewart and Jude Law, revealed plans to hold their own commemorations and said they would mark the “courage of many involved in the war but also remembering the almost unimaginable devastation caused.”
Mr Paxman added: “A number of distinguished fellow citizens, like the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and the thoughtful musician Brian Eno, are worried that the events will turn into a celebration of war. Only a moron would ‘celebrate’ the war.”
Confirmation that Olympic style culture will be central to the commemorative events has raised fears that they will be used by Unionists as a means of countering support for Scottish independence. The referendum date of September 18th 2014 comes only weeks after the centenary events are due to kick off, he principle event being held in Glasgow.
In June, a UK Government source told the Sunday Telegraph: “We have seen in recent years that communities across the UK are really at their best when they are brought together with feelings of patriotism and history. We saw this with the Jubilee, the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Olympics.”