JEREMY Corbyn has taken part in his first ceremonial engagement as Labour leader, appearing to remain silent as the national anthem was sung at an RAF service marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
During the St Paul’s Cathedral event the Labour leader was seen standing silently, a few places away from David Cameron, as those around him sang along.
A staunch republican, Mr Corbyn has in the past called for the monarchy to be abolished.
But since winning the Labour leadership election in a landslide at the weekend he has accepted an invitation to become a member of the Queen’s privy council.
The service focused on honouring the “many” who supported the Battle of Britain pilots famously described by wartime prime minister Winston Churchill as “The Few”.
Ahead of the event, Mr Corbyn highlighted that his mother had served as an air raid warden and his father in the Home Guard.
He said: “Like that whole generation, they showed tremendous courage and determination to defeat fascism. The heroism of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain is something to which we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude.”
Mr Corbyn, who is usually seen in and around Westminster casually dressed for an MP, wore a blue shirt, burgundy tie and mismatched dark jacket and trousers for the occasion.
After the service, he said it had reminded him of his mother.
Asked about attending St Paul’s for his first major event as Labour leader, he said: “I’ve been there before - it’s such a beautiful church.
“I was thinking of my mum. She was an air raid warden - I’ve got the ARP medal she was given.”
He was joined at the service by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson and also in the congregation were Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, whose countrymen were much praised pilots during the Battle of Britain.
Mr Corbyn sat in the front row of pews, a few seats along from Mr Cameron. A few metres away from both men at the head of the congregation was the Earl of Wessex.
After the service, the Prime Minister left by the main west door with the Polish president, while Mr Corbyn and his deputy walked out of another nearby exit.
They made their way towards nearby Paternoster Square but stopped to talk to workers from high street coffee shop chain Costa, handing out free goody bags of sandwiches to the veterans.
Mr Corbyn posed with the mostly women workers as Mr Watson took a picture with a smartphone for one of the staff. The new Labour was given a bag but exchanged if for one containing an egg sandwich.
Shadow minister Kate Green chastised her new leader for failing to sing the national anthem, saying: “It will have offended and hurt people.”
The shadow minister for women and equalities said: “Jeremy absolutely stands with and respects everybody who has fought, who has lost their life, been wounded in fighting oppressions and defending our freedoms.
“For many people, the monarchy, singing the national anthem is a way of showing that respect.
“I think it would have been appropriate and right and respectful of people’s feelings to have done so.”
Former Labour security minister and retired senior officer in the Royal Navy, Admiral Lord West, said it was “extraordinary” that a potential future prime minister would refuse to sing the national anthem, which he said represented loyalty to the nation.
Asked how the military establishment have reacted to the move, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think they will be offended, and a large number of people in this country will be offended by it and I think extraordinary is the right word but they will be offended by it as well and I think that should have been thought through.”
He said his has “no intentions” of leaving the Labour benches, but added: “I need to see what policies are coming out regarding defence.”
Mr Corbyn faced “hostility and concern” from some Labour members after he refused to rule out wearing a white poppy on Remembrance Sunday, one of the party’s MPs said.
The new Labour leader was questioned over whether he would wear the symbol of the pacifist movement instead of the traditional red poppy during a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday.
Labour MP Simon Danczuk said he asked Mr Corbyn, the Stop The War Coalition chairman, whether he would “promise” not to wear a white poppy to ensure the focus remained on members of the armed forces who have lost their lives.
“There were murmurs around the room and some hostility and concern around his answer,” Mr Danczuk said.
“The point he made was that he had not decided what he would do this year. He went on to say why people wear white poppies.
“He should wear a red one in memory of members of the armed forces who have given their lives. It is one day in the year that it’s important not to focus on other issues.
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the leader of the opposition to respect those who have given their lives.”
A Labour Party spokeswoman confirmed later that Mr Corbyn, who is due to attend the Battle of Britain commemorations today, would wear a red poppy on Remembrance Sunday.
Asked whether Mr Corbyn would also wear a white poppy, the spokeswoman replied: “My understanding is he will wear a red poppy.”
According to the Stop The War coalition, wearing a white poppy is a “respectful way to put peace at the heart of remembering those who died in war”.
Mr Corbyn has previously worn both red and white poppies together on his lapel when laying a wreath at the war memorial in Islington as a local MP, the London Evening Standard reported.
The Royal British Legion (RBL) said it was “entirely wrong” to suggest that the red poppy supports war but the charity saw “no conflict” in wearing it alongside a white poppy.
An RBL spokeswoman said: “The Legion’s red poppy honours all those who have sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy today, including the freedom to wear the poppy of one’s choice. If the poppy became compulsory it would lose its meaning and significance.
“It is entirely wrong to suggest that the red poppy supports war. The red poppy is a universal symbol of remembrance and hope, including hope for a peaceful world.
“We see no conflict in wearing the red poppy alongside the white poppy. The Legion recognises the right of any group or individual to express their views within the law.”