September 16, 2015 / 7:32 AM / 2 years ago

Corbyn defends choice not to sing national anthem

LONDON (Reuters) - The new leader of the opposition Labour Party on Wednesday defended his choice not to sing the national anthem during a World War Two remembrance service after criticism of his decision dominated media coverage.

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn addresses the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Brighton in southern England, September 15, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Jeremy Corbyn, 66, a left-winger who rode a wave of grassroots enthusiasm to become the surprise winner of a leadership contest after three decades on the rebellious fringes of the party, said he had shown appropriate respect and did not see any problem.

An anti-war campaigner and anti-monarchist, Corbyn stood in silence while the congregation sang “God Save The Queen” during a service on Tuesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain air war against Nazi Germany.

The front pages of Britain’s mainly right-leaning newspapers carried the image prominently, with headlines such as “Corbyn snubs Queen and Country” and “Not save the Queen”.

“It was a respectful ceremony and I stood in respect throughout it,” Corbyn told the BBC, saying that he had been thinking about his parents, who had been in London during the war and had worked as air raid wardens.

Pressed to say whether he would sing the national anthem at future events, Corbyn did not give a clear response.

“I‘m going to be at many events and I will take part fully in those events. I don’t see a problem about this. The issue surely is that we had a memorial for the Battle of Britain and I was there. I showed respect for it and I’ll show respect in the proper way at all future events.”

The controversy over the anthem issue overshadowed the build-up to Corbyn’s much-anticipated first clash with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in a weekly question-and-answer session in parliament.

The half-hour-long fixture is traditionally a robust, sometimes aggressive confrontation between the prime minister and the opposition leader as they trade blows and try to score points at each other’s expense.

It represents a major challenge for Corbyn, who was elected on Saturday with strong backing from his party’s members but has less support among Labour members of parliament, some of whom view him as a voter-repellent extremist.

The anthem controversy was an unhelpful start to the day for Corbyn, with even some of his own team criticising his decision not to join in the singing.

“It will have offended and hurt people,” Kate Green, a Labour lawmaker and member of Corbyn’s policy team, told BBC Radio.

Editing by Stephen Addison

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