Boris Johnson has been accused of attempting to deflect from the government’s “relentless incompetence” by wading into a row over the Last Night of the Proms.
In an interview on Tuesday, the prime minister slammed the BBC over its decision to play the songs Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia! without the words because of references to the slave trade.
But Labour MP David Lammy said the PM was trying to “distract” the public and branded his opposition to the move “pathetic”.
“Boris Johnson will take any opportunity he gets to start a culture war in this pandemic because he wants to distract from his government's relentless incompetence,” Lammy tweeted.
Boris Johnson will take any opportunity he gets to start a culture war in this pandemic because he wants to distract from his government's relentless incompetence. The UK has suffered the highest covid-19 death toll and the worst economic impact in Europe. This is pathetic. https://t.co/pirw4bnD6w— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) August 25, 2020
“The UK has suffered the highest covid-19 death toll and the worst economic impact in Europe. This is pathetic.”
It comes after Johnson said the UK needs to stop being embarrassed about its history following reports the BBC would axe the words of the two songs.
He told reporters: "I was gonna tweet about this, but I just want to say... if it is correct, which I cannot believe that it really is, but if it is correct, that the BBC is saying that they will not sing the words of Land Of Hope And Glory or Rule Britannia! as they traditionally do at the end of The Last Night of The Proms.
"I think it's time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness, I wanted to get that off my chest."
The BBC's director-general Lord Hall said the decision to perform new, orchestral versions of Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory was a "creative" one.
But he confirmed that the issue of dropping songs because of their association with Britain's imperial history had been discussed.
There will be no live audience to sing along and wave flags at the September 12 concert because of coronavirus restrictions.
Rule, Britannia! - strongly associated with the Royal Navy - is deemed problematic by some because of Britain's role in the slave trade.
It has lyrics such as Britons "never shall be slaves" and that "while thou shalt flourish great and free, the dread and envy of them all".
Land Of Hope And Glory features the music of Edward Elgar and the lyrics of Arthur Benson, including "Thine Empire shall be strong" and "God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet."
Lord Hall said it was a "miracle" that Proms boss David Pickard had put together a fortnight of live performances amid the pandemic.
Asked whether there had been a discussion about dropping songs because of their association with Britain's imperial history, he replied: "The whole thing has been discussed by David and his colleagues, of course it has.
"The point is they've come to the right conclusion, which is it's very, very hard in an Albert Hall that takes over 5,000 people to have the atmosphere of the Last Night of the Proms, where a whole audience normally sing along," he told the BBC's media editor Amol Rajan.
"It's quite hard creatively and artistically to make that work. I think they've come to the right conclusion.
"Who knows what will happen next year. I suspect it will be back."