When I got up this morning, I firmly intended to write about what connects Light Brigade-historian Terry Brighton, the number of the Beast of the Apocalypse, the Heavy Metal band Iron Maiden, a pair of identical twin harpists, and a bottle of beer.
But you’re going to have to wait for that one because I got distracted by, yes, the Referendum.
In the last month or so I’ve noticed that “Charge of the Light Brigade” has been the metaphor-of-choice for describing the EU Referendum (so much more sophisticated than Turkeys voting for Christmas or Frying Pans and Fires).
Here’s one, from Inside-Poland.com:
As Great British Cock-ups Go, Brexit is on a par with the Charge of the Light Brigade
“As own goals go, Brexit was a classic. Not since Lord Cardigan pointed his handful of troops at a heavily defended Russian artillery unit and gave the order “up and at ’em, lads” has there been such a spectacular cock-up in the name of ‘defending British interests.’ “
(But don’t get me started on the use of this painting to illustrate the story. I frequently email editors to complain that they’ve got the right artist (Elizabeth Thomson, Lady Butler ) but the wrong charge, the wrong regiment, the wrong war etc etc, but that’s a lost cause. )
It’s the go-to metaphor whenever a writer wants to say “yet another heroic/futile/suicidal gesture (based on flawed information and incompetent leadership) ending in no gains and high losses”. Here are a few more.
From History News Network :
“To hear some anti-EU campaigners, Brexit is a moment in history to rival the Battle of Britain. But given disunity in the kingdom and the looming break-up of Britain, the Charge of the Light Brigade is surely a more apt comparison.”
A month in advance of the vote, Asia Times presciently argued that “Project Fear” might push Britain’s self-destruct button: “the British after all do have it in their DNA to re-enact the Charge of the Light Brigade from time to time.”
“Fear can backfire: The primary strategy of the Remain camp may also be incurably faulty. Everything from them has been about manufacturing fear, be it talk of falling economic growth and rising unemployment, to talk of house prices decline. The last of course is aimed at British middle class voters who are considered (perhaps for very good reasons) to be romantically attached to the market value of their properties.
From my perspective, given the number of very British friends I have, this strategy could backfire spectacularly – the British after all do have it in their DNA to re-enact the Charge of the Light Brigade from time to time.”
Similarly, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, implies that Tennyson knew a thing or two about British psychology that Remainers really should have learnt from:
“The British are not generally prone to martyrdom. However, whenever they embraced it, their literature celebrated it. Take the charge of the Light Brigade, for instance. During the Crimean war in the nineteenth century, six hundred brave British cavalrymen rode themselves to self-destruction. That happened because a commander had issued an erroneous order.
Alfred Lord Tennyson penned a paean of praise to that act of valour in a famous English poem. For that reason the unfortunate event has been indelibly etched in history. But the action itself was quite meaningless. It made no military or strategic sense.
Likewise when the British voted to leave the European Union, the idea of self-destruction came to many minds. It did not, immediately, seem to make any political or economic sense. Someday, some will doubtlessly find reason in this decision, and like Tennyson with regard to that Crimean episode, praise it as an act of courage. But perhaps not quite yet.”
The Independent went so far as to cast David Cameron in the role of Lord Raglan:
“Never in modern history might millions have stronger cause to reflect on the old caution about being careful what you wish for.
The language from politicians and pundits on the BBC as dawn approached – the talk of emergency measures and possible suspension of the stock market – was language you’d more normally imagine hearing on the outbreak of war. Which seemed apt.
But what of the genius military strategist who led us into the most suicidal manoeuvre since the Light Brigade charged on and on with heroic futility, and into the Valley of Death? With the future of us all suddenly in peril, speculating about one man’s immediate future seems almost too banal to be worth deploying as a diversionary activity from the horror.
But David Cameron’s longer-term future must be a starring role in history as the Prime Minister who killed his country.”
By the way, it’s not just “Remainers” using the phrase. Here’s a letter to the Knutsford Guardian from the other side (spelling and punctuation as in the original):
“Without sovereignty, a country in ‘neutralised’ and, in time, it’s own parliament and it’s elected members will become irrelevant. To an extent, the EU Court of Justice, to name one department, acts a powerful ‘dictator’ at this time, overruling our democracy. Mr Cameron is effectively calling for another Charge of the Light Brigade by shouting Remain. We need to leave and elect our own parliamentary representatives, who cannot be overruled by a foreign nation.”
There are many more examples – do let me know if you come across any good ones.
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