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Added 23.12.2018. Published 9.1.2019. Last edited 17.1.2019.

Note: Probably the most widely used of all images used to illustrate Brexit, this is not in fact the Charge of the Light Brigade - though it is usually captioned as such. (And it certainly looks the part.) More on this in another post, coming soon.


NOTE: The original blog was published 9th January 2019 (below). More recent sightings have been added since.

Matt, "A good moment for plan B", Sunday Telegraph, 15 Jan 2019

(Click on image to enlarge)

"Brace for a Charge of the Light Brigade incident on Tuesday..."

11 Jan 2019

The "Money Maven" website (11.1.2019) reports that "BBC research shows that May is headed for a disaster on Tuesday, with the prospect of a loss by over 200 votes", and that support for her "deal has actually declined over the holiday period."

It concludes "We should therefore brace for a Charge of the Light Brigade incident on Tuesday..."

[Source: Money Maven, "Theresa May's strategy backfires".]

PB: Wednesday 9th January 2019:

Ever since the referendum in 2016, I've been collecting articles, blogs, cartoons and other sources that compare Brexit to the Charge of the Light Brigade. All use the Charge - the event itself but also phrases from Tennyson's Charge poem - as a rich ragbag of metaphors: for a headlong rush, for recklessness, for a futile attack on a very much stronger enemy, for self-destruction, for blind obedience to orders, for exposure to attack from every side, for miscommunication, for a lack of clarity about objectives, for a massive blunder by a remote, utterly incompetent (and largely contemptible) leadership. However, in modern usages there is rarely a hint of glory or nobility or bravery or honour. Just the certainty of imminent disaster.

Here are some typical headlines:

I have written about this before, but there have been innumerable examples since. Yes, the Charge has become reduced to a cluster of cliches. But it's almost as if commentators are at a loss to know how else to describe the enormity of the folly of Brexit. (Though it does raise the question of what readers actually "know" about the Charge itself - something I hope to return to in a later post).

Most who deploy the Charge metaphor are Remainers, but not all - here for example is the Tory ex-cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell (he of "Plebgate" fame), speaking just a few hours ago...

"Brexit vote news LIVE: Theresa May falls to another Commons defeat as Dominic Grieve amendment is passed."

Jacob Jarvis & Katy Clifton, London Evening Standard, 9 Jan 2019:

Tory former minister Andrew Mitchell confirmed he would not be backing Mrs May's deal, and compared her tactics to a doomed cavalry charge in the Crimean War.

The MP for Sutton Coldfield said of the Prime Minister: "I believe she has a steadfast determination and integrity, no Prime Minister could have given so much time at the despatch box on this issue.

"But I have to say I've been astonished that she would bring back to the House of Commons a deal she knows she has absolutely no chance whatsoever to get through, and also with apparently no plan B."

He added: "I cannot understand as of today what the Government's strategy is or has been. It has all the appearances of having drawn upon the strategy employed by Lord Cardigan at the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea.

"In fact it doesn't seem to be a strategy at all. And as Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese general, said 'tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat'."

[Source: London Evening Standard: Brexit latest live (accessed 9.1.2019).]

"Chris Grayling, I salute you as a titan of enterprise and innovation"

Kevin McKenna, Observer, 6.1.2019:

The ghastly and tribal nature of modern British politics was wretchedly laid bare once more over the so-called festive period. The unfair criticism of Chris Grayling, our transport minister, over his decision to award a vital, emergency ferry contract to a firm with no boats was, I feel, disproportionate and needlessly vindictive. Grayling assured us that Seaborne Freight would be ready to provide services from the beginning of April in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The firm has been "looked at very carefully by a team of civil servants who have done due diligence on the company and reached a view they can deliver"...

As Britain embraces a modern and fast-moving economic and business landscape, it must be ready to embrace concepts that might at first appear risky to the naked eye. It's all very well to ask questions and conduct due diligence, yadda yadda, but sometimes you risk scaring off some of our brightest business brains by deploying old checks and balances...

...The old school tie, golf club membership and the local Masonic lodge all remain bulwarks in ensuring that the vital process of justice remains in the right hands (preferably gloved). It's all very well insisting on talent and experience, but sometimes you have to move the goalposts a little to ensure the right employment outcomes.

It's a similar story with the British army. Only an anointed few hailing from backgrounds where blind obedience and loyalty to Queen and country were prized, such as Eton and Oxford, could ever be entrusted with the command of soldiers and field strategy. Yes, millions of soldiers were slaughtered during the First World War because of stubborn adherence to ancient tactics. And the Charge of the Light Brigade was a questionable skirmish. But by Jove it showed that Johnny Foreigners didn't like it up 'em. And no one would ever again question the bravery and commitment of our generals when it came to sacrificing the lives of others.

When it comes to big government contracts, we must continue to create safe spaces where an absence of talent and experience need not be a handicap - and may even be an advantage. Happily, the UK's transport secretary seems to have grasped this too.

[Source: Observer: Chris Grayling I Salute You (accessed 6.1.2019).]

"Fintan O'Toole: 'Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity'."

Andrew Anthony, Observer, 30 December 2018:

The Irish journalist talks about his new book, which skewers the myths of English nationalism...

[You] write about the long English tradition of clinging romantically to heroic defeat. What do you ascribe this to?

George Orwell wrote about this in the early 1940s. He said that it was extraordinary that if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they're all about defeats or retreats or disasters. It's Scott of the Antarctic, it's the Charge of the Light Brigade, it's Gordon of Khartoum. That tradition of heroic failure was great when you were ruling the world as it was a way of saying we're not really a nasty imperial power. But in a post-imperial age you get a farcical version. Because originally the thing that characterised heroic failure in the English imagination was not self-pity, but Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity.

[Source: Observer: "Fintan O'Toole: 'Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity'", 30.12.2018 (accessed 30.12.2018). See also Fintan O'Toole below.]

"Brexit: Parting of Europe's Prodigal Son"

Riaz Quadir, Multidimension (Paris, France), 23 Dec 2018:

Brexit now has top billing in the gladiator's arena with a global audience sitting on the edge of their seats with bated breath as to what is going to happen next. Looks more like death-by-a-thousand-cuts than one with a single coup de grāce. Historians will be debating (mostly, cluelessly) for generations to come, asking how they ever got here in the first place. Well, historians will have a lot of time to do that I'm sure, but for those of us who are perplexed by the rather singular behaviour of the Britons, here are a few thoughts...

The unshakeable belief of an Englishman in his own superiority is probably at the root of this looming tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. By the time this nation had reached the Victorian age no amount of reality or historical facts could have shaken its firm belief in a God-given entitlement, which even surpassed that of God's "real" chosen people, the descendants of Moses and the forty tribes. Nowhere is this imperial hubris better portrayed than in the poem by the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, called "The Charge of The Light Brigade", celebrating an event deemed to be one of the most ill-fated events in British military history, the Battle of Balaclava, in October, 1854.

"Celebrating" is an odd word to mark a defeat. That too, by the nation's Poet Laureate. Yet, that is exactly what the poem does. It celebrates rank stupidity. Even worse, it celebrates slavish patriotism, the one that made dying for "King and Country" an act of heroism; an idea which through time translated into the sacrifice of the poor class, not only as cannon fodder in war, but as the first line of defense when hit by economic and financial crises by imposing austerity measures because the rich dried up the public treasury bailing out their giant failed companies...

giant failed companies...

"though the soldier knew

Someone had blundered.

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred."

Well, given that it was the 1850s one can forgive the stupidity of such sentiments, but 2018? You have to be stark raving mad to continue living in such an imperial stupor in this day and age. In truth, Brexit was born out of a deeply intertwined combination of stupidity, greed and of course, the ignorance of history. Worse still, the saving grace of poetry has been replaced by harsh, humourless prose.

Unfortunately, business schools do not teach the works of Angus Maddison, the great British economist/historian of global economics. The Brexiters would have done well to have learnt from him that five centuries ago, before the start of European colonisation of the world, Europe was among the poorest in the world, and Britain among the poorest in Western Europe. From there, to becoming the biggest and the richest Empire in the world was a complex act of transferring the wealth of the colonies to itself. Having cornered a greater portion of the wealth of the world which helped it built not only the material Empire but transformed the mindset of its populace in both positive and negative ways. Its wealth gradually afforded and enabled education and the beginning of modern democracy and the first inklings of a social welfare system.

Sadly, with their blinkered vision they had assumed their wealth and well-being to be the result of their hard work and righteousness. They could not own up to their schizophrenic existence: their overseas piracy and pillaging, covered up by a domestic veneer of gentility and moral rectitude. This practice has been kept alive and well, and if anything, has grown in magnitude, to an extent that the foreign adventures are no longer in proportion, and have far outgrown the falsehood practised at home. The dumbing down of a nation's population had started in Europe long before the Americans in the present age. But technology is tearing down the walls that separated the local from the foreign. So much of the hypocrisy and the silence are being exposed on a daily basis. Even the lies that the people were fed by the Brexiters before the referendum have been exposed and the people are beginning to realise that they have been hood-winked. There is little doubt that were the referendum to be held again today the result would be quite different. Even those who were a part of the hypocrisy have changed their tune. In fact, as co-authors of the narrative, they know the real story behind the public one better than the common man.

Brexit: Parting of Europe's Prodigal Son

"All living prime ministers who preceded Cameron - Sir John Major, Blair and Gordon Brown - are united in arguing that all potential versions of Brexit would damage this country economically - a point underlined in the Office for Budget Responsibility's economic and fiscal outlook last week, after whose publication the OBR's director, Robert Chote, poured buckets of cold water over Chancellor Philip Hammond's wholly unconvincing claims of a Brexit dividend."

That is possibly too little, too late. Perhaps, the rise and fall of nations and civilisations have to be a full cycle that cannot be arrested midway but must be completed in full to make sense and serve its purpose - which could be to clear our heads and start once again from square one. Even if it is difficult to accept at the nadir of one's life cycle, what does not kill us makes us stronger and better. Even if Northern Ireland were to reunite with the Irish Republic and Scotland to break away from Great Britain, England could still survive. They have for over a thousand years. They absorbed the vicious Vikings who battled savagely to over run them for almost two centuries; they absorbed the nasty Normans who reigned over them for a few centuries; they have absorbed a motley collection of immigrants from across 56 Commonwealth countries and more... and not lost their identity. And should they ever disappear into the mist of time, they will have left behind their greatest and most lasting gift to humanity, the English language.

[Source: multidimension.co/magazine/brexit-parting-of-europes-prodigal-son-part-4 (accessed 23.12.2018).

"Multidimension is the culmination of diasporas from Indian subcontinent living in France, and their effort to connect others from around the globe. Thus, our team works hand in hand to build a platform to share experiences of multi-ethnic and multicultural life. Tell us about your experiences, we'll share those with the world." ]

"The Charge of the Light Brexit Brigade"

Louis de Sousa, European Tribune, 20th Dec 2018:

Into the valley of death

Rode May's two hundred

Europhobe to the right of them

Opposition to the left of them

Country in front of them

Volleyed and thundered

The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Caton Woodville

(Click on image to enlarge)

An old story

The year is 1854, Britain is fighting the Crimean War in alliance with France and the remnants of the Ottoman empire, and against the rising Russian superpower. On the 25th of October the British are acting in the valley of Balaclava with a large number of forces. With Russian forces retreating from their redoubts in the southern side of the valley, General George Bingham [PB: i.e. Lucan] , in command of the British army, orders the Light Brigade of the Cavalry to prevent the enemy from withdrawing with them the artillery pieces stationed in those redouts. What followed became known as the "Charge of the Light Brigade", a largely mindless and unexplained massacre of British troops.

Commanding the British cavalry is Major James Brudenell [PB: Cardigan], brother-in-law with General Bingham. The two men loathe each other and do not see eye-to-eye. The order of immediate attack from General Bingham is carried to Major Brudenell by Captain Louis Edward Nolan. Possibly from a combination of misexplanation by Nolan and Brudenell's contempt towards Bingham, the order is understood as a charge on a different redoubt, on the opposite end of the valley bottom. The 670 units of the Light Brigade are sent charging across almost 2 km of open field against a large and well entrenched artillery battery.

It is an act of sheer folly, that is never corrected. Brudenell likely regards it as a personal tirade from Bingham. Some accounts hint at Nolan trying to stop the cavalry already in motion, but he is one of the first victims of the charge. Even though the Light Brigade manages to reach enemy lines, it is decimated on its way; neither the British heavy cavalry, nor the French cavalry in the valley dare to follow. After their retreat, discounting dead, wounded and prisoners, the Light Brigade was down to less than 200 units.

Popular celebration

This military disaster helps explaining in different ways the political quagmire in which the UK finds itself today trying to exit EU. One of the most extraordinary aspects is how the Balaclave massacre was promptly celebrated as an act of braveness.

Just six weeks after the event, The Examiner newspaper published a poem penned by Alfred Lord Tennyson that bared the infamous title: "The Charge of the Light Brigade". Tennyson leaves aside any reference to command mishap and instead glorifies the sense of duty of the fallen and the bravery of those that managed to escape from certain death.

This spectacular spin on the story endured in popular culture to this day, in subsequent literature, in cinema and in music. The first motion picture re-enacting events dates from 1936, with remakes appearing decades later. Even foreign artists took the massacre as theme.

It is hard to imagine the French glorifying Waterloo or the Greeks singing the fall of Constantinople, but in British culture things are slightly different. Disaster, failure, massacre, all fine if it can highlight courage in face of the adverse. An important element of europhobic (and nationalist) rhetoric, come what may, braveness all shall withstand.

The Trooper: Bruce Dickinson, a notable artist and europhobe, has in recent decades greatly contributed to the popular glorification of the Balaclava massacre.

[Image source: Wikipaedia (original licence applies).]

(Click on image to enlarge)

Thought entrenchment

The most interesting parallel with Brexit is of a different nature. Taking the accounts from both French and Russian commands on the battle ground that day in Balaclava, the frontal change against entrenched artillery could only be described as an act of madness. A pointless loss of life from which no advantage could be gained. Why then did it ever took place?

On receiving the order, Major Brudenell must have certainly thought similarly, but still did not sway. Either he perceived it as plausible for his arch-rival to submit his cavalry to such an ordeal, or was unable to confront his commanding antagonist. Brudenell was at least thoughtful enough not to send the heavy cavalry after the Light Brigade, which could have even changed the fate of the war.

While it is not possible to know for sure what happened exactly in that inglorious day, the feud between the two commanding officers certainly played a role. Entrenched in their bickering the two men were not able build the bridge necessary in extraordinary circumstances. Sounds familiar?

The quagmire

Returning to Britain with a sealed agreement to exit the EU, prime minister Theresa May did not chose to face Parliament or entail negotiations with those that can ratify it. Instead she opted for touring the country, while at the same time assailing democratic procedures to the extent of her Government being deemed in contempt of Parliament. Theresa May is an entrenched primed minister, hopelessly seeking a way forwards without moving. So far all she managed was to postpone the day of the charge of her own light brigade.

The motion of no confidence moved against her by her party's europhobes did not provide for a resounding victory, but at least laid down the cards on the table and showed who is who. To hers two hundred, May must now find other 125 MPs to ratify the agreement and move on to the next phase of negotiations.

Those necessary MP votes she will not find to her right; in this story the Conservative europhobes and the DUP play the role of the Russian artillery. To succeed she must do what Major Brudenell did not, leaver her trench, reach across the valley of the Commons and negotiate with the opposition.

Easy it certainly wont be, but for sure better than charging mindlessly along the valley. Instead of threatening Parliament with "her deal or else", she should instead demonstrate that the shape of a future relation with the EU is largely left open. First settle the score with the EU and cement the UK's reputation as a reliable negotiating partner before starting to design a new UK.

The number of MPs required to ratify the agreement with the EU means that Labour must be on board. The price demanded by Labour in exchange will be high: a general election. None other could be expected, but that is where the negotiation starts.

And would a general election be such a high price to pay? The Conservative party remains ahead in polls and with the exit agreement ratified parties can then focus on the future relationship with the EU and the UK's place in a globalised world. Nothing is yet lost, nothing is yet won.

The end game

Past the history and the literature, a disorderly exit from the EU, without a ratified withdrawal agreement, on the 29th of March continues to appear as the most likely outcome. It is not only the prime minister who is entrenched, every one else is entrenched too, fearing the electoral consequences of reaching out across the valley.

This concerns primarily Jeremy Corbyn, himself a lukewarm europhobe and leading a party that could be as divided as the Conservatives. Moreover, his personal disdain for Theresa May has become increasingly apparent. Corbyn could well be playing the role of General Bingham in this version of the story.

Other possible outcomes look at best remote. Be it for cancelling the exit procedure and remaining in the EU, or staging a second referendum, the popular and parliamentary support is lacking. More importantly, none of these strategies would help healing the deep divide running along the country; much to the contrary.

If no one rises to the extraordinary circumstances, May shall be facing an entrenched Parliament coming the ides of January. She will do no more than launching her government and her country into a senseless and devastating charge.

And the massacre of May's two hundred shall be sang for decades to come.

[Source: https://www.eurotrib.com/story/2018/12/20/151015/26 (accessed 23.12.2018). Also published same date at attheedgeoftime.blogspot.com/2018/12/the-charge-of-light-brexit-brigade.html. (PB: spelling and punctuation as in the original.)]

"The Brexit Brigade is riding into the Valley of Death"

Darragh Roche, TheLondonEconomic, 17 Dec 2018:

(Click on image to enlarge)

The great survivor has done it again. Theresa May is still prime minister and she's still leading her troops on the long march towards Brexit. But there are no spoils of victory for May to enjoy. Her deal still won't pass the House of Commons and the EU has categorically refused to renegotiate. There are still mutineers in the Tory ranks, ready with a blindfold and a cigarette when the inevitable happens.

Dominic Raab, who was Brexit secretary for all of five minutes, is calling on May to resign. Mark Francois spends his days on BBC News angrily waving documents around. And Victorian throwback Jacob Rees-Mogg has launched a full scale Latin assault on the PM, perhaps forgetting that she attended a comprehensive school.

Speaking of Victorian throwbacks, this whole sorry mess is grimly reminiscent of one of British history's greatest blunders: the Charge of the Light Brigade. The Crimean War is so far removed from our own time that it's easy to dismiss it as comical. After all, it was the last time British troops went into battle in full dress uniform. Still, there are lessons to be learned from that famous military disaster.

The elderly Lord Raglan was in command at the Battle of Balaclava and insisted on calling the enemy the French, despite fighting against the Russians in alliance with the French. From his position, Raglan could see the whole battlefield - his commanders on the ground could not. Raglan issued a vague order, which was relayed in a similarly vague fashion by Captain Nolan. The commanders in the field, Lord Cardigan and Lord Lucan, were brothers-in-law who couldn't stand each other, further hampering communication. In the end, Cardigan's Light Brigade charged into the wrong set of Russian guns - the heavy guns - and were shot to pieces. Lucan's Heavy Brigade did not come to his brother-in-law's aid, despite clearly seeing the situation.

Does any of this sound familiar? An out of touch leader? A vague directive, poorly communicated? Squabbling commanders? Personal issues clouding important questions? Plenty of blame to go around?

Theresa May has negotiated a like-it-or-lump-it deal and any attempt to change it smacks of desperation. The knives are out at home, and abroad, EU leaders have already moved on. In Brussels, in Dublin, in Berlin, the battle is over. The terms of surrender are agreed. Yet the light-on-substance brigade is prepared for a mad dash at a far superior enemy, commanded by Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab. God help them.

The Brexit Brigade is riding headlong into the heavy guns of economic and political reality. A hard Brexit is the Valley of the Death for the UK economy and British soft power. It will be strewn with the political corpses of Conservative backbenchers, and some Labour victims, too. Nobody got into this for a massive drop in GDP, a declining pound and international humiliation - still less the end of the union. The Scots and the Irish have followed the English into battle before. They know difference between barking orders and barking generals.

But the Charge of the Light Brigade holds other lessons for Brexit Britain. Those aristocratic brothers-in-law, Lucan and Cardigan, survived the battle and lived for many years afterwards. Captain Nolan, however, the man who had to deliver the fateful order, died in the first minute of the attack. A lesson for Theresa May?

Unlike Crimea, there won't be a Tennyson to valorise the ill-fated heroes of Brexit. Bad battles make good poems, bad politics make good prose. And when the books are written, and the historical parallels drawn, we'll still be asking the whys and wherefores. There's still genuine disagreement about that terrible day at Balaclava, in a war that Britain won. But some things are clear: the Latin-spouting Oxford gentlemen haven't gone away. The delusional commanders are still with us. And there are some fights that even the British cannot win.

[Source: thelondoneconomic.com/opinion/the-brexit-brigade-is-riding-into-the-valley-of-death/17/12 (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"'Close allies' of May start to flee sinking Brexit ship"

Christopher Hope, The Independent, 12 December 2018:

...Andrew Mitchell, a former Tory chief whip, became the 105th Conservative MP to oppose the deal, saying that May's strategy of going ahead with the vote "appears to have as its inspiration the Charge of the Light Brigade"....

[Source: independent.ie/business/brexit/close-allies-of-may-start-to-flee-sinking-brexit-ship-37607890.html (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Theresa May has no choice but to charge into the valley of parliamentary death"

Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer, 9 Dec 2018:

The prime minister has little chance of winning Tuesday's vote on her Brexit deal. But at least defeat will open up possible escape routes from this nightmare

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!" he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

As Theresa May rides towards an all but certain defeat in parliament this week, some of her more historically minded colleagues are likening the prime minister to the doomed Charge of the Light Brigade.

That's a little unfair. The Crimean war commanders of that suicidal assault on Russian guns didn't know they had ordered a disaster. By contrast, Mrs May is fully conscious that she is galloping into the valley of parliamentary death.

She has been given ample warnings that the cannon of the hard Brexiters are to the right of her, the cannon of the unreconciled Remainers are to the left, and the cannon of the opposition parties are in front of her. She won't be able to say she wasn't told.

She will not be able to make a fall guy of the chief whip, Julian Smith, and blame him for messing up the maths. He's done the numbers and told the prime minister that the chances of success are bleak....

We have reached a point in the Brexit derangement where charging into the mouth of hell is perhaps not crazy at all, but the sanest thing that Mrs May can do for herself and her country.

[Source: The Observer: Mrs May has no choice but to charge (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"It's the final countdown"

Henry Anderson and Lawrie Scott-McFarlane, News Direct, Dec 2018:

Like a slow-motion charge of the light brigade, Theresa May has continued on her futile push to sell her Brexit deal...

[Source: news.direct/insights/brexit-the-latest-from-scotland-3 (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Looks like we May be heading for yet another General Election"

Nigel Nelson, Daily Mirror, 1 December 2018:

In 10 days she will lose the Commons meaningful vote. She knows it, yet to keep galloping towards the guns means she's either leading the charge of the light-headed brigade or she's got something up her sleeve.

[Source: Daily Mirror: mirror.co.uk/news/politics/nelsons-column-looks-like-heading-13671796 (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Brexit and the March of Folly"

Bobby McDonagh, Irish Times, 16 Nov 2018:

Bobby McDonagh: Why have so many otherwise sensible people joined the journey to a poorer and less influential Britain?

Barbara Tuchman, American historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner, has explored how throughout history governments and peoples have shown they are capable of persisting with a policy in the face of clear and mounting evidence that the policy is wrong for the nation. In The March of Folly she describes many instances of this phenomenon, culminating in the escalation of US involvement in Vietnam.

In order to qualify for Tuchman's March of Folly, policies have to be: clearly contrary to the self-interest of the organisation or group pursuing them; conducted over a period of time, not just in a single burst of irrational behaviour; conducted by a number of individuals, not just one deranged maniac; and importantly there have to be people alive at the time who pointed out that the act in question was folly.

Dominic Raab's resignation in protest at a deal he was himself responsible for negotiating is like robbing a bank and then performing a citizen's arrest on yourself on the way out.

A pity Tuchman died in 1989. Brexit Britain would have given her plenty of material for a second volume. Dominic Raab's resignation in protest at a deal he was himself responsible for negotiating is like robbing a bank and then performing a citizen's arrest on yourself on the way out.

Why have so many otherwise sensible people joined enthusiastically in the journey to a poorer and less influential Britain? On every score the Brexit phenomenon tallies with Tuchman's description of The March of Folly. The willingness of many to point out that the emperor has no clothes, far from undermining her thesis, is part of her very definition of it.

Ignore reality

Tuchman describes the phenomenon of "screening out information". She notes that psychologists call this determination to ignore reality 'cognitive dissonance'. This, she suggests, is an academic way of saying "don't confuse me with the facts".

Already during my time as Irish ambassador in London, between 2009 and 2013, British European policy was significantly driven by emotional posturing about sovereignty. Public discussion was led by populists. With honourable exceptions, the debate ignored the EU's nature, achievements and purpose. The failure of those who knew better to speak out played an important role.

Tuchman would recognise, in act one of this British tragedy, the false narrative that led to David Cameron's decision to call a referendum. From the square bananas to the mantra about Brussels bureaucrats; from the notion that compromises were unnecessary to the failure to recognise the UK's particular effectiveness at striking such deals in its own interests.

She would recognise in act two the falsehoods of the Leave campaign including the £350 million for the NHS. What was the dismissal of experts other than a screening out of reality? Nor would she be surprised that all attempts, by respected British institutions and commentators, to identify the risks posed by Brexit were dismissed as Project Fear. Have their cake and eat it.

In act three, the immediate aftermath of the referendum, it was claimed that the people had spoken and could not be asked to speak again; this despite the fact that the Eurosceptics had worked assiduously over four decades precisely to get the people to speak again. It was casually asserted that the people had voted to leave the single market although they had been repeatedly assured they could have their cake and eat it.

During the negotiations, in act four, the screening out of reality was evident in the belief that the EU 27 could be divided from each other, that the EU's negotiator could be bypassed, that German business interests would come riding to the rescue, and that the UK could negotiate better trade deals for itself than those it already has through the EU. Alas far from questioning the March of Folly, many erstwhile sensible people joined in the foolishness. The foreign secretary's comparing of the EU to the Soviet Union was just one manifestation of the spreading madness.

As we enter the final act of the tragedy, there have been signs of some common sense kicking in. This week's Brexit deal reflects valiant efforts by Theresa May to minimise the damage inherent in forging ahead. She deserves credit for attempting to reconcile reality with the ever louder cheering of party colleagues as they acclaim the splendour of the emperor's raiments.

Jo Johnson's recent support for a second referendum shows that the accepted wisdom can be challenged from within the system. It's not surprising that Jo studied history.

However, the Brexit infantry march cheerfully ahead, blissfully unconcerned that their feuding military commanders are basing their campaign plans either on the tactical subtlety of the Charge of the Light Brigade or on the strategic brilliance of the Grand Old Duke of York.

Tuchman asks why people "within the system" rarely question a policy which is against the interests of their own country. She concludes that it would produce "conflict within a system already set on a particular course".

Maybe she had powers to foresee the future as well as to understand the important lessons of the past.

Bobby McDonagh is a former Irish ambassador to the EU, Britain and Italy.

[Source: Irish Times: irishtimes.com/opinion/brexit-and-the-march-of-folly (accessed 30.12.2018).]

"Boris Johnson backs brother Jo's decision to quit over Brexit"

Shropshire Star, 9 Nov 2018:

... Mr Johnson's father, Stanley Johnson, told Channel 4 News: "I'm reminded of Tennyson's Charge of The Light Brigade.

"I mean volley to the left of the them, volley to right of them, and the Prime Minister charges on into the valley of death.

"And thank God Jo has come out today with a bit of sanity. Saying we have got to draw back from this cliff edge."

[Source: shropshirestar.com/news/uk-news/2018/11/09/boris-johnson-backs-brother-jos-decision-to-quit-over-brexit/ (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Jacob Rees-Mogg: It will be the height of folly to pursue Chequers when it has such dismal support at home and abroad"

Jacob Rees Mogg, Daily Telegraph, 29 September 2018:

There is an enduring romanticism about the Charge of the Light Brigade. The brave but mistaken dash against all the odds, which is how the Chequers proposals now appear.

The lines of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, "Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them, Volleyed and thundered" come to mind, for this is the state of Chequers. Eurosceptics to the Right, the Labour Party to the Left and the European Union in front have all stormed at it with shot and shell...

How marvellous it would if this year's leader's speech were not a triumph of perseverance but a vision to show how we can leave in a way that would achieve wide support, deliver on the vote of 2016 and ensure our future prosperity.

Then we would be able to say of the Prime Minister "when can her glory fade" for she will have come through the wild charge of Chequers and gone on to something better.

[Source: Daily Telegraph: pressreader.com/uk/the-daily-telegraph/20180929/281543701856781 (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Brexit is in trouble, even the hardest of Brexiteers will admit"

Marcus Markou, BusinessesForSale.com, no date.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Brexit is in trouble, even the hardest of Brexiteers will admit. ...

The "having your cake and eat it" Brexit was, like everything else, a promise fuelled with patriotic fervour but with no planning. It's starting to feel like the "Charge of the Light Brigade"...

The charge is just getting underway, the Russian guns have yet to launch their first volleys and Cummings knows this isn't going to end well.

Boris Johnson, however, is at the front, rattling his sabre and reciting Tennyson (well... not really. It's just an image... but this is Boris. Never say never).

Boris Johnson stated this week that the EU can go "whistle" for its money. The charge is still on. So the UK might crash out of the EU without any agreement on anything - "Hussars!"...

The one man who seems to still be flying any kind of Brexit flag with genuine belief is Jacob Rees Mogg.

If May, Johnson, Fox and Davis and co, get blown apart by heavy cavalry during the concluding stages of their charge towards Brexit freedom, it might be Mogg who is left to carry the standard.

[Source: uk.businessesforsale.com/uk/search/businesses-for-sale/articles/brexit-is-in-trouble-even-the-hardest-of-brexiteers-will-admit (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"The Fifth Horseman"

Pippa Rathborne's SCRATCH POST, 17 July 2018:

A TRUMP CARD(IGAN) - Punch cartoon depicting Lord Cardigan leading the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava, 1854.

Yet another over-privileged nut-case with inherited wealth and delusions of sovereignty leads everyone else into disaster.

...Tory Brexiteers are saying, "The loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs will be worth it to regain our country's sovereignty" (Anna Soubry, reporting extremists' conversations in the House of Commons, 16 July, 2018.)

Brexit is as damaged and defective as Trump. The links between Trump and British right-wing Brexiteers are now in the public domain, yet still the powerful drug Denial sedates the electorate, duped by a coup d'etat into believing that unnecessary self-harm is a democratic imperative...

[Source: "pipparathborne.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/once-out-there-is-no-way-back/" (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Leader comment: May's Brexit plan is a bit like Charge of Light Brigade"

The Scotsman, 13 July 2018:

The Government's Brexit White Paper has come under attack from all sides but at least provides hope of avoiding a disastrous 'no-deal' divorce from the EU. "Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell, Rode the six hundred."

The Charge of the Light Brigade was an infamous military mistake, but it is sometimes forgotten that the near-suicidal cavalry charge actually succeeded in taking the Russian guns during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.

In finally spelling out the detail of what "Brexit means Brexit" actually means with the publication of a White Paper, Theresa May has sounded the charge. Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg - along with assorted other hard Brexiteers - was quick to open fire from the right, declaring May's plan to be ...

[Source: The Scotsman: scotsman.com/news/opinion/leader-comment-may-s-brexit-plan-is-a-bit-like-charge-of-light-brigade-1-4768118 (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Brexit: this poll reveals a sad truth about Britain and Northern Ireland"

Feargal Cochrane, The Conversation, 22 Jun 2018.


Most Brexit voters feel a hard border with Northern Ireland would be worth it to leave the customs union - we shouldn't be surprised.

Feargal Cochrane, Professor of International Conflict Analysis, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

The hope that [leavers] will "come to their senses" once the full implications of the UK's decision to leave the EU are recognised is most likely a forlorn one....But there is little evidence that their strength of feeling has lessened as a result of the political incompetence of the UK government and its negotiating team over the past 18 months. Nor is it affected by the fact that indicators from credible sources suggest the UK is heading for a disastrous economic outcome.

Brexiteers are determined it seems, reminiscent of Alfred Lord Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade, to keep "Charging an army while all the world wondered".

[Source: Feargal Cochrane, Professor of International Conflict Analysis, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent: theconversation.com/brexit-this-poll-reveals-a-sad-truth-about-britain-and-northern-ireland-98722 (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"If Brexit was a historical battle..."

John Young, The Independent, 23 June 2018.

Boris prides himself on his grasp of history, yet Brexit is shaping up to be Britain's worst self-inflicted injury since the Charge of the Light Brigade.

In the face of warnings from industry, most recently Airbus and BMW, Boris remains deliberately vague on the details or consequences of his proposals. Perhaps, like Captain Nolan, who gave a vague wave of his arm to indicate which the guns the Light Brigade were to capture, Boris just wants to get on with it, whatever the cost.

When the cavalry headed into the valley of death, a British legend was born. Following Brexit, there will be no legend, just economic harm, recriminations, excuses and propaganda about a "stab in the back". Those responsible for this self-inflicted disaster will never admit the reality - that the entire Brexit project gives the EU most of the guns and virtually all of the ammunition.

After leading the charge, Lord Cardigan, commander of the decimated Light Brigade, retired to his yacht to have a jolly nice champagne dinner. No doubt the sort of reaction that Johnson and his wealthy pals will have once their version of Brexit impoverishes the country. Perhaps, if honesty ever strikes home, their first toast should be: "to our full blundering Brexit".

[Source: The Independent: independent.co.uk/voices/letters/brexit-future-britain-trade-europe-outlive-all-of-us-a8413466.html (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"The Charge as played out in Alice in Wonderland"

Devra#StayEUwhereYouhaveaSay replying to @chrisgreybrexit, 12 May 2018

I see Brexit as The Charge of the Light Brigade as played out in Alice in Wonderland. Curious that there's something in the 'English?' psyche that's comfortable and creative with nonsense and lunatic bravado.

[Source: Chris Grey, Brexit Blog, 12 May 2018.]

"German Angst & The Charge of the Brexit Brigade"

Nic Houghton, 40percentgerman.com, 29 Mar 2018:

(Click on image to enlarge)

...We invoke our history, calling for a "Blitz spirit" when times are hard, remembering that we have faced worse external threats and lived through them. We have taken historical events such as the Charge of the Light Brigade and turned them into valiant examples of the British spirit or reclaimed Dunkirk from a shocking defeat to a victory and an example British grit and unity....

Perhaps this is a Dunkirk, a moment of sheer terror in the face of annihilation, that is resolved by people working together for a common cause....

Perhaps this is not Dunkirk, perhaps this is Balaclava 1854. Perhaps this is the moment the UK mounts a horse, on the orders of Generals who have only half the information, against opponents we neither understand nor are equipped to deal with. The charge of the Brexit brigade could well be about to begin and once started, it might be impossible to stop.

[Source: 40percentgerman.com/home/2017/3/29/german-angst-the-charge-of-the-brexit-brigade (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Brexit resurrects the English cult of heroic failure"

Fintan O'Toole, Irish Times, 24 Jan 2017.

Listening to Theresa May's big Brexit speech last week, I remembered that the English have a taste for heroic failure...

While everyone else is screaming "Stop! You're headed for disaster," the stiff lips part just enough to say, "Ah, but we will treat it as a triumph and never breathe a word about our loss."

Most of the modern English heroes, after all, are complete screw-ups. In her very entertaining and insightful book, Heroic Failure and the British, the historian Stephanie Barczewski says the exploits that have loomed largest in English consciousness since the 19th century are retreats or disasters: the Charge of the Light Brigade, the doomed Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage, "Scott of the Antarctic", the "last stand" against the Zulus at Isandlwana, Gordon of Khartoum, the Somme, the flight from Dunkirk.

(Click on image to enlarge)

This culture of heroic failure she defines as "a conscious sense of celebration of the striving for an object that was not attained".

Now, it must be admitted that there is something lovable in this English capacity to embrace disaster. It is, for one thing, highly creative. It transforms ugly facts into beautiful fantasies.

The charge of the Light Brigade was hideous idiocy. At the battle of Balaclava in the Crimean war in October 1854, the British cavalry charged, sabres aloft, at the Russian artillery, down a long valley that was also flanked by more Russian guns that could fire on them from above.

It was pure suicidal butchery: survivors wrote things like "never was such murder ordered". But the English back home loved it. The prime minister Lord Palmerston described it as "glorious" and Alfred Tennyson wrote a poem that every schoolboy, even of my generation in republican Ireland, knew: "Theirs not to make reply,/ Theirs not to reason why,/ Theirs but to do and die." Like the English working-class being led by their contemporary Tory blimps to charge the European artillery.

So what if they get mauled? It will be glorious - and shame on anyone who asks the reason why.

[Source: Irish Times: Irish Times]

Note: Stephanie Barczewski, Heroic Failure and the British, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2106), which includes a substantial chapter on the Charge (pp.85-113).

Since writing this article, O'Toole has turned his article into a book, Heroic Failure: Brexit And The Politics Of Pain (London: Head of Zeus, 2018).

A book about the delusions of Brexit, the threat it poses to economic prosperity, peace in Ireland and the tradition of British democracy.

'There will not be much political writing in this or any other year that is carried off with such style' The Times. In exploring the answers to the question: 'why did Britain vote leave?', Fintan O'Toole finds himself discovering how trivial journalistic lies became far from trivial national obsessions; how the pose of indifference to truth and historical fact has come to define the style of an entire political elite; how a country that once had colonies is redefining itself as an oppressed nation requiring liberation; the strange gastronomic and political significance of prawn-flavoured crisps, and their role in the rise of Boris Johnson; the dreams of revolutionary deregulation and privatisation that drive Arron Banks, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg; and the silent rise of English nationalism, the force that dare not speak its name.

He also discusses the fatal attraction of heroic failure, once a self-deprecating cult in a hugely successful empire that could well afford the occasional disaster: the Charge of the Light Brigade, or Franklin lost in the Arctic. Now failure is no longer heroic - it is just failure, and its terrible costs will be paid by the most vulnerable of Brexit's supporters, and by those who may suffer the consequences of a hard border in Ireland and the breakdown of a fragile peace.

[Source: harpercollins.com.au/9781789540987/heroic-failure-brexit-and-the-politics-of-pain/ (accessed 30.12.2018).]

See also a Guardian interview above.

"The charge of the Brexit brigade"

Jules Birch, JulesBirch.com, 27 Mar 2017

For some strange reason, these lines are running through my head ahead of the triggering of Article 50.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"

Was there a man dismayed?

Not though the soldier knew

Someone had blundered.

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

(Click on image to enlarge)

It's not so much because I think we will be metaphorically blown to pieces by the guns of the other 27 EU members. Nor because that verse is a pretty accurate description of MPs trooping through the lobbies to vote for something they know is a historic mistake. It's because our generals seem to think those are reasons to send us even faster into the valley.

Without stretching the metaphor too far, the famous charge into the Russian guns at the Battle of Balaklava was the result of ambiguous orders, arrogance and personal rivalries. Lord Raglan probably said something about 'having a punt, having a go, that's what pumps me up', Lord Lucan (yes, really) gave a speech in front of a bus and the Earl of Cardigan obeyed an order he knew was suicidal while mumbling something about a country that works for everyone.

The point is that the poem that Lord Tennyson dashed off just six weeks after the battle became part of what Fintan O'Toole calls 'the English cult of heroic failure'. While you could argue that this goes right back to the Battle of Hastings, the cult was paradoxically strongest when the British Empire was at the height of its powers.

The Charge of the Light Brigade is up there with the Gordon's death at Khartoum, Franklin's failed expedition to find the North West Passage and Scott of the Antarctic. In the British (English) consciousness, the Norwegians were somehow not quite playing the game with their superior planning and preparations. We remember the heroic failure instead.

I'm sure that advisers at No 10 spent ages googling the date for triggering Article 50 to make sure that it did not come with the baggage of an unfortunate historical parallel. So it seems unlikely that they would have missed March 29, 1912, the date Scott and his remaining two companions died in their tent just 11 miles from a supply depot.

The Charge of the Brexit Brigade will not see Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and the rest riding boldly out towards the guns and a glorious death. Instead they are gambling with the livelihoods of millions of May's 'ordinary working people' and the future of the country in whose name they claim to be 'taking back control'....

When Lucan ordered him to attack the Russians in the valley, Cardigan is meant to have replied: 'Certainly, my lord, but allow me to point out to you that there is a battery in front, battery on each flank, and the ground is covered with Russian riflemen.'

'I cannot help that,' said Lucan. 'It is Lord Raglan's positive order that the Light Brigade is to attack the enemy.'

And so the Brexit Brigade sends the rest of us into battle proclaiming that it's 'the will of the people'.

[Source: julesbirch.com/2017/03/27/the-charge-of-the-brexit-brigade/ (accessed 23.12.2018). PB: The Caton Woodville image, which is not attributed, has been flipped.]

"How our incompetent leaders are leading us into a disastrous Charge of the Brexit Brigade"

Tom Pride, TomPride.Wordpress, 9 Feb 2018:

The infamous and tragic Charge of the Light Brigade is the story of an out-of-touch leadership so blinded by over-confidence that they willingly chose to charge headlong into a disastrous situation they knew they couldn't win.

Sound familiar?

The tragic charge at the Battle of Balaclava was caused by misunderstandings, strategic incompetence, over-confidence on the part of an arrogant leadership, squabbling between the main decision-makers and a general over-estimation of the strength of the British position.

Exactly as Brexit is marked by tactical misunderstandings, strategic incompetence, over-confidence on the part of our arrogant leadership, squabbling between the main decision-makers and a general over-estimation of the strength of the British position.

The original orders for the Light Cavalry to put on a simple tactical show of strength, were deliberately and recklessly misinterpreted by incompetent leaders to lead their men into a suicidal and futile full-frontal attack.

Exactly as the Brexit referendum is being deliberately and recklessly misinterpreted by our incompetent leaders to lead us into a suicidal and futile full-frontal attack too.

The charge was breathtakingly disastrous for Britain - and of course particularly devastating in its outcome for the brave rank and file who were forced to take part in it - but not so devastating for the aristocratic leadership whose incompetence led to the disaster.

Just as Brexit will also be breathtakingly disastrous for Britain - and of course particularly devastating in its outcome for the brave rank and file who are forced to take part in it - but not so devastating for our wealthy (and even these days often aristocratic) leadership whose incompetence is leading to disaster.

Lord Cardigan - who led the charge - was one of the few to survive it, and after he left the field he went on board his luxury yacht in Balaclava harbour, where he ate a champagne dinner.

Just as I'm sure the wealthy people who are leading the Charge of the Brexit Brigade will also survive the disaster, and after the devastation will be able to board their own luxury yachts to eat champagne dinners too.

Leaving the rest of us in the rank and file to survive the horrific mess they've left behind.

The question is, are we going to doff our caps and allow our out-of-touch leaders to send us into disaster once again?

[Source: tompride.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/how-our-incompetent-leaders-are-leading-us-into-a-disastrous-charge-of-the-brexit-brigade (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Theresa May's handling of the current crisis would make the Charge of the Light Brigade look orderly"

Author?, Belfast Telegraph, 6 Dec 2017:

...political incompetence on the part of Theresa May so staggering that it makes the Charge of the Light Brigade look like a triumph of careful planning.

[Source: Belfast Telegraph: belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/theresa-mays-handling-of-the-current-crisis-would-make-the-charge -of-the-light-brigade-look-orderly-36382449.html (accessed 23.12.2018).]

Once out, there is no way back

Pippa Rathborne's SCRATCH POST, 10 November 2017:

Lord Cardigan leading the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, painting by Harry Payne.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Once out, there is no way back



Brexit is Britain's biggest blunder. Once out, there is no way back in. A rational, and legal, solution is easily available to the Government. Article 50 should be revoked. Only the courage to admit a mistake is lacking...

[Source: "pipparathborne.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/once-out-there-is-no-way-back/" (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Brexit: the charge of the Right brigade"

Chris Johns, Irish Times, 31 March 2017:

The UK is facing into the most challenging set of decisions since the second World War

Tory party ideologues want the hardest Brexit imaginable.

The capture of the government by the ideologues of the Tory party is complete. They want the hardest Brexit imaginable. That it potentially will be as big a disaster as in 1854 when a few hundred lightly armed cavalry charged massed ranks of Russian artillery is entirely the point: the Charge of the Light Brigade has gone down in British history as a magnificent failure. It's become something of a tradition in certain quarters to try and repeat the experience.

Brexit is, I fear, going to be more than a little reminiscent of past glorious defeats, one of the spectacular failures so treasured by certain types of English nationalists. Charging armed only with swords at hundreds of guns pointed straight at you makes perfect sense to members of this tribe.

A French general observing the British cavalry being blown to pieces famously said, "it isn't war but it is magnificent". That's the bit that made it into old-Etonian consciousness. He also said, in a comment that is far less well known (in Britain at least), "it is madness".

Theresa May has just ordered 'charge' and an incredulous Europe stands, like the Russian gunners at Balaclava, ready to shoot as soon as the British come into view. It's as one-sided a negotiation as they come....

The British people are still being lied to.

Without compromises that will be unacceptable to the ascendant wing of the Tory party, Brexit will have to be as hard as they come. In other words, 'no deal', with all of the attendant carnage, looks horribly possible. The key insight here is that this is exactly what the ideologues want: magnificent failure. Charge!

[Source: Irish Times: irishtimes.com/business/economy/brexit-the-charge-of-the-right-brigade-1.3032278 (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Article 50: The Charge of the Light Brigade 2.0?"

Rajneesh Narula, Professor of International Business Regulation, Henley Business School, 27 March 2017:

The EU knows where it stands: its position is clear. The deck, to use another tired metaphor, is stacked firmly in their favour, and they know it. That they offered a Soft Brexit a week after the referendum was a kindness, but in its spurning, little has been gained except Trump-like hubris.

It brings to mind that other famous British folly, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

I hope 29 March 2019 proves me wrong.

[Source: henley.ac.uk/news/2017/article-50-the-charge-of-the-light-brigade-2-0 (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"Charge of the brexit brigade"

"Wyon", wyonstansfeld.wordpress.com, 18 July 2017:

With acknowledgements to Alfred, Lord Tennyson (who wrote the initial poem about the disastrous charge of the light brigade in the battle of Balaclava) and Julian Armistead (who came up with this analogy).

Charge of the brexit brigade.

1854 and someone has blundered,

as is now evident

from the latest intelligence:

'They have guns to our sabres',

But orders are in place now

and orders are orders:

charge means charge,

and you do not review orders,

-- only execute them --

(too late for intelligence).

So: 'charge for the guns'

and 'there'll be no 'U' turns'

Ours not to make a reply

but to carry our flag

with brave and glorious acquiescence

and charge on into the valley of death.

Ours not to reason why

for 'charge means charge',

and charge we must:

'charge for the guns',

with sabres held high,

Ours but to do and die.

[Source: wyonstansfeld.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/charge-of-the-brexit-brigade/ (accessed 23.12.2018).]

"The Charge of the BREXIT Brigade"

Dr. Michael Hopkins, LinkedIn, 5 July 2017:


22 miles, 22 miles

Just a narrow channel

All in the valley of Death

Rode the sixty million.

"Backward, the dreams of a nation

Charge for the exit!" he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the sixty million.


"Forward, the Light Minded!"

Was there a man dismayed?

Not though the country knew

Someone had blundered.

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the sixty million.


Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode but poorly led,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of disaster

Rode the sixty million.


Flashed all their sabres bare,

Flashed as they turned in air

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging away from a continent while

All the world wondered.

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right through the line they exited;

French and German left behind

Reeled from the economic collapse

Shattered and sundered.

Then they rode back, but not

Not the sixty million

Article 50 had doomed them


Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell.

They that had fought so weakly

Came through the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of sixty million

Only a few migrants


When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wondered.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour BREXIT?

Noble but foolish sixty million!

[with apologies to Lord Tennyson and those brave souls who died for our country]

[Source: linkedin.com/pulse/charge-brexit-brigade-dr-michael-hopkins.]

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.' "

[Source: "As Great British Cock-ups go..."]

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."

[Source: History News Network: "Why Brexit won".]

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."

[Source: "Brexit: Why the UK could vote Leave, but shouldn't"]

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."

[Source: ISA Briefing 437)

"Don't teach Brexit schoolkids about Tennyson: teach them maths"

Philip Inman, The Observer, 20 Nov 2016:

Michael Gove's inspiration for including Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade in the new English GCSE syllabus is becoming clearer every day.

Gove, one of Vote Leave's architects, understands the spirit running through British history that can result in episodes like Lord Cardigan's fatal Crimean attack, or the evacuation of Dunkirk in the second world war, being lauded as great episodes in history.

In the last few days, everyone from Labour's John McDonnell to the president of the CBI have readied themselves to join the Tory Brexiters and charge into the cannon that lie in wait across the channel. They know 'someone had blunder'd,' and yet theirs is not to reason why: theirs is to stampede onwards....

Reading the poem, today's 15-year-olds might perhaps glean a deeper understanding of the psychology that lay behind the EU vote and the bloody-mindedness that meant so many Remainers joined the campaign. Gove can take some satisfaction in that.

[Source: hitc.com/en-gb/2016/11/20/dont-teach-brexit-schoolkids-about-tennyson-teach-them-maths/ (accssed 23.12.20-18).]

Here, The Independent casts David Cameron in the role of Lord Raglan:

"David Cameron will go down in history as the Prime Minister who killed his country"

Matthew Norman, The Independent, 24 June 2016:

"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."

[Source: The Independent: "David Cameron will go down in history as the Prime Minister who killed his country".]

As I noted at the start, it's not just "Remainers". Here's a letter to the Knutsford Guardian from the Leave side (spelling and punctuation as in the original):

Gerald A. Norden, Knutsford Guardian, 16 June 2016:

We are constantly told the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world, yet, being in the EU, we are relegated to be 1/28th of a voice in Brussels. Cameron has proved that intense pressures on other members of the EU he had no chance, will indeed never have a chance of meaningful reform to an organisation that seems to be hell bent on destroying the sovereignty of member nations.

"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."

[Source: Knutsford Guardian: "Overruled by foreign powers")

There must many more examples out there, with new versions appearing all the time - please let me know if you come across any good ones.

For further information, or to express an interest in the project, please email the editors, Philip Boys & Roy Mills, via info@chargeofthelightbrigade.com