What an excellent chapter ending. I laughed for quite some time!
In 2004, on the 150th anniversary of the charge at Balaclava, the Daily Express ran a two-page spread with the glorious headline ‘Triumph of the Light Brigade’. It reported that Terry Brighton, curator of the Queen’s Royal Lancers regimental museum – descendants of the 17th Lancers who were in the vanguard of the charge – ‘rejects the notion that the charge was a failure. Instead he says that it was an amazing success’: ‘The brigade advanced down the valley in perfect formation despite being fired on by cannons to the front and on all sides,’ he said. ‘Many saw comrades to the right and left fall from the saddle and were splattered with the blood of horribly shattered men. Yet they not only reached the Russian guns and took a terrible revenge on the Cossack gunners, they then pursued the Russian cavalry behind the guns. This was not a charge that failed.’41 In 150 years’ time the same, no doubt, will be written of the amazing success of Brexit.
If there is on the one hand a need to think of oneself as being invaded and colonized and on the other hand no tangible enemy to fulfil this need, the job has to be given to somebody more visibly present. Who is doing the invading? It is the tens of millions of Turks, Iraqis and Syrians who are, in the mendacious pro-Brexit ads, about to head straight for Britain after the imminent accession of Turkey to the EU. Who is doing the colonizing? Those Poles who moved in up the street. What has been transferred once – the guilt of Empire – is free to be transferred again. The old empire appropriates the pain of the subject peoples and then transfers the guilt of invasion and colonization to the immigrant.
Where the grand tradition laughs in the face of fear, Brexit had to tap into deep anxiety about the loss of status. It had to somehow put together two fears – the older one about Britain’s loss of status in the world after 1945 and the newer concern that the privileges of whiteness were being eroded. For people who feel anxious about the threat of losing their status, self-pity is attractive because it combines righteous anger with reassurance. You are reassured because you know you deserve a great deal, righteously angry because for some reason you have not been getting what you so obviously deserve. This combination has always been alluring to anti-colonial liberation movements: we are a great, unique people therefore we deserve to be free; only the colonial oppressor is preventing us from enjoying the freedom we deserve.