Written by: Riaz Quadir
Photo courtesy: Shutterstock
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 grâce. 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 Worse still, the saving grace of poetry has been replaced by harsh, humourless prose.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.
“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.