The vital misquote in Boris de Pfeffel’s Charge of the Shite Brigade

The vital misquote in Boris de Pfeffel’s Charge of the Shite Brigade

POLITICS COMES IN DIFFERENT SIZED PACKAGES, big and small. In the larger package, you will find President Putin pronouncing western liberalism obsolete. In the small package, you will find Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson speaking cod-Churchillian bollocks about making Brexit happen by October 31st, “do or die”.

Johnson, for a long time strangely silent, is currently filling the small package of British politics, crowding out all good sense with Boys Own Paper hints of derring-do to come.

That Brexit Halloween deadline he swears he will stick to, or figuratively die in the attempt, is a memorable yet often mis-used, mis-quoted line from Tennyson’s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade which should conclude with the promise to “do AND die”. Hardly the image his Brexit pledge sought to achieve, surely? Judge for yourself. . .

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.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
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.

Quite whether a poem written in honour of a famous British defeat in the Crimean War is the image Johnson was reaching for is debatable.

And – if you’ll pardon the expression – our modern political echo of Tennyson’s poem seems to be The Charge of the Shite Brigade, only with willy-waving rather than sabres drawn.

Boris Johnson was pictured on the front of The Times one day last week, standing in front of the union flag, giving the double thumbs-up. The headline above that disturbingly inane gesture read: “Stamp duty slashed in Johnson no-deal budget.”

Before looking in the bigger package, consider that headline. It’s written, just as if it has actually happened, in the past tense. This, lest we forget, is The Times: iconic standard bearer of all that is worthy in British journalism for almost 250 years whose spin doctor’s dream of a headline suggests this is something Johnson has done, rather than just another of the blathering promises, bribes and blandishments he dangles before the huddle of Tory members who will get to choose our next prime minister.

It has not happened. It is no more than a shifty aspiration, another sweetie in the goodie bag of magic money promises being passed round by Johnson and his opponent, Jeremy Hunt.

In that small package, overshadowed by everything else, you also will find Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn failing once again to get a grip on the antisemitism row damaging his party. An opinion poll is only ever a snapshot, but in YouGov’s latest poll Corbyn only wins the endorsement of 26% of those asked. Hardly encouraging when the Tory Party has abandoned governing at a time of crisis to indulge in a self-loving beauty parade.

The Russian leader filled the larger package last week, thanks to an interview in the Financial Times, ahead of the G20 summit in Japan. President Putin claimed that liberals “cannot simply dictate anything to anyone just like they have been attempting to do over the recent decades. The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.”

That Putin is an illiberal, totalitarian leader shouldn’t surprise anyone. Neither should his dubious claim that having Donald Trump as US President signalled the death of liberal policies in the west.

The pally relationship between that pair is the world’s scariest (b)romance – second only to Trump’s photo-opped bro-fest with his North Korean mate Kim Jong-Un.

Trump becomes the first sitting US president to step into North Korea to meet his ‘ally’ Kim Jong Un

Trump likes to hang out with the totalitarian gang, jealous perhaps he isn’t yet the supreme leader of the US.

Putin cherry-picks his evidence for the death of liberalism: he conveniently overlooks, for instance, that the illiberal Trump has the lowest popularity rating of any US president evah, as the man himself might say. Doesn’t mean he can’t win again, sadly.

Meanwhile, on the fringes of the big package of the week, European council president Donald Tusk, often portrayed as bogeyman by the UK’s more Eurosceptic newspapers, speaks the most sense, dismissing Putin’s claim.

“Whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete,” Tusk said.

Liberal values remain “essential and vibrant” in Europe, he said, adding: “What I find really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs. Even if sometimes they may seem effective.”

Yup, Tusk nails that one.


  1. Great stuff. Lovely to be reminded of the original poem and meaning. So many of these things get changed and the misquote becomes the quote:
    Neville Chamberlain held up the agreement and said: ‘Peace for our time.’ Not ‘in’.
    Mae West said; ‘Come up some time and see me.’
    Humphrey Bogart said: ‘Play it Sam, play it.’
    Michael Gove said: ‘People are fed up with ‘experts’ from organisations who keep getting things wrong.’ Not all experts.
    And by the way, Neil Armstrong was meant to say: ‘One small step for a man…’ But he messed up.

    • True enough Chris, but what we are really witnessing is the obsolescence of all politics. Davidson and Rees-Mogg (the elder) may have got right what is coming next … what they describe in their book The Sovereign Individual as “the fourth stage of human society”.
      Mankind —- I-phone and therefore the world’s knowledge in hand — will go forward expecting that EVERY voice will be heard by AI, and be MADE to count. Bit far-fetched, but probably our grand-kids’ only hope.


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