Why the Campaign to Make British Passports Blue Again Must Fail

Brexiters' stupid nostalgia will destroy everything young British kids have.
August 9, 2016, 12:00am

An image sure to sicken even the most hardened Brexiteer (Photo by Images Money)

The voice of Great British Nostalgia has spoken, and it wants its old blue passport back. The people roar for their freedom, a clamour from the hills and streams of this ancient land, and they're not happy about recent developments in graphic design. If you're like me, your first reaction to this news was to think "wait – our passports used to be blue?", shortly followed by a deep, profound sensation of dread. This is the new faultline in British politics, and it might be about to consume us all. First Nigel Farage swung a referendum for Brexit by shoving a hideous EU passport in his audience's face, its glistening euro-standard burgundy the colour of putrefied flesh. Last week the Sun triumphantly announced its new campaign: we're leaving the EU, and it's time to bring back the old British travel documents, with their old blue covers. You could dismiss this as a trifle – with the world on fire, what could be more unimportant? I'm not particularly attached to my national signifiers; let them have their blue passports if they want, it's only a colour. But it's not only a colour. There's something omnicidal about this demand, the insistence that the new be cancelled and everything put back to how it was. The blue passport brigade must not be allowed to get what they want.

All the confusion of the last few months now starts to make a strange kind of sense. This why they did it, isn't it? 52 percent of the country voted us into a lifetime of political uncertainty and a terrifying spike in racist violence, and it was because they wanted the colour of their passports changed. Don't they realise that you can buy a blue passport cover if you want? They're not expensive, you can get them on ebay, and live out all your frankly perverse paperwork-based fantasies in peace, without disturbing anyone else. All those sentimental codgers, confusing the joys of being young with the official documents of the repressive society they grew up in, tearing the world apart, killing our future, and all so they can lie back and relive some fond memories. They'd skin us alive, if they thought they could rearrange our bones into a passable facsimile of the Britain of their youth. If you ever needed proof that there's something utterly evil about all dewy-eyed nostalgia, here it is. We should be very afraid.

But I can understand, sort of. What follows sounds like a very corny political allegory, but I promise you that it's absolutely true. When I was roughly five years old, I lived in a house with a blue front door. I wasn't particularly attached to that blue front door; it was just a regular feature of my life. But one day my parents decided that the door would be painted – and again, I'm not making this up – in what I regarded as a weak, miserable, washed-out shade of maroon. I was furious; I turned myself overnight into a monstrous little shit, refusing to eat my dinner, screaming at bedtimes, utterly appalled at the prospect of living in a house with such a poorly coloured front door.

Of course, this wasn't about the door at all. My life had just been upended by the sudden and unwelcome arrival of a new brother (probably compounded by the fact that it also occurred right in the middle of the phallic stage in the Freudian chart of psychosexual development), and I felt myself to be abruptly unloved. Everything I had taken for granted no longer held true, I was lost, and scared, and alone, and angry. Searching for a workable metaphor for my anger, I found that blue front door. It became a reservoir for everything I hated about this new life I was forced to live. Maybe I would lose everything else, but I would not lose that blue front door. Except I did, and eventually I grew up and (mostly) got over it, because this was the response of a five-year-old child, and not one appropriate for a grown adult.

The blue passport brigade have not grown up; they're powerful adults throwing a tantrum for their lost childhoods, still furious that things can sometimes change. See, for instance, an editorial by Tory MEP and living Slenderman costume Daniel Hannan in the Sun. Hannan drifts into strange rhapsodies over his old blue passport; he conjures a long-ago world of good little boys who deserved their lollipop. "When I was small," he writes, "my mother used to tell me that when we travelled abroad with British passports we were all ambassadors for our country and should behave accordingly." No wonder British people behave so atrociously abroad now: how could anyone have any sense of decency, when their passport isn't even blue? He even quotes the stilted bumf that appears on the back flap: "Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern," etc, etc, etc. These words, he notes, "are so solemn that, in a lesser country, they might sound silly" – we are a lesser country, and they do sound silly – but when placed inside his important blue booklet, "the grandeur of those words rubbed off on to the document itself, and the people holding it", reminding them that they were "citizens of a very special country." This is what Hannan wants, and what he wants you to want as well: he wants the state to play mummy. Like all great mediocrities, he wants someone to pat him on the head and tell him he's a very special boy.

"Symbols matter," Hannan writes. And they do. The Sun paraded a giant mock-up of the new passport they want around our streets for idiots to approve of, and they did. "It somehow looks more regal and important," one said. "It's much more historical," said another. There's a word for what they're doing, and what I was doing with my blue front door: it's mythology. The mythological schema is the same one that produced my fury over the blue front door – a thing, rather than a word, takes on the role of representation, symbols become invested with determinate properties. And it's dangerous.

As I've argued elsewhere, migration has come to function as a signifier for all the grimness and misery of life in 21st century Britain – "immigration" has become the name for every bad thing that never had one. But because migrants themselves are caught up in the net of their own name, actual human beings end up on the receiving end of violence, instead of an abstract concept.

It's the same here: these people don't really want a blue passport, they want to recapture the past, they just want to be young again. But in their desperate blundering search for the fountain of youth, they risk tearing up any last scrap of goodness that remains in this country. It's only symbols they're attacking but in the mythological realm those symbols are real things: first the British economy, then migrants, then nothing will be safe. These whining toddlers will smash anything invented after 1955, like the internet, or sex; they'll trap us in their own decaying imaginations. Once they start getting their way, the tide of mawkish sentiment will cover everything. They must not ever be allowed to have it.


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