New Manchester Walks was shocked, but not surprised to read the hatchet job on Manchester’s Peterloo 200 commemorations in last Saturday’s Times, the small free snippet of which we reproduce from their website.
“Depending on your politics, the Peterloo Massacre was either Britain’s Tiananmen Square or a tragic outrage that has been given an unjustified historical importance.
A cavalry charge against a crowd of 60,000 peaceful demonstrators who gathered at St Peter’s Field in Manchester to demand parliamentary reform left at least 17 people dead and hundreds injured.
The bloodshed drew bitter comparisons with the Battle of Waterloo, hence the “Peterloo” sobriquet, and the massacre has become part of left-wing mythology.
However, conservative historians have argued the protests ultimately achieved little and were not a turning point in British history. The yeomanry’s regrettable violence was unplanned, they maintain…”
New Manchester Walks’s Ed Glinert has written a letter to The Times, which follows, righting this latest wrong on Manchester. The editorial bears all the marks of Tory peer Lord (Daniel) Finkelstein who fancies himself as a bit of a Norman Stone but bears closer resemblance in his grasp of history to Norman Wisdom.
The Times’s editorial on Peterloo last Saturday (3 Aug) can’t pass without challenge. Claiming that the events in Manchester on 16 August 1819, when the military attacked a crowd of 60,000 people gathered for a demonstration in favour of the vote, killing at least a dozen people, had no wider historical significance is a gross distortion of the truth.
Peterloo was one of the defining moments in English democracy and indeed history. It led to the Great Reform Act of 1832, creating huge numbers of people who could now vote. Peterloo catalysed the Manchester-born Emmeline Pankhurst’s later campaigns for democracy for women. No Peterloo, possibly no Pankhurst campaigns, and a very different English history.
And to suggest Peterloo is only of interest with a Marxist interpretation of history is an even grosser distortion. The main beneficiary of the Peterloo demonstrators’ call for people to have the vote has been the Tory Party, which ironically was responsible for the carnage at Peterloo. Regular increases in the size of electorate have continually led to the Conservatives being the most successful political party. Another group who benefited from Peterloo was the very capitalists who Marx and Co. fulminated against. The next generation of Manchester merchants, led by Richard Cobden and John Bright in the 1840s, deliberately built the Free Trade Hall on the site of Peterloo. The Free Trade Hall, note, not the People’s Republic Hall. It was as a HQ for their capitalist campaigns to open up the markets, a campaign they won.
I get the feeling that The Times’s tirade against Peterloo is more about attacking Manchester for getting too uppity than in redressing history.