Manchester City Council

Peterloo 2019

I'm fairly confident that most readers of the blog will know that last Friday was the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, commemorated with a large array of events all over the city. The centrepiece and most moving element of the civic commemoration was the reading of the names of the dead, each by a different person, including some descendants who had travelled across the world to be here.

Although followed by an intense period of political repression there is little doubt that Peterloo, part of a campaign for male suffrage, did play a significant part in the journey to universal suffrage and broader campaigns for civil rights. However, what happened 200 years ago has lessons for us today and should be a warning to us to never take for granted the hard won freedoms we now have, should act as a reminder that there will always be people who want to take those freedoms away, and that the journey to freedom, democracy and social justice is far from over.

Everyday, somewhere in the world, people are being killed, tortured, imprisoned fighting for basic freedoms long enjoyed in this country. There is a widespread threat to democracy from nationalism and populism. Even here, the last attack by the state killing unarmed protesters wasn't 200 years ago but less than 50 years ago, and we now have a government that is seriously considering sidelining and ignoring the very assembly the Peterloo marchers were fighting to be represented in.

Remembering the Peterloo massacre should be both a warning and an exhortation. If we ever become complacent about the rights we have won, and if we ever stop exercising them, they could be easily lost.

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The blog of the leader of Manchester City Council, Councillor Richard Leese.

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