Thursday, 22 May 2014

Why I won't be voting!

The text of the letter below appeared in yesterday's
Rochdale Observer in response to correspondence
from Mr. Andrew Wastling urging people to vote
because of the sacrifices of the Peterloo Martyrs
in 1819:
Dear Sir,  
Andrew Wastling's letter (Observer May 10) makes the civic case for voting in the forthcoming elections, and by drawing attention to  the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which eleven people were killed and hundreds injured, tries to instill guilt in those of us who will be with-holding our vote.  In their book 'The Common People' G.D.H. Cole and Raymond Postgate write about 1819 as 'the year when it was decided to restore the gold standard and thus to make permanent the deflation of the previous period, but also as the year of the Peterloo Massacre and of the Six Acts'.  It was a time, according to Cole and Postgate, of wage reductions and, 'at the height of this movement (of industrial struggle), the first recorded attempt was made to bring all workers together into a “General Union of Trades,” sometimes called by the name of the “Philanthropic Hercules”.'  
The point about the Government imposed 'Six Acts' of 1819, which followed Peterloo, was that it was an attack on freedom of the press, which Cole and Postgate write 'far outdid in severity either Sidmouth's Gagging Acts of 1817 or Pitt's measures of the 1790's.'   Magistrates were given more powers for 'summary conviction of political offenders' and 'penalties against blasphemous and seditious publications were greatly stiffened up; and the entire Radical Press was threatened with suppression by the extension of the heavy tax on newspapers to periodical publications of every sort' this last measure was aimed at Cobbett's cheap Register, Carlile's Republican and Wooler's Black Dwarf, which had previously been outside the scope of the tax.  The 'blasphemous and seditious' ruling was targeting Radical literature generally such as Paine's Rights of Man and Age of Reason
With all this in mind it would seem that Peterloo and its consequences, had as much to do with the free press and the right to assembly as with widening the franchise and delivering the vote to folk:  'From 1819 onwards the “unstamped” Press played an important part in the Radical movement (and) editors, printers and publishers, and hundreds of those who sold it, were sent to prison again and again' (Cole & Postgate).   Even in the 19th Century, the novelist George Elliot in her book 'Felix Holt Radical', was warning us of the  'folly' of 'vain expectations' with regard to anticipating much from the vote.  And, the novelist and social reformer Charles Dickens in 1868, according to his biographer Peter Ackroyd; 'cannot be said to have any great faith or hope in representative government even on the newly reformed model'.   
I firmly believe that the Labour Party as at present constituted has outlived its mission in so far as it ever had one, and my recent contact with a local politician with regard to the public 'outing' of the late Cyril Smith in Rochdale has not inspired in me and others much great hopes for the integrity of modern politics generally.  In the forthcoming elections I am determined that I shall not be casting my vote for anyone.  Mr Wastling writes that 'voting at least gives us a chance to ensure we have a say...' but it also encourages those in power to believe that they have a mandate to act; the less votes they have the less of a mandate they have to justify what they do. 
Yours sincerely, 
Brian Bamford.

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