Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Brexit Britain is country where an old film director called Mike Leigh invokes the democratic spirit of Peterloo to fight 'the forces of deceit'

The 76 year old film director Mike Leigh had an article published in the Guardian today :

It was an impassioned piece in which he ended with the plea : 'Brexit is the epitome of democracy under threat – indeed, of democracy gone wrong. To end this awful impasse we must have another referendum, one that is not afflicted with the lies and spin of 2016 – the People’s Vote. The spirit of Peterloo must endure.'

Mike wrote and then directed his historical film drama 'Peterloo' in 2018,  He based on events on 16 August 1819, when a crowd of some 60,000 people from Manchester and surrounding towns gathered in St Peter’s Fields to demand Parliamentary reform and an extension of voting rights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h92eN7zc1fU&t=0m50s

The meeting had been peaceful, but in the attempt to arrest a leader of the meeting, the mounted yeomany, armed with sabres, panicked and charged the crowd and as a result as many as 15 people were killed and up to 700 wounded. In parody of the Battle of Waterloo which had taken place five years before, the the killings were given the name 'The Peterloo Massacre.' 

The immediate after effect of the Massacre was a crackdown on reform, as the authorities feared the country was heading towards armed rebellion. The outcry led to the founding of the Manchester Guardian and played a significant role in the passage through Parliament of the Great Reform Act thirteen years later.

Mike referred to his attendance at the bicentenial of the Massacre in Manchester last Friday. 
'Monday 16 August 1819 was a beautiful summer’s day, when at least 60,000 people came in their Sunday best to St Peter’s Field in Manchester for the peaceful demonstration that turned so tragically into the bloody Peterloo Massacre. On 16 August 2019, by contrast, there was a relentless downpour of the worst Mancunian variety. But the spirit of 200 years ago was not the least bit dampened by the torrential rain.'

'In our complex world of lies and fake news and sinister manipulation, democracy is under threat on so many levels. And the radicals and reformers of two centuries ago have much to teach us – the lessons of Peterloo go far beyond the issue of universal suffrage. As John Thacker Saxton, a real-life radical played by John-Paul Hurley in my film, says :
“Though we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

'Nellie, the poor mother in my film played by Maxine Peake, referring to the Corn Laws, asks, “When has the government ever done anything to help us?” She would be astonished at the cost of living now that drives so many to despair, by the five-week wait for universal credit, by the likely rise in food bills of £190 per annum per person because of Brexit, by zero-hours contracts, and by a health minister who refuses to rule out deaths caused by lack of medicine if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.'

'Nearly 4,000 people silently meditating in the pouring rain is a deeply moving experience. So many thoughts, feelings, ideas, memories, hopes, fears, all in those few precious minutes.'

'The Midland Hotel, right in front of us, was built on the site of the house from which the misguided magistrates watched the meeting, before so stupidly instructing their forces to attack. Suddenly, I felt a rare sense of connection to those events on this very spot.' 
'We were so close, too, to the spot where Henry “Orator” Hunt and the others stood on the hustings – two horse carts – by what is now the Radisson Hotel, but was in my youth the Free Trade Hall concert venue.' 

Mike asked : 'What if the folk at Peterloo, who were fighting for the vote, could time-travel to 2019? Would they not be appalled and disgusted by the fact that we have the vote, yet so many people don’t use it? Would they not be astonished at the deceit of Brexit? At how working-class people still starve two centuries after the iniquitous Corn Laws? That last year there were 1.6 million recipients of emergency food parcels in the UK, half of the contents going to children?'

'These thoughts and feelings, and many more, raced through my head and heart as I stood, wet and silent, with many kindred spirits.'

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