by Martin Odoni

FOREWORD: Today is the 16th of August 2019, and it is the bi-centenary of a notorious atrocity committed by the British Government against its own people in Manchester. A peaceful pro-democracy rally at St. Peter’s Field (very roughly the site of St. Peter’s Square and the surrounding streets today) was broken up by British armed troops on horseback, indiscriminately attacking the crowd with sabres. At least fifteen people were killed, probably more, and over six hundred were injured.

Given that the slaughter happened just four years after the great British victory at The Battle of Waterloo, and reflecting the fact that some of the protesters had served in the armies that fought Napoleon, this infamous act of state ruthlessness was rapidly named, with grim humour, ‘The Peterloo Massacre‘.

Last year, Mike Leigh directed a film chronicling the events that led to the Massacre. I saw the film shortly after its release, and wrote the following review of it on social media. I now reproduce it here to mark the bi-centenary.

_____

All-in-all, certainly not a bad film. The Peterloo Massacre was a critical turning point in British urban history, even more so in the history of Manchester (my adopted hometown), and with the bi-centenary now just months away, this is an appropriate tribute.

As an historical account, it’s reasonably accurate (at least by the dismal standards of cinematic historicals), with the known order-of-events broadly presented correctly – potato hurled at the Prince Regent notwithstanding. (The event that’s based on happened around two years before this.) The script does a very correct and skilled job tying in the terrible events of August 1819 with the backdrop of the Battle of Waterloo just four years earlier. As the film explains through the story of a soldier with shell-shock called Joseph, the rise of political radicalism at the time was largely fuelled by the return from the war of tens of thousands of British soldiers. They had fought long and hard in the Napoleonic Wars, but found when they got home that the economy had become so heavily-geared towards supporting the war-effort that there were now no jobs for all these extra workers. The Government of the era cared not a jot, and the only gratitude they felt for the wartime exploits was directed solely at the Duke Of Wellington. Poverty and deprivation became widespread across Britain, problems that are perhaps described more than portrayed here, but nevertheless accurately so. That poverty led to a growing radicalist movement, demanding suffrage for all working men (women, alas, would have to wait another century, although it is to the film’s credit that it makes clear that women played a very substantial role in the post-Napoleonic radical movement), relief from the high price of bread caused by the Corn Laws, and a fairer wage for workers. This all led to the remarkable mass public meeting at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester in August 1819, with tens of thousands arriving from all over Lancashire.

So the film more or less succeeds as a history lesson. It further has fine visuals, and a feel that is very authentic, with both costumes and scenery that convince that this really is Manchester in the Hanoverian era, and not Lincoln in 2018 (which is where and when it was really filmed).

However, it does less well in other departments. It is a little over-long, with the early stages meandering and cumbersome at times. Several scenes could easily have been cut away with no real loss. And the characterisation as performed on screen is questionable.

The magistrates in Manchester, who gave the order to attack the demonstrators, would be difficult people to feel much sympathy for, but they are so pompous, venal, officious and degenerate here that it almost dehumanises them, to the extent of offering the wrong lesson; the sorts of leaders who order the deaths of innocents are, whether we like it or not, as human as you or I. But the Dickensian-bully stereotype here would have us believe that only caricatures would behave in such a fashion, potentially catching us off-guard in the real world. In particular, Victor McGuire (the guy who played Jack Boswell in Bread) is really quite absurdly over-the-top as Detective Chief Constable Nadin, almost turning him into a Dirty-Harry-with-a-Scouse-accent bad-cop.

Equally, there is little doubt that the real Henry Hunt did let his popularity go to his head. But the way Rory Kinnear portrays him here, he is so vain and so contemptuous of other campaigners that he almost seems like a prima donna celebrity from the 1990s. Samuel Bamford comes across as a likeable buffoon rather than a formidable campaigner in his own right. We can’t say this characterisation is exactly ‘wrong’ because no one alive today would ever have met him, and therefore no one can say for sure that he was all that different from the merry loudmouth seen here. But it doesn’t altogether tally with what we know of him, which suggests something more akin to Wolfie Smith.

Even allowing for the very dark subject matter, the film lacks a degree of humour. There are a couple of mild moments of comic relief, such as the maid, Bessie, apparently thinking the painting of portraits works like a camera would today, and some of the crowd, unable to hear the speeches, grumbling about it like it’s the start of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. But in a film lasting two-and-a-half hours, it gives the sad and very wrong impression that jokes weren’t invented until the 20th Century. It doesn’t need to be treated as a comedy film of course, far from it, but when the grimness is as unrelenting as this in a film as long as this, it starts to tire the audience.

I like Tim McInnerny being cast as the indolent Prince Regent, a role he performs to perfection, and there is a lovely irony to it. He of course found fame back in the mid-1980s in the first two seasons of Blackadder, playing the Percies of the Wars of the Roses and then Tudor eras. When the third season, set in the Regency period, was being planned, McInnerny was expected to be cast in it as Prince George, performed as another Percy-type figure. But scared of becoming typecast, while also becoming increasingly bored of the character, McInnerny decided to drop out, and so Hugh Laurie was brought in to replace him, playing the Prince in a very different style. Playing the Prince now, and in a style completely removed either from Percy or from Laurie’s George IV, seems to have filled a ‘What-if…?’ gap in McInnerny’s CV rather beautifully.

The portrayal of the Massacre itself is harrowing and haunting, and had me shaking with quiet anger as I watched, clearly what the director intended. Horribly, the notorious – and very real – moment when a baby was trampled to death by a horse is included, although thankfully it is not made graphic, with the baby shown to be wrapped up in a blanket, and so we can’t make him out.

The true death-toll that day at St. Peter’s Field will never be known. It’s officially always been set at fifteen, with over six hundred injuries, but my suspicion after studying the event in school has always been that it was quite a lot higher. The indiscriminate aggression with which the Yeomanry ploughed into the crowd suggests that the minimum death-toll would have to be closer to fifty. It should be remembered that the hundreds of injuries, many with stab wounds from Yeoman rapiers, were just as terrible as the summary deaths, in an era before real hospitals were available to provide effective treatment.

Today, the site of St. Peter’s Field has become St. Peter’s Square and its surrounds. A plaque hangs on a wall of the Radisson Hotel on neighbouring Peter Street as a tribute to those who died or suffered injuries, although sadly, it gets the name of the site slightly wrong. The Square today is a frequent venue for political protests.

The red plaque commemorating Peterloo

A few dozen metres down Peter Street from St. Peter’s Square, this memorial plaque can be seen on the wall of the Radisson Hotel. Note that it wrongly pluralises the name of the site of the Massacre as “St. Peter’s Fields”. There was an earlier version of the plaque, which included the same mistake.

The name ‘Peterloo’ is of course a very dark joke, made in the aftermath of the tragedy, to drum home twin points. Firstly, that some of the victims of the Massacre were themselves soldiers who had fought for their country at Waterloo, and that country, which by any standard should have been taking care of them after they had given so much to protect it, had instead turned swords on them on St. Peter’s Field. Secondly, that after the British Army had been glorified in the four years since Napoleon’s defeat, the soldiers of the Yeomanry had sullied that Army’s name irredeemably thereafter by using the same militaristic approach on a peaceful crowd of protesters – all of them fellow Britons.

The outcry that followed the Peterloo Massacre started a kind of domino effect across the country over the next decade or so, with resistance to Government and industrial oppression becoming angrier, sterner and more pro-active. It ultimately led to the Great Reform Act of 1832, the first in a slow but unstoppable series of electoral reforms that would, by 1969, create suffrage for all British adults over the age of 18. Even now, it is not yet sufficient for what I would call a ‘democracy’, but half a loaf is still better than no bread.

The relevance of Peterloo to modern Britain perhaps needs underlining, but the film fails to join those particular dots. It’s not just that many of our social and political rights today were won partly through the blood of those who fell fighting for suffrage, and that they deserve to be remembered. It’s also that these sorts of crimes of the British state against its own people have never entirely stopped happening. The Bloody Sunday/Bogside Massacre in Derry, in which British soldiers ruthlessly took fourteen lives during a largely-peaceful protest, was less than fifty years ago, and still in the memories of many people alive today. The Battle Of Orgreave, in which the South Yorkshire Police on horseback violently attacked picketing miners and then tried to falsify evidence in order to convict their victims, was as recent as 1984. The strength of Trade Unions was almost completely destroyed in the years that followed. Right now, we have a Government that is trying to sweep away workers’ rights almost entirely. Years of malicious, toxic Government Austerity have crushed many of the working poor into increased poverty and destitution, leaving them in a situation not entirely dissimilar to the one Wellington’s soldiers returned home to two hundred years ago.

We are in danger, as a country, of sleepwalking into the same kind of situation, where we will have to fight the same battle once again that led to the Peterloo Massacre. If we want to prevent it happening again, we have to stop the surrender of our rights now, before we become as vulnerable as the people of Manchester were on 16th August 1819.

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by Martin Odoni

Most people – at least those not spending the last three years touring the moons of Neptune – will likely be well aware that British Zionists and other assorted Israel supporters are fighting like mad to discredit the Labour Party on the, frankly implausible, grounds of ‘anti-Semitism’ supposedly being rife among its membership; the current approximate rate per-head of the membership is understood to be 0.06%, but we shall avoid digressing onto the matter of numbers here.

Now, the Labour Party have had a slogan used on-and-off since the mid-2000’s: For the many, not the few. Those trying to push the narrative of Labour anti-Semitism have made a habit of mangling it into For the many, not the Jew. It is an ugly distortion that frequently appears on placards at Zionist protests against the Labour Party.

Zion with Stewpid

No matter what the kid with the self-righteous expression on his face imagines, this gesture really isn’t clever.

That Zionists genuinely think that this pun sounds clever is beyond doubt; changing a single letter is the height of imagination in some circles. Sadly for them however, it is not clever. It is foolish, as it has an implication to it that reinforces an ugly stereotype about Jews.

The problem with the mangled version is that it encourages a clear separation of ‘Jews’ as a demographic from the majority of people. This in turn propogates the tired old notion that Jews think themselves ‘special’ or even ‘above’ the rest of humanity. This old caricature is often named with pejorative irony The Chosen Race. In reality, the notion of ‘Jewish exceptionalism’ is only really believed by extremist groups such as Israeli Orthodox Jews. But the original version of the slogan, For the many, not the few, fairly explicitly indicates that ‘the many’ are the disadvantaged masses, and that ‘the few’ are the privileged and powerful rich. So by altering it to ‘the Jew’, Zionists are inadvertently casting British Jews, not as victims, but as the nation’s privileged and rich minority whose interests are served by the status quo.

Conclusion of that? By using the mangled version of the slogan, Zionists and Israel-supporters are actually behaving in an anti-Semitic way, while trying to interpret all manner of behaviours by Labour members as anti-Semitic.

Ironic? Certainly. Back-to-front? Completely.

Consistent with the current standard of political debate in the United Kingdom? Entirely.

by Martin Odoni

Template for people to e-mail complaints to the Labour Party, via complaints@labour.org.uk.

To whom it may concern,

I wish to draw attention to, and protest in the strongest possible terms, the behaviour of Neil Coyle MP. In a pair of tweets published this week, he was extremely abusive to fellow Labour MP Chris Williamson in a manner that clearly brings the party into disrepute. I wish to highlight two particular references he made. The first was an implied instruction to Williamson to “get in the sea”. The second was outright vulgar namecalling, referring to Williamson “a shit”.

Neil Coyle online abuse of Chris Williamson

Neil Coyle’s abuse of Chris Williamson is as explicit as any abuse right wing Labour MPs claim to receive from the left.

Clause 2.I.8 of the 2019 Labour Party rules states as follows; –

No member of the Party shall engage in conduct which… is grossly detrimental to the Party.

Instructing a fellow MP and party member to ‘get in the sea’ is abusive, and potentially encourages suicide, which is extremely irresponsible from a mental health standpoint. Subsequently referring publicly to a fellow MP and party member as ‘a shit’ is also abusive in a very crude way, and such puerile and unprovoked public yobbishness is plainly detrimental to the party’s image and reputation. No elected representative of the Labour Party can ever publicly behave in such a hooligan-like fashion.

I demand Coyle’s membership of the Labour Party be suspended with immediate effect, and a full and rigorous investigation into his conduct past-and-present be undertaken, with a view to his possible expulsion.

With polite regards
[YOUR NAME]

by Martin Odoni

The ghastly senior Cabinet announced yesterday by the even-more-ghastly new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, will, I suspect, eventually be known as The Ikea Cabinet. This is because they are the brain-trust (using the word ‘brain’ in the most generous possible sense) of the most collapsible Government since Ramsay MacDonald first became Prime Minister.

The horror of a Cabinet full of (probably) corrupt, fanatical, blinkered extremists like Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom and Sajid Javid perhaps loses its sting due to the set-up in Parliament now being so unstable that the Government could cave in any minute. Literally. I have to keep checking even as I type to make sure it is still there, and whether to abandon this article this instant; the ritual despair of the blog-writer is the danger that your laboriously-written, ground-out thoughts will become out-of-date before you have clicked ‘Publish‘.

In fairness to Johnson

To give even a foul racist like Johnson his fair due, he has not let his casual contempt for other cultures interfere in his selection process. A genuine feather-in-his-cap is that two of the four biggest offices of the British state are for the first time occupied by ethnic minority politicians, namely Patel as Home Secretary and Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Setting aside how inappropriate their hard-line attitudes are, just the fact they have managed to ‘get there’ speaks volumes for how far our obnoxious, backward-looking country has come in the theatre of race-relations. However draconian the UK’s economic approach is, it has become socially far more liberal than most countries around the world over the course of the last thirty years, and even Johnson appears to have been affected for the better by it. However, how much he really wanted to appoint them, and how much the decision was forced upon him by refusal among many of his Parliamentary colleagues to work with him, is perhaps up for discussion.

That discussion is made all the more necessary judging by another appointment. Michael Gove, perhaps the only current Conservative MP even more temperamentally ill-suited to the top job than Johnson, has been given a Cabinet post as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Gove Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

A nothing politician in a nothing Cabinet post.

Pompous sinecures

Now, I discussed years ago a previous post – Chief Whip – to which Gove was reshuffled by David Cameron, and how it meant he was no longer a member of the Cabinet. He was allowed to sit in on Cabinet meetings purely on the grounds of possessing the meaningless sinecure of Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, which all Chief Whips are given, and which bestows upon them precisely no duties or powers.

History, for Gove, is rhyming. Because Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is a fraudulent sinecure too. The name refers to part of the reigning Monarch’s estate, dating back to the overthrow of Richard II by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster. But it has no practical implication at all. It does not even grant Gove the duties or powers of a Chief Whip, let alone a genuine, active Government department over which he can make decisions. Given Gove’s generally abysmal performances as Education Secretary, and later as Environment Secretary, some may argue that the fewer powers he is handed, the better. I would agree. But that invites the question, “Well, why include Gove in the Cabinet at all?”

Well, Johnson and Gove are old friends – despite Gove rather stabbing Johnson in the back three years ago during the contest to succeed Cameron – and therefore, I suspect that this is an old dirty trick practiced by Prime Ministers for at least fifty years.

Wilson’s dirty trick

Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister from 1964-1970 and 1974-1976, led a succession of Cabinets that were prone to breaking up into squabbles. Wilson had to find a way to resolve arguments, preferably in favour of policies he wished to pursue. The method he hit upon to achieve this was, rather than flood the Cabinet with only Ministers of the highest ability, he instead made sure that there were always a few mediocre, waekling MPs appointed to meaningless departments or offices that he deliberately set up for them. These second-raters’ lack-of-ability meant that they were dispensable, and they probably knew it. Therefore, their ministerial futures were entirely dependent on Wilson’s goodwill, and of course that guaranteed their obedience. Therefore, when debates in Cabinet were put up for the vote, these no-hopers were certain to support Wilson’s preferred course of action. So by regularly appointing a handful of stuffed-shirts to his Cabinet, Wilson guaranteed himself a majority of Ministers to support his position at all times. (I doubt that this was the earliest example of the trick in Prime Ministerial history, but it is the earliest that I know of for certain. But whatever the truth of that, as a rule, in a political ally, a Prime Minister loves deep weakness and fears high ability.)

A non-role for the non-competent

I imagine Gove’s appointment to a non-department is a similar story. Johnson knows Gove, as a prominent MP, would potentially be dangerous as backbench rebel. Johnson has also seen that, friendship or no friendship, Gove is ambitious enough to betray anybody whenever it suits him. (Much like Johnson…) Equally, because he and Gove are old friends and have a history of working together, Johnson realises that Gove will likely vote in support of his position during most Cabinet squabbles. So for Johnson, having Gove in the Cabinet is preferable to leaving him on the backbenches. But also knowing Gove’s feeble history in high office, Johnson will not trust him with a Ministry. Ergo, Gove must be in the Cabinet, but not in a Department.

Ergo Gove is now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. A position for Ministers too incompetent to be made Secretary of State for Sport.

by Martin Odoni

Okay, the tongue-in-cheek opinion poll I put up before the weekend has gone past 1,001 votes now, so that technically means it is now large enough to be considered ‘statistically representative’. Admittedly, nothing else about the poll really conforms to correct procedure, but then it was of course only meant as a rebuke to the arrogance of certain Labour peers who were poised to launch a ‘Motion-of-no-confidence’ in party leader Jeremy Corbyn. I was in effect saying, “How dare you use a procedure that is not even defined in the party’s rules to undermine a democratically-elected leader, especially when your peerages were not democratically-awarded?” And sure enough, the outcome is very decisive – at the time of writing, those voting No Confidence in the Labour peers total an almighty 990. Those who have expressed Confidence in them total a dismal 23. That is just shy of ninety-eight per cent declaring they have no confidence in the Labour peers.

NB: You can in fact still vote in the poll if you have not done so already. I have no plans to take it down, or attempt to ‘halt’ it. I am simply drawing a line under it now as it has had a large enough sampling size.

Now, the peers called off the motion over the weekend anyway, which suggests that they already realised they were inviting more trouble than the move was worth. And with the intended rebuke in mind, the way I worded the questioning of the poll beforehand was blatantly skewed in one direction, so we cannot consider the vote in any sense to be ‘scientific’. If readers wish to condemn me for that, I shall sleep none-the-worse for it. But in any case, supposedly ‘reputable’ pollsters have a history of gathering opinions in ways that are no better.

Take YouGov, for instance, who consistently under-estimate Labour support levels (exception; a polling model they used for a one-off survey around a week before the 2017 General Election correctly predicted a Hung Parliament), and therefore, despite excessive credence given to their data by mainstream media, tend to offer abnormally high numbers of outliers.

Why do they do this? Well, while I am so far unaware of any response or explanation offered by YouGov that might mitigate it, this image may give us a handy clue; –

YouGov blatant leading poll question

Is this massaging-of-questions the reason why YouGov keep predicting an apocalypse for Corbyn’s Labour that no other polling company can even detect?

It appears to be exactly the same old problem of massaging the questions to draw the desired answer. The only difference is that I cheerfully admit to doing it as my aim was satirical, not information-gathering or actual propaganda. YouGov, by contrast, claim that they do it for purposes of impartial research.

And if this is a typical example of how YouGov lead their respondees, well, they are not exactly ‘subtle’ about it, are they?

by Martin Odoni

The Houses of Parliament.

The House of Lords is an unelected, undemocratic body. Labour Party peers within the House are said to be contemplating a Motion of No Confidence in the leader of their party, Jeremy Corbyn, on highly dubious grounds of his supposed ‘failure’ to deal with anti-Semitism amongst the membership.

For various well-recorded reasons, these grounds are extremely weak, as anti-Semitic incidents in the Labour Party are occuring at a rate well below 0.1% per head. Moreover, it is not really Corbyn’s responsibility to deal with the issue as such; it is more a matter for the party’s National Executive Committee, and its disciplinary body, which is supposed to be independent of the leader to make sure no leader can dish out politicised penalties.

Due to there being no such procedure defined in Labour Party rules, an MONC in the leader would be as completely non-binding as the one carried out by the Parliamentary party in the House of Commons three years ago, and so probably just as futile.

Given that the Lords are undemocratically appointed, it seems absurd that they feel they should have any substantive influence on who is to be the party leader, and so such a Motion instead raises questions in the opposite direction. As the House is not democratically elected, the public get no say in who is allowed to sit in it.

If the Labour Lords therefore wish to exercise powers they do not have, it is only fair and right that the public get to register their own dissatisfaction with those same Lords.

Here is their opportunity.

I hereby move that the people of this country have No Confidence in the Labour Party peers in the House of Lords.

If you agree, please click the appropriate option below. Then please share this page far and wide to get as broad a sampling as possible.


I beg to move that this country has no confidence in Labour peers in the House of Lords.
(polls)

by Martin Odoni

This morning, the BBC covered a celebration of the Scouts Movement being held in Chingford. While the interviewer was talking to some of the people attending, the crowd broke out into a, shall we say, somewhat familiar chant.

Watch this; –

I am fairly sure that the presenter got the willies when he recognised the chant, because he quickly abandoned the interviews. This was probably more due to political neutrality rules than actual censorship, but even so, his reaction will not have been greatly different to the reaction of others within the corporation. There was an outrageous hatchet job attempted on the Labour Party this week by Panorama. Therefore it is easy to imagine many-a-BBC-face going pale white as they behold opinion polls with a clear Labour lead, and ongoing boisterous support for the leader they keep imagining they have discredited.

Survation Poll - 10th-11th July 2019

When will the smear merchants get it? The more mud they sling, the more Labour’s polling position improves.

Ever get that ole’ sinkin’ feelin’, BBC? Well yes you have. Today.

The Scouts sing Oh Jeremy Corbyn.png

You can almost picture the Director General staring at the screen and muttering in a growling croak, “I’LL GET YOU NEXT TIME, GADGET! NEXT TIIIIIIIME….”