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If Only The Guardian Actually Understood Peterloo

The Guardian is telling us all about the Peterloo Massacre. Fair enough, it was the founding outrage of the newspaper that became The Guardian. However, it is something of a small pity that it doesn’t actually understand the issues at play here.

Take this for example:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Half an hour before the Lighthouse opens, a queue has begun to form. The early birds are members of the Lighthouse Pantry, a food club for local people on low incomes, and competition is rife for the most prized items: a sirloin steak, a whole chicken, smoked salmon.[/perfectpullquote]

Two centuries ago a chicken would have been a very posh – very posh indeed – meal for a working man. Entirely possible that no urban worker would ever in fact be able to afford a whole one. Rather more expensive than beef back then. Cheap chicken is something from the 1950s onwards – yes, 1950s.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Raymond Potter, 59, a former asbestos stripper who can no longer work because of arthritis and depression, is a regular. He pays in £3.50 a week, and often receives more than £25 worth of food in return, donated by local supermarkets and FareShare, which distributes fresh food shortly before its sell-by date. Before the pantry opened last December, tea bags were such a luxury that Potter used each one twice. He could not afford enough milk for a whole bowl of cereal, so would dilute it with water.[/perfectpullquote]

An 1820s working man’s diet might be potatoes, bread and water. That’s possibly a little extreme but indicative all the same.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Two hundred years earlier, people were going hungry in Middleton after the government introduced the Corn Laws, which imposed tariffs on imported grain, turning bread into the preserve of the rich. “We should have moved on by now, shouldn’t we?” says Michelle Porteus, a Pantry volunteer.[/perfectpullquote]

Well, yes, indeed we should. We should, for example, leave the European Union so as to abolish their Corn Laws which increase the cost of food in these isles. That being the very thing which The Guardian today howls we shouldn’t – despite it originally being set up to campaign for the abolition of those past Corn Laws. But then to expect consistency from the modern liberal, eh?

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The Peterloo protesters were angry that only the richest 10% of men in the country could vote, with a tiny elite getting ever richer while the poorest starved to death. Meanwhile in modern Manchester, an estimated 35% of children grow up in poverty, one of the highest rates of any local authority in England.[/perfectpullquote]

That’s casuistry. As even Barbara Castle* pointed out back in 1959, that actual deprivation, destitution, sort of poverty simply doesn’t exist in Britain today. There just isn’t anyone on the $1.90 a day which was 1820s poverty, which is absolute global poverty today. What we now have is less than 60% of median household income. Which means a household living on less than £40 a day. Hey, maybe that is too much inequality but it’s bloody different from under £1.50 per person per day. And yes, of course those numbers are adjusted for inflation.

And then there’s the bint complaining that at 15 she’s not got the vote.

Seriously, to answer the headline question:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Would the Peterloo marchers be satisfied with today’s Britain?[/perfectpullquote]

They’d think it a sodding paradise you asses. And they’d be right too, on both points.

*Yes, I put Cartland first time around.

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4 years ago

I could, probably, afford a sirloin steak every day if I cut back on other luxuries but I only buy one every two or three weeks because it is a special treat, I cannot remember buying smoked salmon to eat myself; a whole chicken – only if I was cooking to feed someone else. I have no objection to good-hearted people providing these for the poor but to compare that to conditions in 1819?!? The Guardian reporters are so stinking rich that they regard luxuries as commonplace – maybe “The Guardian” would break-even if they paid their reporters a fair… Read more »

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
4 years ago

Good to see you quoting that well-known social commentator, Barbara Cartland. 🙂

Jonathan Harston
Jonathan Harston
4 years ago

1950s, pah! Growing up in the 1970s, chicken was a Sunday Lunch treat, with leftovers eeked out over the week. I can’t believe that today chicken is now cheaper than *corned* *beef*! We grew up on corned beef as dirt-cheap peasant-food protein. Tell 1970s me that I’d be able to buy a whole cooked chicken for 60p in 1970s money (the price of five copies of 2000AD), and I’d think I was dreaming.

4 years ago

‘Two centuries ago a chicken would have been a very posh – very posh indeed – meal for a working man.‘

Not even that long ago. Certainly in my early childhood in the 1950s chicken was only eaten at Christmas as a treat.

Sirloin steak, smoked salmon – poor people with very wealthy tastes. Beyond parody.

4 years ago

The poverty industry and fellow travelers on the left define “poverty” in slippery, ever-changing terms. It is approaching “racist” in being completely useless as a descriptor.

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