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:
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.
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.
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.
An 1820s working man’s diet might be potatoes, bread and water. That’s possibly a little extreme but indicative all the same.
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.
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?
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.
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:
Would the Peterloo marchers be satisfied with today’s Britain?
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.