How should we remember Peterloo? By fighting for real democracy today

Two hundred years ago today, thousands of working people gathered on St Peter’s Field in Manchester with a simple demand: political representation.

Local magistrates tried to shut down the meeting – and then the cavalry charged on the 60-80,000 present. Many lost their lives.

While it did not result in immediate enfranchisement, in was a pivotal moment in Britain’s democratic history.

Democracy is not static. It must be defended, remade, built on each generation. Two hundred years on from the Peterloo Massacre, it’s time to revive the campaign for a real democracy. When you consider that the majority of Parliamentarians are still unelected – through the House of Lords – you realise how far we have to go. Political trust is at rock-bottom, while millions feel locked out by a decrepit Westminster system.

The past few weeks have shown how unstable our political system is. Boris Johnson is threatening that even if he loses a vote of no confidence, he’ll stay on as PM – or that he’ll call a General Election for after the most extreme version of Brexit has taken place.

With Westminster failing to properly represent Britain today, it’s no wonder we’re in gridlock. But make no mistake: from talk of proroguing (shutting down) Parliament, to a PM ruling without a mandate, our democratic rights are in the firing line.

Our inaugural Politics for the Many conference in Manchester on August 31 is a crucial staging post in this process. Backed by the PCS and TSSA unions, and the Electoral Reform Society, it will bring together hundreds from across the UK to pave a positive way forward.

Speakers at the bicentenary conference will make a progressive case for building a new democratic settlement, with in-depth debates and discussions on our past, future, and what’s next in the campaign for political reform.

Confirmed speakers so far include Paul Mason, writer and commentator, Jon Trickett, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Katy Ashton, Director, Manchester People’s History Museum, alongside Manchester councillor Amna Abdullatif, academics and more.

We have no time to waste. The far-right are capitalising on the feelings of frustration and dislocation people from from politicians. That is why it is vital that the trade unions, the Labour Party, and movements for social change have a plan for a radical overhaul of the democratic system.

If you care about building a real democracy, this event is not to be missed:

  • Lynn Henderson is chair of Politics for the Many and PCS National Officer.

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