This year marks the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre: a crucial event in Britain’s difficult path to democracy that is often woefully under-acknowledged. To commemorate the event, Make Votes Matter is launching a new report and taking part in a series of events where we will make the case that in memory of those who died at Peterloo, we must continue the fight for a better democracy in the 21st Century.
What was the Peterloo Massacre?
On August 16th 1819, a huge crowd turned out in Manchester to call for universal suffrage and fair representation in Parliament. Having faced severe impoverishment following the Napoleonic Wars, exacerbated by the disastrous Corn Laws, working class people realised that nothing would change without Parliamentary representation. Over 60,000 people - half the population of Manchester and its surrounding towns - marched on St Peter’s Field in Manchester to demand reform. At the time, this was the largest public meeting that Britain had ever seen.
The local authorities, fearing a French-style revolution, panicked. Local magistrates ordered the speakers to be arrested and in the panic the local Yeomanry attacked the crowd. The peaceful demonstration, made up of men, women and children, turned to chaos. The crowd tried to flee but found their exits blocked. In all, around 700 people were injured and 18 died. Most of the victims were trampled, hit by truncheons, or sabred by soldiers on horseback.
Why is the Peterloo Massacre significant?
Whilst the Peterloo marcher’s demands were not met until many years after 1819, the massacre rapidly altered public opinion. Many people who were opposed to parliamentary reform were shocked by the brutality of official repression, which was reported widely in the press. This shift in opinions set Britain on its path to democracy, starting with the first MPs granted to Manchester in 1832.
The Peterloo Massacre is also significant because it showed that working class people understood the links between democracy and their living conditions. They realised that whilst only the landed gentry had access to political institutions, economic decisions would never be made in their interests. At Make Votes Matter, we believe we should continue to think in this spirit. Until we have a voting system which guarantees equal votes to everyone, politics will not be run for the benefit of all of society.
Join the commemorative march and rally on Sunday 18th August
To commemorate the massacre, Make Votes Matter is forming a bloc at the Peterloo Bicentenary March for Democracy on Sunday 18th August. We will follow one of the routes taken by the Peterloo protestors to March into Manchester, before joining with other organisations for a rally in Albert Square - feet away from the site of the massacre.
The Make Votes Matter bloc will be meeting at Alexandra Park, at the corner of Claremont Road and Princess Road, at around 11.30am. We will then depart at 12pm to Albert Square for the rally beginning at 1pm.
This promises to be a family-friendly day, with interesting cross-party speakers and entertainment. It will also be a great opportunity to reach out to potential supporters - we will need all hands on deck to hand out our leaflets along the route and to the crowd in Albert Square!
Why not make your own banner?
One of the most striking aspects of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 was the array of banners held by protestors. Banners recorded included phrases such as “Equal Representation or Death”, “Taxation without Representation is Tyrannical” and “No Boroughmongering”.
Make Votes Matter will be bringing our usual banners, plus placards to hand out to everyone who wants one, but why not have a go at making your own banner? Let your creative side out and let people know why you are remembering Peterloo!
NEW REPORT: Peterloo 200: The Path to Proportional Representation
Alongside the rally, we are launching a report to tell the story of the Peterloo Massacre, as well as putting it in the context of future campaigns for democracy. Throughout British history, democratic representation and political and economic outcomes have been deeply linked. Our report will make the case that by adopting Proportional Representation, we can end the democratic inequality of FPTP and alter society so it works in the interests of the many, not the few.
The report will draw on research by multidisciplinary academics, including a foreword by a prominent figure, as well as publishing original research on the relationship between the voting system and economic rights in countries around the world. Our research shows that introducing a proportional voting system can be the first step towards creating a more democratic society and economy, as well as taking action on crucial issues such as the climate crisis, income inequality and creating a more peaceful world.
Be the first to get your hands on the report - join our launch event!
After the rally on 18th August, we will be meeting in Albert Square Chop House to discuss the case for Proportional Representation and to launch the report. Further event details are yet to be confirmed, but we will start at around 4pm with speakers, entertainment and drinks to celebrate the report’s launch.
Whether you are able to come to the rally or not, we would love to see you for this afternoon - commemorating Peterloo, making the case for PR and discussing how we will succeed. There will be copies of the report available for a donation, so you can be among the first to read the case for democratic reform, 200 years on from the Peterloo Massacre.
The upcoming Peterloo commemorations are an opportunity to remember our ancestors who fought for democracy - as well as a rallying call for today’s democracy campaigners.