Directed by Mike Leigh and starring Maxine Peake, Peterloo is a gripping film which is shocking and disturbing but throws up several present-day issues writes Jay Kramer.
It is possible that many people do not know about The Massacre of Peterloo which took place in the summer of 1819 in what is now known as Saint Peter’s Square in Manchester.
Approximately 60,000 peaceful demonstrators, who had mobilised with the intention of achieving democracy and the vote, were violently attacked by the cavalry as a result of which an estimated 18 innocent people were killed and 700 men, women and children seriously injured.
At the time, fewer than two per cent of the population were eligible to vote and extreme hunger was experienced by the working class due to the disastrous corn laws which meant that bread had become unaffordable.
Historically, it is acknowledged that Peterloo led to the rise of the Chartist Movement from which developed the Trade Unions, and the establishment of the Manchester Guardian Newspaper.
The Director of the People’s Museum in Manchester, where there is a section dedicated to this event, says that: “Peterloo is a critical event not only because of the number of people killed and injured, but because ultimately it changed public opinion to influence the extension of the right to vote and give us the democracy we enjoy today. It was critical to our freedoms”.
Throughout the film, there is a very strong message that illustrates the demonisation of the working class who are judged to be worthless and expendable by those in power. This attitude provides the justification to attack peaceful demonstrators who had no idea what was in store for them.
Today, unfortunately, this attitude prevails where we have those in power in a position of privilege creating conditions where it has become acceptable for those in work to have no employment rights; such as zero hours contracts and there has been austerity since 2010 resulting in an unprecedented use of foodbanks.
The alarming figures of homelessness, which are visible to us all no matter which town or city we visit in the UK and the deliberate discourse on immigration, which is designed to divide us as a society, has resulted in this surreal process we are currently experiencing of leaving the European Union in just over four months time.
Those of us who condemn this Government for subjecting us to eight years of austerity, who oppose the incarceration of innocent asylum seekers in detention centres and believe in a fair and equal society need to mobilise to change our divided society in the UK through making our voices heard at every level.
Here in Hastings, we have the legacy of Robert Tressell who wrote about conditions for the working classes in his book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. My hope is that by the 200th anniversary of Peterloo next year we will have a change of Government which will ensure that the divisions end and a society which cares about the many and not the few is created.
Jay Kramer is a former deputy leader of Hastings Borough Council and former East Sussex county councillor. She’s a community activist and Labour Party member and officer in Hastings.