In the hot and humid early evening of yesterday, I trundled down Oxford Road in pursuit of food after work. 8th Day doesn’t seem to be doing evenings now that a substantional chunk of the students have gone home for the summer, so it was the Cornerhouse for me.
From the Cornerhouse I meandered towards Saint Peter’s Square, which is currently under seige because of the metrolink extensions (not started yet, so far as I could tell) and the radical overhaul of the entire area by Manchester City Council. The library and the library theatre have already fled the carnage, the war memorial and Peace Gardens are to be moved. In a few years time the place will be as unrecognisable to the average manc as it would be to a survivor of Peterloo today.
Matt Smith (no, not that one) local historian, political upstart, and – apparently – deputy manager at a branch of Asda, chose this day to mark the occasion of the Peterloo Massacre, a tragedy which occurred on the 16th August 1819, a hot day much like the 5th July apparently.
As with many of the various re-tellings and analysis of Peterloo (a dark satirical reference to the much celebrated victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, which occurred close enough to Peterloo to be in the minds of many at the time), Matt’s piece was an overview coupled with an exploration of the parallels between life for the average person in 1819 and now. There are parallels: a struggling economy, high food prices, and a overwhelming sense that things are going in the wrong direction and the wrong people are being made to suffer… But I always think it risks devaluing the importance of what happened in Saint Peter’s Fields (as they were then) on that day in August 1819 if we overconcentrate on the parallels with today, interesting though they are.
Having said that, Smith did an admirable job when it came to explaining the flaws of capitalism as a model (he likened it to a bus being driven over a cliff, with the surviving passengers having to pay the driver to buy a new bus, which then gets driven over the cliff again, and the process is repeated ad neauseum) and the Rotton Boroughs style political arrangements of 1819 (Manchester had a population of approximately 1 million, only 145 people could vote, and only 1 person could stand as an MP).
You certainly couldn’t fault Smith on enthusiasm and energy, particularly during his agit prop moment as a smug Tory M.P complete with Lib Dem sock puppet, and I did enjoy his description of being filled with hope for the future of political protest upon coming across two men, who had previously been scrapping on the pavement, united by a common hatred, pissing up against a giant billboard of David Cameron just prior to the 2010 elections.
Matt Smith is not The Doctor, but you don’t need a sonic screwdriver to talk about history and politics. If it was 1981 I can’t help but think he would have joined The Gang Of Four instead…
The event is part of the Not Part Of Festival, a fringe festival in Manchester which runs parallel to Manchester International Festival. The name is an abbreviated way of saying ‘Not part of Manchester International Festival’, sort of ‘Off, off Broadway’ or perhaps ‘Off, off Saint Anne’s Square’ in this case.
I picked up a leaflet about the campaign for a proper memorial to the massacre, in which 18 people were killed and over 600 people were injured by sabre cuts and trampling. The previous memorial has always been deemed euphemistic and inadequate, and many, many people, including Mark Thomas, have joined the campaign many years ago to have it removed and a proper memorial put up instead. With the re-development of the square, the council have promised a new memorial, but doubt is being expressed as to whether it will be any better than the previous one. If you would like to read more about the history of Peterloo, and about the campaign for a decent memorial to the events, please click here.