Full text of my letter to the Guardian

This was in response to Simon Jenkins's article on the history of protest in Britain.

Simon Jenkins disparages the long history of non-violent protest in Britain. Surely we should be proud, rather than ashamed, of the fact that most protesters seek to "cause a genteel nuisance without breaching the law"? The essence of democracy, in contrast to tyrannical regimes abroad, is the right to peaceful protest. When protesters do turn violent, they are rightly denounced by the majority.

Jenkins suggests that the Peterloo massacre and Chartism were failures because they did not lead to a "national uprising". This not only denigrates the memory of those who did lose their lives in the fight for the vote, but also misinterprets a major point of the radical movement. "Moral force" protesters saw that "physical force" would lead the government to military oppression. They believed that parliament would grant them their demands because of their peacefulness and loyalty, rather than because they threatened revolution.

Demonstrations and marches are not just about a selfish desire for "self-expression" or self-interest, as Jenkins claims. They involve a genuine desire for parliament to listen to the people and to respond reasonably. Parliament's intractability surely provides even more reason for protesters to express discontent rather than to stay at home and give the impression of apathy.


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