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How about taking time to remember the George’s Field Massacre.

May 10, 2014

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George’s Field Massacre, 10 May 1768.

John Wilkes returned from exile to stand for election to Middlesex in 1768. He surrendered to the King’s Bench in April where outstanding charges against him could be heard. He was duly sentenced to two year’s imprisonment and dispatched to the King’s Bench Prison. His supporters gathered, on this day, at St George’s Fields where troops, having read the riot act, opened fire on the unarmed crowd, killing six or seven of them. The whole event was a grisly dress rehearsal for the more horrific Peterloo Massacre fifty years later.

Wilkes had been outlawed five years earlier for his attack on the King’s Speech, an event which illustrated (not for the last time) how party political measures can immunise themselves from proper scrutiny and criticism by sheltering under the authority of “the crown”. Act II in the great drama of Wilkes’ career concerned his attempts to be reverse his expulsion from parliament in 1769. The electors of Middlesex repeatedly voted him in, but parliament continued to exclude him. In the great pamphlet wars that followed, the status of parliament itself became critically interrogated. Is parliament a sort of private club, with an exclusive right to determine the terms by which its members are elected (or selected)? Or, here’s an idea –  does parliament have an overriding responsibility to “the people” (however defined)? Is the electorate merely one mechanism for creating MPs? Or, here’s an idea –  is parliament itself responsible to the electorate and bound to respect its wishes?

Perhaps it’s about time somebody started to write some stuff down to get things clear.

On this day, important events in the ongoing and incomplete history of democracy were set in train. Worth celebrating, or at least taking time out to argue about?. Worth a bank holiday? tomorrow?  I’ve heard worse suggestions.  Recently..

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