Recently I was glancing through ‘England in the Nineteenth Century’ by David Thomson (this book was number eight of nine from ‘The Pelican history of England’ series).
On the five pages given to the Chartist Movement he makes some very basic yet relevant points which I list below with my own comments in italics after each point.
- The roots of the Chartist Movement were partly political and partly economic – A combination of both makes the ‘People’ dissatisfied.
- The mass discontent in Lancashire and Yorkshire were motivated by economic distress and social exploitation of industrialism more than political ideology – People today are still generally too comfortable to bother thinking about political reform.
- Five of their six demands took between 20 and 73 years to enact – The political reforms contained in our six demands are far more complex than the Chartists demands and will take a generation to enact if of course the ‘People’ wake up and demand them.
- The Chartist’s demand that was never enacted was for annual General Elections – Had a system of annual elections been permitted our political system would have become more one of direct rather than parliamentary democracy which is no doubt why politicians didn’t enact it!
- Parliament is sovereign, both in the legal sense that it can pass any law about anything, and in the political sense that nothing the electorate can do can ensure the dismissal of a government or dissolution of a Parliament before the end of its legitimate five-year period in power – Be in no doubt Parliament holds ALL the power and this point alone is why we need our Agenda.
- The Chartist’s demands were supported by the people en masse and then taken up by the Unions and finally political parties – I believe the same sequence is how we will develop.
- After ten years Chartism lost its prominence to the Anti-Corn-Law League – We are currently struggling to compete with Brexit.
- The periods of greatest activity occurred during periods of depression and distress – We still have this to come from a botched Brexit and the likely downturn in the world’s economy.
- Chartism routed in 1848 did three things – It was the first widespread and sustained effort of working-class self-help, second, it was directed to the cause of parliamentary democracy and constitutional reform and third and lastly the impetus it gave to eventual political reform on the one hand and trade union organisation on the other was never wasted. All these three facts about it gave it lasting importance – let’s hope the same will be said of THA in the future!
It is always useful and relevant to consider the lessons from history.