Peter Rhodes on Peterloo, teaching history properly and the tyranny of terms and conditions

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Time for a national T&C day?

Mike Leigh

INTERVIEWED in the wind, rain and mud of the bank-holiday Leeds Festival, one bright young thing said of the event: "If you keep your expectation low, then it always meets it." So young, so wise.

NEW students at Edinburgh University will be invited to wear badges indicating the pronoun by which they would like to be addressed, in order to prevent the "misgendering" of trans people. We live in an enlightened world where young people know all about transgender issues. But how many of them know what a pronoun is?

ANYWAY, the new students will have the choice to be known as he, she or they. Seems a bit unfair on those of us who would like to be known as "it". Rhodes? It's a pillock, isn't it?

HEY, Google. I have just accepted your latest interminable slab of terms and conditions by clicking the "Agree" panels in less than three seconds. This means I cannot possibly have read them. I know it. You know it. Over to you.

IN fact, we ought to have a national T&C day when we all read every single word of the terms and conditions, no matter how long it takes. The cyber-industry would be frightened to death.

THE director Mike Leigh says he had never heard of Peterloo, the massacre of 15 unarmed citizens by sabre-wielding soldiers in Manchester, until he began researching his new film of the same name which is to be unveiled in Venice this week. I find this puzzling. It may suit today's narrative to pretend there has been some sort of cover-up of the infamous 1819 tragedy but it really doesn't wash. Leigh had a good education at Salford Grammar School. Is he seriously telling us that Peterloo was never mentioned in class? I went to a similar grammar school and our standard text book, An Illustrated History of Modern Britain 1783-1964, carries a full and vivid description of the Peterloo Massacre, its causes, casualties and consequences: "In an instant, men, women and children were being battered and slashed by sabres." No mystery, no cover-up. Maybe you weren't paying attention, Mike.

LEIGH is right, however, in urging schools to teach today's kids about Peterloo. As he says, it was "a major, major event which resonated down the 19th century into the 20th century in the context of democracy and suffrage.” But the most important lesson is that after the slaughter in Manchester there were no more Peterloos in England. The 19th century was an age of revolution across our continent. The great cities of Europe saw riots and unrest, with the military slaughtering the people on a scale that dwarfs the Manchester massacre. In France, Russia, Germany and Spain, the dead were counted in tens of thousands.

THE fact that we English have to go back 200 years to find an atrocity like Peterloo, shows what an exceptionally peaceful, tolerant and settled country we live in. Yes, it's a pity we don't teach our history better.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world


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