Saturday, 27 November 2010

Now why would anyone want this history to be forgotten?

Yesterday (Friday 26th November) I visited The People’s History Museum, just off Deansgate in the Spinningfields district of Manchester - which is¸ quite fittingly, on the Left Bank of the Irwell. Unfortunately, my happiness at discovering such a fascinating and inspiring place was tempered by sadness at the news that it now faces closure due to the withdrawal of government funding.

The museum occupies a beautiful modern building which, like Manchester as a whole, embraces both the 21st century and its 19th Century industrial roots in both its construction and its outlook. It has 3 floors with two permanent exhibitions, and several temporary ones, which cover one of the most significant periods in the history of our country, from the birth of Great Britain as the world’s first industrial power, through the rise of modernity and on into the globalised future. Its focus is on the events, and the people who triggered wave after wave of social reform, organisation and progress which transformed the lives of tens of millions of people, and quite literally changed the world.

Beginning with the immediate effects of the Industrial Revolution, it covers not the rise of Empire, or its wars and conquests, but rather the struggle of ordinary people to win basic civil and human rights, the right to be free, the right to be heard, the right to vote, the right to be treated as equals and protected under the law, the right to work, the right to be educated, the right to treated when sick, sheltered when homeless and cared for when we are no longer capable of looking after ourselves. Rights that every single one of us takes for granted today.

The exhibits give wonderful insight into the movements that that shaped this transformation; Chartists, Trade Unionists, Suffragettes, the people who dedicated their lives to abolishing slavery, reforming a political system that concentrated all power in the hands of a tiny minority, bringing the electoral franchise to the masses, winning equality for women, for children, for people with disabilities, for ethnic, religious, political or sexual minorities, and above all for building a society that guarantees all of its people a decent standard of living. It also highlights the pivotal role that Manchester, the city and its people, have played in this transformation of Great Britain, from a land of peasants and nobles into the bustling 21st century multi-culture that we know today.

A transformation that, to be frank, is still ongoing and still has much to achieve!

Which brings me back to my original question, why would anyone want this history to be forgotten?

The Political Right frequently bemoan the lack of celebration of English or British culture and heritage; they would have us believe that we are no longer allowed to be proud of our history or of our cultural identity for fear of being called a racist or a nationalist. Well I will tell you, our heritage, our history and our cultural identity are alive and well, you can find their roots in The People’s History Museum, and although there is much left to achieve, there is still so much to be very proud of indeed!

So it is ironic, that although we are once again in the hands of the Political Right, they would wish to close down a museum that celebrates our cultural heritage, and the fantastic progress we have made in a relatively short span of time.

Is it, perhaps, that they long for time before the ordinary people had a say in how they are treated, and on how the country is run? Is it true that the values they wish to conserve are those that allow people to be enslaved, for women to be subjugated, for the majority to live with crippling poverty while a few reap enormous rewards?

Sadly I believe that this exactly the case!

The People’s History Museum is one of eight “non-national” museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield and the National Football Museum in Preston, which are now facing closure due to withdrawal of their funding in the public spending cuts. I would urge as many people as possible to visit these repositories of our culture and our heritage, they are hugely interesting and entertaining, admission is free so take your kids , have a drink and a snack in the coffee shops on site, leave a donation and tell your friends and family to do the same.

There is also a petition you can sign which will accompany a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron signed by prominent MP’s, Councillors, writers and historians arguing that this cut should be reversed while there is plenty of money for fat cat’s bonuses, banking bailouts, nuclear weapons and uncollected corporation tax. I would ask everyone to sign the petition as soon as possible and to spread to the word far and wide.

Thanks for reading.


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