What a brilliant piece of political ephemera - from 150 years ago, and relating to my own back yard. Many thanks to the wonderfully named Bloomsbury booksellers, Jarndyce - yes, it's an allusion to Dickens's Bleak House - for providing me both with this prize item (at a price to match, naturally) and the high quality image above.
This is a programme for a Reform League procession to the Agricultural Hall in Islington's Upper Street, just a couple of miles from where I live. They were a nationwide, and very effective, campaign organisation which demanded an extension of the franchise and the introduction of the secret ballot. The Second Reform Act of 1867 didn't deliver the manhood suffrage they sought but it more than doubled the number of those eligible to vote (a property restriction remained, but male borough householders and lodgers who paid £10 or more in rent a year now qualified to vote). The Ballot Act followed in 1872. It was another half century, 1918 to be precise, before any women got the vote in Parliamentary elections
The Reform League was largely middle class-led, but artisan radicals and the craft trade societies also rallied to its standard. In central London (and Holborn most notably) several of the League's branches were notoriously left-wing, extending to sympathy for Republicanism and for the Irish nationalist 'Fenian' movement. Some of London's radical working men's clubs, such as the Patriotic on Clerkenwell Green - it's now the Marx Memorial Library - were born out of Reform League branches.
The legend 'God Save the Queen!', in capitals at the bottom of the programme, was clearly intended to emphasise the League's loyalty to the Crown, whatever some of its more wayward members might have spouted from their Sunday morning speaking platforms.
You can see from this programme how important the trade societies were to the Reform League - and also the care the League took in ensuring that its processions were well arranged and effectively marshalled. They even had mounted marshals (in other words, on horseback) - among their number was my old friend Samuel Brighty. Many years (sorry, decades) ago I started a doctoral thesis about popular politics in Clerkenwell in just this period (the chapter on the Reform League was finished, which is more than can be said for the wider thesis - details on request). Brighty was one of several local radical notables (in his case a member of the Clerkenwell Vestry) who engaged my attention. He famously gave evidence to the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes of 1884-5, but that's another story ...
I did wonder whether the 'Mr Coffey' who is also listed as a marshal might be William Cuffay, the noted black Chartist activist, Not so - Cuffay, whose father was from St Kitt's, was deported to Tasmania and elected to stay there at the end of his sentence. He died there in 1870.
I just love political ephemera - and this is really choice. It dates from 1818. And there's quite a story behind it.
Francis Burdett - Westminster School, Oxford and a Baronet to boot - was perhaps an unlikely reformer, but in the early 1800s he became an outspoken and radical advocate of political reform and a wider, much wider, franchise. In the unreformed Parliament of those times, who could vote varied from constituency to constituency. There was no standard qualification for the franchise. In one 'rotten' borough, the electorate was just six. But in Westminster, it was much more extensive. More than 10,000 constituents had the right to vote - a long way from manhood suffrage, never mind the issue of disenfrachised women, but much better than most seats. It was also a two member constituency, so those who were eligible had two votes to cast.
In 1807, Sir Francis Burdett stood for election - somewhat reluctantly - in the Westminster constituency. He topped the poll - very comfortable so. It was a triumph for political radicalism. The story in outline is told here. He stood again in 1818. Polling was in those days a protracted, and public (no secret ballot), process. This slip reflects the final result - Burdett was elected again, but as you will see he didn't do quite as well as a decade earlier, and failed to top the poll. Nevertheless in the excited political times after the Napoleonic Wars, his re-election was a reaffirmation of popular support for political reform.
In some ways, Burdett was a precursor of the Chartist movement which sprang up in the late 1830s. But by then, the Great Reform Act of 1832 had at least begun the process of Parliamentary and political reform.
So this slightly tatty piece of paper is a memento of one of the high water marks of English radicalism. I bought it from a specialist dealer. Thanks Richard!
British Museum website (Creative Commons): Above the design: 'Westminster Election June 18th 1818'. Across the design extends a section of the hustings at Covent Garden with a central upright on which is a placard: '1st Day / State of Poll / Romilly—189 / Maxwell—176 / Burdett—87 / Kinnaird 25 / Hunt 14 / Cartwright 10'. At the base of the design is a fringe of upturned proletarian heads, their words ascending in labels
Sir Francis Burdett is a curious figure in the annals of British radicalism. He was much feted in the first two decades of the century - but by the 1840s, he was representing a seat in Wiltshire and was regarded as a Tory. Hey ho!
Burdett has an interesting life. As a young man, he had a long affair with Lady Oxford (who in turn was one of Byron's lover) and he happened to be in Paris during the early stages of the French Revolution. He married into the Coutts banking family. His daughter Angela Burdett-Coutts (she had to change her surname to include 'Coutts' as a condition for inheriting her grandfather's fortune) became a noted philanthropist. Burdett also brought up two sons of his friend. Roger O'Connor, an Irish nationalist. One of these became the renowned Chartist leader, Feargus O'Connor; the other, Francisco Burdett O'Connor, fought alongside Bolivar in South America.
So that's quite a swathe of nineteenth century history reflected in just one family.
In the past month, I've been to a mosque at Cordoba in southern Spain ... to a convent and mission hospital in Kashmir ... and now to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Scotland.
Samye Ling, founded in 1967 and the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre in the West, is in one of the most remote corners of the Scottish Lowlands - near Eskdalemuir on the long, lonely road from Langholm to Selkirk. I went there to interview the abbot, Lama Yeshe Rinpoche, about his memories of Freda Bedi (Sister Palmo). That was hugely worthwhile, but so was the opportunity to spend 24 hours in this serene spot, now very much on the Scottish tourist trail.
I went to a couple of hour-long meditation sessions in the shrine room, and really appreciated them. On both occasions I was intrigued by the discipline of the monk (you can see him on the right in the photo above) who remained motionless through both sessions Later, I discovered his secret ...
The centre lies on the banks of the Esk, and there are riverside walks as well as a kitchen garden, Tibetan tea rooms, lakes and stupas. The well stocked shop sells everything from devotional literature to woollen shawls.
And among the bird life - I know the photos aren't great, so just take my word - were tiny coal tits crowding round the bird feeder, and a dipper in the river making repeated jaunts into the fast-flowing water
You don't often get a revolutionary funeral in London these days. Not sure you ever did. But there was one today. I stumbled across it when is passed by my front door - a cortege of a couple of thousand at least on its way to Highgate Cemetery.
The mourners told me the funeral was for a member of the YPG, a mainly Kurdish left-wing militia fighting in Syria against ISIS. It seems to have been the cortege of Mehmet Aksoy, a British-Kurdish film-maker and activist who was killed in Raqqa a few weeks ago.
It was an impressively well organised and drilled procession - many bore flags demanding the release from a Turkish jail of Abdullah Ocalan, a founder of the militant Kurdish group, the PKK.
There is something quite remarkable, noble perhaps, in the actions of Kurdish groups fighting in Syria and in the feminism and radicalism that underpins their activism. I suspect they will not get the reward they want most - their own Kurdish nation state.
... but it's a start, surely!
So, to mark the exact centenary today of the Bolshevik Revolution which swept Lenin to power in Russia - OK, that's just a coincidence, but a happy coincidence - I was given a wonderful box load, yes a box full, of political badges! 520 of them. When I got them home, the first thing I did was a take a long look at them all and count them.
The badge he's holding reads: 'get britain OUT of common market'. He voted 'no' in the 1975 referendum. More than that, as a student at the old Polytechnic of North London he decorated the streets of Holborn and Kentish Town to help get the message across.
The slogan, as he remembers it: 'Say NO to the Common Market, and YES to the world'. Good try - but the referendum vote went the other way.
Werrner's spell in student politics were elongated by his success in getting elected, several times, to sabbatical student union posts. His collection suggests that he accumulated badges at the rate of a couple a week for quite a few years. It's a great collection - and a real insight into the web of interlocking causes and issues which engaged the left (not the far left, as Werrner points out - the Trots regarded the Broad Left as unspeakably right wing) at a time when it still mattered.
You may be wondering what 520 political badges in a box looks like. Here you go:
There's lots of beauties - and rarities- among them ... and some real iconic images. Here are a few of my favourites:
Along with this treasure trove came a box load of Leeds Postcards - the brand leader in radical and alternative postcards. It was founded in 1979, the year of Margaret Thatcher's first general election triumph, and it's happily still going. Here's just a tiny sample:
But a century on, let's give the final word to Comrade Lenin. Among the collection is this badge of Lenin and Trotsky together, produced by the Young Socialists (not the Labour Party's Young Socialists I suspect, but the WRP's youth group with the same name). Viva!
LATER: And that phrase 'Wearing Badges is Not Enough' - it comes from a Billy Bragg song from the mid-1980s. Here are the lyrics in full:
Days Like These (U.K. Version)
The party that became so powerful by sinking foreign boats
Is dreaming up new promises because promises win votes
And being resolute in conference with the ad man's expertise
The majority by their silence shall pay for days like these
The right to build communities is back behind closed doors
'Tween government and people stands the right arm of the law
And shame upon the patriot when the mark of the Bulldog Breed
Is a family without a home and a pensioner in need
Those whose lives are ruled by dogma are waiting for a sign
The Better Dead Than Red Brigade are listening on the line
And the liberal, with a small L cries in front of the TV
And another demonstration passes on to history
Peace, bread, work, and freedom is the best we can achieve
And wearing badges is not enough in days like these
Dina Wadia died today at the impressive age of 98. She was the only child of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan - though there was a breach between the two when she did as her father did and married a non-Muslim. She strenuously avoided public attention. But after five years of striving, I managed to meet her in her apartment off Madison Avenue in New York in September 2002.
I was in the US to cover the first anniversary of 9/11, and Dina said I could come over. She lived in the sort of exclusive apartment building where you didn't get into the lobby, never mind beyond it, unless you were expected. She wouldn't allow me to record an interview - she insisted nothing should be on-the-record - she wouldn't permit herself to be photographed ... though she relented as I was leaving, and let me take a photo of a life size, full length portrait of her painted in London in 1943 when she was expecting her son, the businessman Nusli Wadia. (Alas, the photo didn't come out too well.)
With her death I am released from the bonds of confidentiality - and while there's nothing particularly surprising about what she said, I can at least set it down.
I was struck as soon as she opened the door by her appearance. She was spry and petite, wearing bright red lipstick - and with her high cheekbones and aquiline nose, and somewhat imperious expression, she looked strikingly like her father.
Indeed, I remember the shock of that first glance upon her - her father's daughter.
Dina Wadia was charming and friendly. She showed me a photo of her beautiful mother, Rattanbai 'Ruttie' Petit, a Parsi, who died when her daughter was nine. She was brought up largely by her maternal grandmother.
On her desk was a photo of her father. She spoke of her pride in Jinnah. Yes, they had quarelled over her marriage to Neville Wadia - who was born a Parsi but converted to Christianity - but they made it up, and often spoke and wrote to each other. She says her father rang her from Delhi to say "We've got it!" when he won the Muslim League's demand for Pakistan. Her own temperament and personality, she reckoned, came more from her father than her mother.
Dina never made her home in Pakistan. She told me that Bombay was her city - though she has spent long periods in London as well as New York. She went to Pakistan for her father's funeral in 1948, and twice more to visit her Aunt Fatima, Jinnah's sister, but when we met she hadn't set foot in Pakistan since Fatima's death in 1967.
She said she had been invited many times, by Benazir Bhutto and others, but had persistently refused - she didn't want to be used as a mascot. She complained of leaders who had 'robbed' the country and warned that democracy hadn't flourished in any Muslim country.
(Two years after we met, she did return to Karachi and visited her father's mausoleum as well as taking part in a touch of cricket diplomacy.)
Dina ran through a checklist of independence era leaders - she had warm memories of Gandhi, who her father liked; she said that Sardar Patel was 'straight'; but she regarded Nehru as easily flattered and not her father's equal; while Mountbatten, she said, was simply 'untrustworthy'.
As for Jinnah's reputation, and the manner in which he is commemorated across Pakistan, she told me she didn't like the way her father was 'worshipped'.
And with that I was ushered out - but the memory of the encounter has remained with me, I made notes as soon as I got back to my New York hotel room and I have them in front of me as I write.
I am sad to hear of her death. There was something remarkable about her - and with her passing, just about the last remaining link with South Asia's independence era leaders has been broken.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!