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Conspiracy on Cato Street. Vic Gattrell. Review.

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Conspiracy on Cato Street. A Tale of Liberty and Revolution in Regency London. Vic Gattrell.

The Three Graves

by Charles Lamb

Close by the ever-burning brimstone beds
Where Bedloe, Oates and Judas, hide their heads,
I saw great Satan like a Sexton stand
With his intolerable spade in hand,
Digging three graves. Of coffin shape they were,
For those who, coffinless, must enter there
With unblest rites. The shrouds were of that cloth
Which Clotho weaveth in her blackest wrath:
The dismal tinct oppress’d the eye, that dwelt
Upon it long, like darkness to be felt.
The pillows to these baleful beds were toads,
Large, living, livid, melancholy loads,
Whose softness shock’d. Worms of all monstrous size
Crawl’d round; and one, upcoil’d, which never dies.
A doleful bell, inculcating despair,
Was always ringing in the heavy air.
And all about the detestable pit
Strange headless ghosts, and quarter’d forms, did flit,
Rivers of blood, from living traitors spilt,
By treachery stung from poverty to guilt.
I ask’d the fiend, for whom these rites were meant?
“These graves,” quoth he, “when life’s brief oil is spent,
When the dark night comes, and they’re sinking bedwards,
—I mean for Castles, Oliver, and Edwards.”

In 1820 group of ultra radicals in London began planning insurrection. They had talked of “massacring the House of Commons en masse but decided against it” – their neither had the ammunition nor did they wish to kill the innocent alongside the Ministers. By February, meeting in a “mean and ruinous” building in Cato Street, off the Edgeware Road, they had decided on a plan. Around twenty five impecunious men would descend on Lord Harrowby’s mansion in Grosvenor Square where Lord Liverpool’s privy councillors were said to be supping. Armed with pikes, pistols, swords and artisanal grenades they would “murder all they found” in the dining room, The heads of lords Castlereagh and Sidmouth would be removed, stuck on pike-heads, and carried around London. After attacks on Barracks, the Bank of England, Newgate Prison and the Tower of London they would assemble a provisional government in Mansion House.

The plot was undone, Bow Street constables followed, eventually, by Coldstream Guards raided the Cato Street redoubt. A shootout followed. Constable Smithers was felled by a sword thrust by Arthur Thistlewood. Most of the assembly was taken, with some conspirators escaping in the mêlée, to be hunted down in the following weeks. “All England rung with astonishment and horror at this dreadful instance of atrocious depravity..” exclaimed Lord Sidmouth, the instigator of the 1819 Six Acts, “curbing radical journals and meeting as well as the danger of armed insurrection” passed in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre.

Radicals of more measured stripe, dismissed the plans for massacre and a London uprising. such as the radical essayist Leigh Hunt (who had served time in Surrey County Gaol in 1813 to 1815 for seditious libel, describing Prince Regent George “a violator of his word and a disreputable libertine”) showed a degree of understanding. He called the conspirators, “paupers driven by desperation in unconstitutional times”. Yet the wars with France and Napoleon, Gattrell states, had left a large number of dissatisfied people, often in dire economic straits, familiar with the use of weapons, including a number of those caught in the Mews Ally. The fears of the ruling oligarchy, even if ‘loyal’ people seemed numerous, had some basis in the military potential of the poor, working, causally employed, or destitute.

Many more were, as the Charles Lamb poem (“written during the time, now happily forgotten, of the spy system”) illustrates, revolted by the state surveillance and manipulation that spawned Castles, Oliver, and Edwards. The agent provocateur George Edwards had come to the would-be insurrectionists’ meeting venue at Fox Court off Gray’s Inn Road to report on a planted advertisement in the Tory paper New Times announcing the Grosvenor Grand Cabinet Dinner. They went and got a copy. They took the bait. When it was read with “great hilarity”. One present, John Brunt, a badly off shoe-maker, exulted that the event brought together “all the ministers for us to murder them”. The spy-cop reported their violent plans, adding to an already thick dossier on their words and intentions. The Trial brought out other informers and turncoat witnesses.

The trial was short; the sentences were memorable. On 28 April most of the accused were sentenced to be hanged drawn and quartered for high treason. The death sentences of Charles Cooper, Richard Bradburn, John Harrison, James Wilson and John Strange were commuted to transportation for life. Arthur Thistlewood, Richard Tidd, James Ings, William Davidson and John Brunt were hanged at Newgate Prison on the morning of 1 May 1820 “the rooms and windows overlooking the scaffold were rented by monied people for two or three guineas each”. William Davidson prayed, wept and admitted his culpable infamy. “Four of the Cato street men had enough spirit enough on the scaffold to show their contempt for the aristocracy that was set to kill them”. One of the condemned, Ings, shouted “let it be known that I die an enemy to all tyrants!”

The story of the Cato Street has been told before. It is not the case that it has been consigned by leftist or other historians to the “dustbin of history” – a story of marginal figures without legacy in the labour movement’s many wings. Some, at least, of us, principally on the left, know the story that links Tom Paine, the London Corresponding Society, Thomas Spence’s System, common ownership of land and a democratic equality, the Spa Fields (Islington) insurrection of 1816 , and the tragedy of Peterloo. That 1819 massacre hung heavy over the radicals. Some like Arthur Thistlewood who unhinged, marked by flawed character, rows with ‘Orator’ Hunt and others, was not a loner but involved in the radical movements of the time, many familiar to the readers just indicated. He was also unhinged, in 1817, after intemperate missives, challenging the Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth to a duel, “sword or pistol”. This gesture and his truculence resulted in a year in Horsham gaol.

Conspiracy on Cato Street is a path-breaking study, expanding from outlines into richly researched detail. It threads together the plot, the players, not forgetting their wives and offspring, the mixed race black background of two of their members, Wedderburn and Davidson – the afterlife of the informers – helped to prosper in the Cape and elsewhere – with the feel and the tumult of a burgeoning outcast London (not least in that so many of the addresses are familiar), a restricted and corrupted franchise, overshadowed by a Prison system and brutal state. Accustomed as we are to looking at the history of political ideas through texts it is as well to be reminded that speeches and opinions of the Cato Street group of “liberty-minded men” indicated, “less an ideology than a melange of myths, memories, loyalties, slogans and resentment”.

Thistlewood while once a member of the Spencerean Philanthropists made more references to Roman republicanism (the street name link was purely by chance) than either Spencer or the French Revolution. Perhaps the ideas circulating in Cato Street could be said to have something like the churn of a Twitter Feed. Like that, much was “driven by fantasy”.

“The Cato Street Trials and executions dealt revolutionist radicalism a death blow, though not radicalism itself. When first announced, the arrests had amplified the trauma of Peterloo and reverberated across the West Riding of Yorkshire and the Scottish border and midlands where a general strike ended in more hangings and deportations.” Gattrell concludes, “What was left was seething resentment”. The kind of simmering indignation, Ferdinand Mount suggests in his review of this book, may come about in the aftermath of the Boris Johnson regime determined to curb judicial independence, restrict protest and voting, which, he writes, has echoes of the “Castlereagh years” (LRB).

Written by Andrew Coates

July 23, 2022 at 5:11 pm

Boris Johnson to Stand Down.

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In Times of National Crisis one turns to the books and characters of Charles Dickens.

A favourite author of working class readers and the self-educated, if not nearly everybody, borrowed from libraries or bought (The Intellectual Life of the Working Classes. Jonathan Rose. 2001) my Printer (strictly speaking, Corrector of the Press at the Times) Grandfather’s complete set (Chapman & Hall, “with original illustrations”) stands in a book case in the front room. George Orwell wrote one of the best essays on the author of Great Expectations. It begins, “Dickens is one of those writers who are well worth stealing. Even the burial of his body in Westminster Abbey was a species of theft, if you come to think of it.” (CHARLES DICKENS. 1939)

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is playing out the end of a career that it would be hard for even one of the great novelists to grapple with. It would take the creator of the Circumlocution Office, “a heaven-born institution that had an absolute right to do whatever it liked” a mountain of new work to portray the meanderings behind Boris Johnson’s last days.

Yet it is to the Dickins’ characters that one turns to when trying to find a fit for the outgoing Prime Minister and his last band of supporters. Is Johnson something of a Quilp, forever lusting after Little Nell (The Old Curiosity Shop) ? Or is a political and financial fraud? “Mr Merdle was immensely rich; a man of prodigious enterprise; a Midas without the ears, who turned all he touched to gold. He was in everything good, from banking to building. He was in Parliament, of course. He was in the City, necessarily. He was Chairman of this, Trustee of that, President of the other.” Merdle is also the creator of a pyramid scheme which collapses taking people’s savings with it. He ends by committing suicide. (Little Dorrit). The Tory leader lacks the momentary Midas touch of Merdle, and the ‘umble nature of furtive fraudster Uriah Heep (David Copperfield), and outdoes both in crookery, but has something of the dissembling character of these two two swindlers.

Johnson is definitely a cosplay Podsnap, “London is—after Athens and Rome—the third most influential city in history.

If we vote to Leave and take back control, all sorts of opportunities open up. Including doing new free trade deals around the world, restoring Britain’s seat on all sorts of international bodies, restoring health to our democracy and belief to our democracy.

‘It merely referred,’ Mr Podsnap explained, with a sense of
meritorious proprietorship, ‘to Our Constitution, Sir. We
Englishmen are Very Proud of our Constitution, Sir. It Was
Bestowed Upon Us By Providence. No Other Country is so
Favoured as This Country.’

‘And ozer countries?–‘ the foreign gentleman was beginning, when
Mr Podsnap put him right again.

‘We do not say Ozer; we say Other: the letters are “T” and “H;”
You say Tay and Aish, You Know; (still with clemency). The
sound is “th”–“th!”‘

‘And OTHER countries,’ said the foreign gentleman. ‘They do

‘They do, Sir,’ returned Mr Podsnap, gravely shaking his

Our Mutual Friend.

I give up: Johnson is all these villainous creatures and more. One more, the model of insincerity, Seth Pecksniff.

Here is how he ends.

“Do not repine, my friends,” said Mr. Pecksniff, tenderly. “Do not weep for me. It is chronic.” And with these words, after making a futile attempt to pull off his shoes, he fell into the fireplace. (Martin Chuzzlewitz)


Written by Andrew Coates

July 7, 2022 at 11:21 am

Go Slow Fuel Protest Disrupts Motorways: Has A Real British Gilets Jaunes Movement Finally Arrived?

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Will Left Back “A fuel protest  involving hauliers and business owners” ?

Protesters have begun to target motorways in Wales, Essex and Devon, in a demonstration over high fuel prices” reports the BBC.

This will remind people of the traditional French “opération escargot” protest, snarling up traffic to reduce it to a snail’s pace, to back demands – often by farmers – on the government. Not to say the Gilets Jaunes’ call for lower fuel taxes, “Protesters calling themselves the ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow vests) are due to block roads and cause traffic chaos in France on Saturday November 17th in a show of anger over rising fuel prices and taxes..”. (2018)

Police have warned there could be “serious disruption throughout the day” as protesters call for a cut to fuel duty.

The action is mainly targeting three-lane motorways and is seeing convoys of vehicles driving slowly in two lanes – leaving the “fast” outside lane free.

The protests began in England and Wales shortly after 07:00 BST.

Rolling roadblocks have brought parts of the M4 to a standstill with convoys travelling towards the Prince of Wales Bridge, which crosses the River Severn between England and Wales, from both directions.

Gwent Police Superintendent Tom Harding said the force was seeing “significant delays”.

Cambridgeshire Live reports.

The protests are understood to have been organised on social media under the banner “Fuel Price Stand Against Tax”, reports the PA. A public Facebook group that comes under this name has reached 49.1K members, and the number is increasing fast.

Sky News has also reported that rolling road block demonstrations in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire have been organised by a Selby-based group called UK Fuel Action. The description of a Facebook group under this name reads: “UK Fuel Action is an informative news channel, supporting unfair UK fuel pricing. Although we fully support peaceful demonstrations are not in any way affiliated with any regional protests.” The public group has reached 42.4K members.


Reduce the tax on fuel by at least 30% to ease the rising cost burden.

Political Blackout started this petition to UK Parliament and 1 other

Fuel prices around the world are rising along with the crisis of inflation. The government has within its power a way to ease the burden that doesn’t require spending money.

Just over 50% of the price of fuel is taxation, the government could drive down the cost of fuel at the pump by reducing the tax we pay at the pump.

This petition is a call for the government to reduce to tax burden by a minimum of 30% to bring fuel prices down to pre Ukraine/Russian war levels. 

In doing this the government will show they care about the cost of living and care about the citizens of this country. The cost of fuel has knock on effects to many different things such and food costs, travel costs, delivery costs just to name a few. The government could ease a lot of pressure during a time of high inflation. This crisis will effect everyone especially the poorest in society who are living paycheck to paycheck. 

Please sign this petition so it has a chance to be part of the conversation and discussion on how we can reduces the burden of rising prices and maybe put pressure of the government to act in the British citizens best interests.

Like the Gilets Jaunes this movement has a political origins that are far from clear, and includes leading figures who are far from the left or the labour movement.


Howard Cox is co-founder and PR advisor of Kent-based pressure group Fair Fuel UK. Launched in 2011, the organisation campaigns to reduce charges on petrol and diesel vehicles, most notably fuel duty. On Fair Fuel’s website, Cox and co-founder Quentin Willson claim to have “saved drivers over £110bn in planned tax hikes in duty and VAT through constructive and objective campaigning”. [2] Willson cut ties with Fair Fuel UK in September 2021, accusing it of spreading “old urban myths” about electric vehicles and saying he was “unhappy with the direction the lobby group was going and their lack of environmental sensibilities”.

Fair Fuel is funded by industry groups Logistics UK and the Road Haulage Association, both listed as “founding backers” on its website. The group claims on its homepage to represent “The real independent and not for profit voice in Westminster for 37m UK drivers, who want clean air too, but want this accomplished without being demonised, blamed and continually treated as easy cash cows”. [2]

Cox and Willson appear regularly in the national media to campaign against increases in fuel duty. Cox is regularly quoted in publications including The Sun and the Daily Express

More on Fair Fuel:

Fair Fuel UK is a Kent-based lobbying group that campaigns to reduce charges on diesel and petrol powered vehicles, most notably fuel duty. It claims to have the support of 140 MPs and “key media”, as well as 1.7 million members of the public.

The group has frequently cast doubt on the health impacts of air pollution and argues that diesel vehicles have been unfairly demonised. It strongly opposes charging Clean Air Zones (CAZ) and claims there are more effective solutions such as fuel additives and bioethanol, which campaigners have rejected as inadequate.

Fair Fuel UK has also been a vocal opponent of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and other traffic reduction measures.

Fair Fuel says it has “saved drivers over £100bn in planned tax hikes in duty and VAT through constructive and objective campaigning” since 2010. It opposes what it calls the “perennial demonisation of van drivers, hauliers and motorists”, according to its website.

The group is led by motoring journalist and former Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson and political lobbyist Howard Cox.

The group’s most vocal supporter in parliament has been former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and Harlow MP Robert Halfon, who co-organised a petition against fuel duty rises with the group when it first launched in 2011.

In the 2019 general election, the group encouraged its supporters to vote for the Conservative Party, warning that a victory for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party would bring in a “pathologically anti-motorist political era”.

APPG on Fair Fuel for Motorists and Hauliers

Until the 2019 general election, Fair Fuel administered the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Fair Fuel for Motorists and Hauliers, which aimed to “represent major issues that impact on UK drivers, from motorists to hauliers”. It listed examples including “fuel taxation, congestion and toxic charges, parking costs, roads investment, fairer treatment for diesel owners, solutions to lower emissions, cleaner fuel incentives and transparent pricing at the fuel pumps”.

The APPG was chaired by Scottish Conservative MP Douglas Ross and Labour, SNP, DUP and independent MPs all held named positions.

The SNP’s Westminster spokesperson on Energy and Climate Change Alan Brown was an Officer of the group, while the Conservative Chair of the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Julian Knight was one of 11 Vice Chairs.

It called for the creation of a consumer watchdog to monitor fuel prices at petrol stations, according to Fair Fuel’s website, which still promotes the campaign.


Fair Fuel is funded through donations from supporters, as well as from its “founding backers” the Freight Transport Association (now Logistics UK) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

It also fundraises by selling vehicle stickers and has taken sponsorship from Ultimum5, a company that sells a fuel catalyst that it argues could be an “emissions solution” for internal combustion engines.

Andy Carloman runs Telford based Total Property Care. 

The Confusionist left are already jumping abord:

Will the Socialist Party follow this up and back the hauliers and businessmen?

£2 a litre fuels working-class anger.

Tens of thousands marched as part of the TUC demonstration on 18 June, and strikes are spreading. Public anger has manifested itself in other ways too, like the 2,000 motorists that took part in a ‘go slow’ protest, organised on Facebook, which disrupted traffic on the A1 in the north east of England.

Further motorway protests for 4 July are being discussed on social media to draw attention to rising fuel prices and the impact on working-class people’s lives.

In the year 2000, there were nationwide protests including blockades at oil refineries, fuel depots and on major roads due to the prospect of petrol prices rising to 82p per litre. (1)

Those who keep their heads note this:

(1) “The first major protest in 2000 was primarily led by independent lorry owner-operators. One group of lorry owner-operators from the South East of England formed a protest group called “TransAction” that protested at oil refineries and fuel depots in Essex. Protests and blockades of oil facilities caused widespread disruption to the supply of petroleum products. The aim of the protests was to secure a reduction in the fuel duty rate on petrol and diesel, which the government refused to enact. After the protest ended, the government did announce a freeze on fuel duties, and promised changes would be made to the way that goods vehicles were taxed, which would include the taxing of foreign vehicles operating on British roads.

Subsequent protests have not had as significant an impact but did result in panic buying in 2005, and again in 2007.

Ongoing protests are taking place in the United Kingdom in 2022 as a result of record high fuel prices due to the the war in Ukraine.  “

Written by Andrew Coates

July 4, 2022 at 11:27 am

Posted in British Govern

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