6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Absorbing, but over-comfortable in its conclusions,
This review is from: A Radical History of Britain: Visionaries, Rebels and Revolutionaries - The Men and Women Who Fought for Our Freedoms (Hardcover)
This is an absorbing if ultimately limited account of the major episodes in British history in which popular movements have ranged themselves against the Government of the day to press for socio-economic and political change. From Magna Carta (which Vallance puts into perspective as something rather less than the mythical foundation-stone of our freedom that it has since become), through more genuinely revolutionary moments like the 1381 Peasants' Revolt, Cade's and Kett's rebellions of the following two centuries (all put down with savage force), the author pauses to dwell at some length on the Civil War, and the challenges posed by the Diggers and Levellers in the 1650s. There's then a curious historical lull until the late 18th/early 19th centuries, when Tom Paine and an upsurge of revolutionary fervour abroad lead us on to Luddism and the hideous state brutality of Peterloo and the Six Acts, and the repression of Tolpuddle. In his in-depth analysis of Chartism and the Suffragettes (on whom he is particularly illuminating), Vallance is at his most interesting, showing how universal suffrage, rather than revolutionary change, became the dominant and enduring theme of protest.
He broadens the insights from this analysis into a general, and (it seems to me) over-comfortable conclusion that gradualism is `the British way' of bringing about political change. There is, sadly, a frustrating absence of reflection on how contemporary protest conforms (or not) to this thesis, with little detail on anything later than the Cable Street riots. Despite this, Vallance ends his book with a solemn warning that, as Parliament has regularly shown itself to be no friend of the people, it is up to the people to be vigilant in ensuring that rights hard won over the centuries are not lost at a stroke of the legislature's pen. A fascinating tour of some of the uncomfortable but necessary way-stations on the route to the state we're presently in - though of course it remains to be seen whether his gradualist thesis will hold...