Daily archives: December 4, 2008

The Great Lord Cochrane and the Astonishing Ignorance of New Labour

I appeared on Sky News yesterday to talk about the Damian Green case (by webcam from Accra), and was simply stunned when another guest on the programme, some idiot from labourhome.com, cited the arrest of an MP in the chamber of the House of Commons in 1815 as justification for police treatment of Damian Green. That excuse is being spread by New Labour across the media and blogosphere.

When this blog was very new, on 8 August 2005, I wrote that: “These are the most dangerous times for liberty in the UK since the government of Lord Liverpool”.


I never for a moment thought that I would see New Labour use one of the most infamous acts of Lord Liverpool’s ultra-reactionary government to justify their behaviour.

The MP arrested was Lord Thomas Cochrane. He was arguably the greatest fighting sailor the World has ever produced – very serious military historians will argue that he was even more daring and innovative than Nelson. This is from the official MOD website:


Cochrane was also a Radical. He was elected to Parliament to represent Westminster – at a time the only parliamentary seat with a broadly democratic franchise. He believed in one man one vote, and the abolition of taxes on food and newspapers, and the destruction of scores of privileges. He was also dangerously (to the government) popular and a war hero.

So Lords Liverpool, Eldon and Sidmouth had him arrested, on patently trumped-up embezzlement charges. There followed a series of trials, acquittals, demonstrations and a popular uprising freeing him from prison, after which he was dragged and arrested from the opposition front bench while about to denounce instances of very real government corruption.

Liverpool of course abolished habeas corpus, public meetings, and trades unions and his governrnent perpetrated the Peterloo Massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators. So I suppose it is not a shock to see this near-fascist government quoting Liverpool as a good precedent. Except that this is supposed to be a Labour government, and the entire Labour/Liberal tendency in this country was brought up for six generations to view Liverpool as all that was evil in conservatism. This was the period of Peterloo and the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Has anybody in this government even read E P Thompson’s “The Making of the English Working Class”?

Cochrane escaped abroad and continued to fight for freedom in the most literal way. He helped lead the anti-colonial struggles in Chile, Brazil and Greece. He formed makeshift navies for them, and with tiny resources and near superhuman energy and ability waged long and ultimately succesful naval campaigns against the Spanish, Portuguese and Turkish navies.

The arrest of Thomas Cochrane in the House of Commons was the lowest point of despotism in the UK since the death of Charles I. Those New Labour hacks who cite it in justification are ill-educated fools beneath contempt.

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