John Bright, Hero 40

When I give talks I often try to explain myself by listing my political influences: Byron, Hazlitt, Bright, John Stuart Mill. I see the audiences’ eyes rather glaze over. What do they teach them at school nowadays?

Anyway I am delighted to see there is a conference on John Bright in Birmingham on Saturday. Just been sent it, so doubt I shall make it, but sounds great.

Celebrating John Bright

Rather confused about Bill Cash, who from the little I know of him has the opposite view on everything to John Bright. But maybe there is more to him than I realised.

40 thoughts on “John Bright, Hero

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  • Conjunction

    I went to a direct grant school and I got a good grade at A level history, and they taught me about none of those people, I had to learn myself several decades later.

    But I suspect my history teaching at school was better than most schools today.

  • Stabwound Johnson

    Did you learn about them at school, Craig? Which school? I certainly didn’t. All I really learnt was that 95% of the teachers were monkeys. With hindsight I pity the 5%. What they tried to teach us in history lessons was little more than “Hitler was bad” and “the teacher is better than you so shut up”.

  • craig Post author

    Oh bloody hell, talk about proving my point. No, it is not an obscure American economist. It is the great journalist William Hazlitt, after whom streets are named across this country.


    John Bright was a hero? Yeah like Richard Cobden too I suppose? Consult Feargus O’Conner and the other sixty odd Chartists who got put on trial for what came to be known at the 1842 Plug Plot/ Riots. Curious that virtually no free traders so-called got busted only Chartists eh?

  • craig Post author


    I think you need to expand that. Are you claiming Bright was active in the persecution of the Chartists?
    Cobden and Bright are of course quite rightly coupled in the campaign against the Corn Laws. But in fact they held rather different political views in general, and should be distinguished. Bright was much more active in the peace movement.

  • havantaclu

    Craig – John Bright was a Quaker – therefore committed to pacifism. My father’s first wife was his great-niece, and her son bore the Christian names John Bright.
    My father was also a Quaker – until he ‘married out’ (my mother). I believe he remained a pacifist all his life though.

  • Scouse Billy

    I was fortunate enough at the age of 10, my final year of primary school, to smell a rat.
    The senior teacher in the school told us that the USSR stood for the United States of Soviet Russia and I was chastised for correcting her in front of the class 😉
    That was 40 years ago!
    And just for the record John Stuart Mill amd Bill Shankly are my heroes.

  • rose

    Craig – it’s good to pick up snippets of knowledge about people like John Bright who have largely been forgotten; here is my little contribution.
    We attended the funeral of the last of my mother’s brothers on Friday; his grand daughter had done some family research which was on display at the wake. She had traced the line back to the 1600s and discovered that one of our ancestors was Ebenezer Elliott, the Rotherham Corn Law poet.I had never heard of him – and only vaguely remember the Corn Laws from my history lessons in the fifties. So it’s been back to school for me – well Wikipedia anyway – on two counts this week. It’s nice to think there’s a poet lurking in the genes, and even better to know he was a ranter,although Thomas Carlyle awarded him nul points for humour. How good a stand-up was he, I wonder!


    I’m doing a blogspot about it. Should be done today some time later. I was very very interested in the 1842 events and the work I did quite some years year ago now – but my memory is that the Free Trade ascendancy movement greatly influenced disorder in that erea – inded so much so that Home Office records show that the Tory government of the day were at their wits end – because the Free Trade influences were were so powerful in indistrial areas and I even believe that the reason why historically the UK ha snever had – until his current Tory Lib dem outfit – elected police commissioners – that era produced such incredibly acute policing problems of a political imension. Anyway its only my reckoning. John Bright being a Quaker doesn’t taken as read so to speak square the circle.

  • Caspeccy

    Try to broaden your mind a bit!
    Come to grips with the real intellectual giants, Adam Smith, Thomas Macaulay and David Hume on the left, Sam Johnson on the right, and for light relief and some enlightenment, Malcolm Muggeridge, a crazy quilt of left and right, and one of the greatest personalities of the 20th century.

  • Stephen

    Of course as a fellow Rochdale lad John Bright had many good points, and he was certainly a better Liberal than some of the subsequent reptiles that were Liberal MPs for Rochdale.

    However, like most people it isn’t all black and white I’m afraid. He was a pretty firm adherent of the Manchester School of Liberals who believed in free markets for everything and were against Trade Unions – Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph identified themselves as being descendants from the Manchester School, which I guess is where Bill Cash also comes in as an admirer. Not more than once I have detected a similar strain of economics in Craig’s thinking which possibly adds to his hero status with Craig.

    In this regard it should be noted that John Bright was a noted opponent of the 10 hour bill put forward by John Fielden, a distant relative of my own, which sought to restict the working hours of children to 10 hours per day. Mr Bright felt that it restricted the freedom of said children to offer their labour.

    His pacifism also led him to the rather use position of supporting the Union against the Confederacy in the American Civil War as he opposed slavery but being against the use of arms to achieve such an aim.

  • Stephen

    Pompous Muggeridge may have been – but it should be remembered that while on the left he had the honesty and courage to be one of the first to tell the truth about one of the left’s then heroes Stalin. Given the heroes claimed to day by some on the left perhaps we could do with a few more modern day Muggeridges. My first issue of Winter in Moscow by Muggeridge is one of my most prized possessions.

  • Chris2

    If you found Muggeridge pompous I’m surprised that you made it through the insufferable Macaulay. As to Hume: on the “left” indeed!
    Talking of Ebenezer the Corn Law Rhymer (And much more)
    Elegy on the Death of William Cobbett

    O BEAR him where the rain can fall,
    And where the winds can blow;
    And let the sun weep o’er his pall
    As to the grave ye go!

    And in some little lone churchyard, 5
    Beside the growing corn,
    Lay gentle Nature’s stern prose bard,
    Her mightiest peasant-born.

    Yes! let the wild-flower wed his grave,
    That bees may murmur near, 10
    When o’er his last home bend the brave,
    And say—“A man lies here!”

    For Britons honor Cobbett’s name,
    Though rashly oft he spoke;
    And none can scorn, and few will blame, 15
    The low-laid heart of oak.

    See, o’er his prostrate branches, see!
    E’en factious hate consents
    To reverence, in the fallen tree,
    His British lineaments. 20

    Though gnarl’d the storm-toss’d boughs that brav’d
    The thunder’s gather’d scowl,
    Not always through his darkness rav’d
    The storm-winds of the soul.

    O, no! in hours of golden calm 25
    Morn met his forehead bold;
    And breezy evening sang her psalm
    Beneath his dew-droop’d gold.

    The wren its crest of fibred fire
    With his rich bronze compar’d, 30
    While many a youngling’s songful sire
    His acorn’d twiglets shar’d.

    The lark, above sweet tribute paid,
    Where clouds with light were riven;
    And true love sought his bluebell’d shade, 35
    “To bless the hour of heaven.”

    E’en when his stormy voice was loud,
    And guilt quak’d at the sound,
    Beneath the frown that shook the proud
    The poor a shelter found. 40

    Dead oak! thou livest. Thy smitten hands,
    The thunder of thy brow,
    Speak with strange tongues in many lands,
    And tyrants hear thee, now!

    Beneath the shadow of thy name, 45
    Inspir’d by thy renown,
    Shall future patriots rise to fame,
    And many a sun go down.

    Cobbett was John Fielden’s friend and fellow MP for Oldham.
    Stephen is right about Bright who, far all his sympathetic qualities, was a Manchester School bigot. As was Macaulay, whose nomination for Manchester in 1832 forced Cobbett to drop out and stick with Oldham.
    Both Fielden and Cobbett were, in sharp contradistinction to TBMac, opponents of Free Trade and the oppression of India.

    (That’s all the exercise the hobby horse gets today.)

  • Canspeccy

    “I find muggeridge insufferably pompous”
    You need to read more Muggeridge. If he was ever pompous it must have been entirely tongue in cheek. His novels are very funny.
    The Thirties is quite brilliant. Written in the extraordinary style of Carlyle, but better done. He completed that work after induction into the Army as an intelligence officer. Presumably he carried the style of the book into his conversation, since he was kicked out of the officers’ mess for “the things you say!”
    I heard him address student in a packed student’s union building at the University of British Columbia in the early seventies. He was hugely provocative, arguing against contraception, abortion and all the other liberal horrors of the 20th century. The reaction was tremendous, yet he had just about everyone both intensely irritated and convulsed with laughter.
    Muggeridge, was a liberal-leftie at the outset, his father a working class labour MP. He married a niece of Beatrice Webb, went to Moscow intending never to return to the decadent capitalist West, but underwent a conversion at the time the (Manchester) Guardian refused to publish in full his account of the Holodermor, the deliberate starvation of six to 10 million Ukranians.
    And he is very sound on religion. Trained at Cambridge as a biologist, he understood, as the pathetic Dawkins totally fails to grasp, that it is the social consequences of religion that matter, in particular its consequences for the survival of society. The logical merit of the creed, as Muggeridge realized, is irrelevant.

  • Mary

    I wish we had a William Cobbett now, and a Tom Paine too for that matter. Cobbett is buried in the churchyard at St Andrew’s in Farnham. A few years back a local rep company performed Battling Billy in Farnham. It was a very entertaining production and informed and enlightened me greatly.

  • John Goss

    Mary, Tom Paine had a Quaker upbringing too. They were, and are, a caring society. I am very fond of them and their teachings.

  • stephen


    I would have thought that Dawkins thought that that it was only the social consequences of religion that mattered since I very much doubt that he things that there are any spiritual or mystical consequences. He almost certainly has a differnt view as to what those social consequences are to your own.

    Muggeridge did not stop being a leftie because of his time in Moscow – that came much later – he juts realised and pointed out that Stalinism had nothing to do with being a leftie.

  • Canspeccy

    “a Manchester School bigot. As was Macaulay”
    On what basis do you make this remarkable claim?
    Macaulay was a founder of the the Anti-Slavery Society (1823), and editor of the Anti-Slavery Reporter.
    In 1832, as an MP, he voted against his own party on the issue slavery — more than any of the present-day war-crime supporting liberal MPs would do.
    Macaulay was the first British official to advocate self-government for India as spelled out in his Minute on Indian Education, which has so often been doctored and misquoted by Indian nationalists.
    The only thing one can have against him, is that he was nominally a liberal.


    Craig this is the blogspot I have posted

    It is not a question of Bright intentionally persecuting Chartists – but of his using tactics which inflamed the political in-fighting and which partly occassioned what occured and for which exploitation neither he or Cobden etc were never held to account. This does not mean that I have no respect for Bright but I do have reservations.

  • CanSpeccy

    Stephen said,
    “I would have thought that Dawkins thought that that it was only the social consequences of religion that mattered…”
    That’s certainly what one might have expected from a scientist. But here’s the summary of his book The God Delusion, from Trikipedia:
    “In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig’s statement in Lila that “when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion….”
    Which seems to fully confirm my point.
    And of course, as a liberal, Dawkins would no doubt deplore the social consequences of religion, while hating to admit that the anti-abortion, pro-family tendency of Christians, Muslims and Jews contributes to group success, i.e., biological success, i.e., continued existence of races and nations, unlike liberalism which is tantamount to a culture of national suicide, with in Britain, 189,000 abortions in 2009 and 195,000 or thereabouts in net immigration, i.e., the destruction of the British nation and its replacement by people from elsewhere.

  • Jives

    Hell i feel inadequate.

    I don’t know,to read, Mill,Hazlitt,Muggeridge,McAuley,Hume or Bright.

    But i’ve read Hunter S Thompson,who may well be considered addled and vulgar.

    Fair enough,but he told Truths that resonate with me.

    Is that ok?

  • Rose

    Jives – I know how you feel – I would not feel confident enough to engage in a debate about these various luminaries either. It’s good to read “Truths that resonate” but you can still develop your own critical faculties – reading George Orwell’s journalism – Politics and the English Language for example,started me off on the right (sic) track!

  • Stephen

    “Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence.”

    No Canspeccy – this confirms what I said that Dawkins only sees religion as a social phenomenom. Religion only comes delusions held by a number of people in society. I don’t think that this point is relevant to your argument – but at least don’t attribute views to Dawkins that he clearly doesn’t hold as you did in your original post.

    You subsequent point really is just barely disguised racism. I don’t think abortion, or anything else for that matter, is leading to the destruction of the British nation.

  • CanSpeccy

    I was going to point out that you were talking rubbish, but then you made that point for me:
    “You subsequent point really is just barely disguised racism.”
    The racist charge, the last resort of the lib-leftie losing the argument. LOL
    What Dawkins is saying, incidentally, is what Dawkins is saying, which is that religion is a delusion, which as I pointed out is not the point if you’re looking at the phenomenon in the context of evolutionary biology, which is the point of view one would expect a professor of biology to at least acknowledge.
    And there is of course nothing racist about pointing out how differential birth rates, abortion rates, etc. can lead to the extinction of one racially distinct population and its replacement by others.

  • Stephen

    “And there is of course nothing racist about pointing out how differential birth rates, abortion rates, etc. can lead to the extinction of one racially distinct population and its replacement by others.”

    Well for a start is inaccurate – differntial birth rates etc do not lead to the extinction of anything – they just change the mix within he population. And the second point is that does not lead to the destruction of the British nation as you originally claimed. The British nation is more than capable of handling such changes – and if you think that our nation (or any other for that matter) is dependent on maintaining a certain racial mix I feel I have no problem whatsoever in justifying my charge.

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