‘I tell you, sir, you have no other way to deal with these men but to break them or they will break you.’ True to his word, on 17 May 1649, Oliver Cromwell had the ringleaders of the Leveller revolt marched out of Burford church in Oxfordshire and executed. These disgruntled Civil War soldiers had demanded political as well as religious rights and Cromwell was having none of it.
Yesterday, I joined Tony Benn and a large crowd in the Cotswolds to commemorate these martyrs to democracy. Organised by the Workers’ Educational Association, the Levellers’ Day festival remains one of the few living monuments to Britain’s hidden heritage of democracy. But why does Burford hold such a lonely place in our history calendar? Why are we still so shy of our radical past?
Last week saw a welter of commentary on Education Minister Bill Rammell’s call for teaching ‘British values’ in schools. The left took it as a cue for more historical self-flagellation; the right for cultural triumphalism. Yet, disappointingly, what Rammell had, in fact, urged was the anodyne incorporation of ‘modern British cultural and social history into the citizenship curriculum’. What he should have demanded is a vigorous exploration of our democratic heritage in schools and communities alike.
more from The Observer here.