Thursday, 17 November 2011

Manchester set to celebrate 200 years of John Bright tonight at the Free Trade Hall

In tribute to Bright’s lifetime of political influence, Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, will chair a panel debate on the subject of liberalism and its effects across society today.

Guest speakers will include Bill Cash MP and Graham Stringer MP.

The event will open with a keynote speech by Bill Cash MP, which will outline the legacy of Bright’s lifetime of achievements. Cash is a family descendant of John Bright and he has written a biography about him - John Bright: Statesman, Orator, Agitator.

Bright was born to a Quaker family in Rochdale 200 years ago yesterday and became a leading figure in the 19th-century Free Trade movement.

A champion of the Anti Corn league movement he toured the country in the late 1830′s in support of the movement.In his speeches he attacked the privileged position of the landed aristocracy and argued that their selfishness was causing the working class a great deal of suffering.

Bright appealed to the working and middle classes to join together in the fight for free trade and cheaper food.Elected to Parliament in 1843,he campaigned rigorously for the repeal of the Corn Laws and also supported those advocating universal suffrage and the secret ballot.

When the British government was finally forced in a partial repeal of the Corn Laws,Bright became a hero of the working classes and was elected as Parliamentary member for Manchester.However his stance against the war with Russia in the Crimea lost him many supporters and consequently his seat in Parliament.

His absence was short lived,returning as a member for Birmingham within five months.Becomingone of the leading advocates for universal suffrage. In a speech made in 1858 he pointed out that only one out of six adult males had the vote in Britain and that less than 200,000 voters regularly returned more than 50% of all MPs. Bright called for an end to all rotten boroughs and the introduction of the secret ballot

The 1867 reform act paved the way for many of these changes.When Gladstone became Prime Minister in 1868,as a great admirer of Bright he appointed him as his President of the Board of Trade. Bright now saw many of the measures he had been advocating come into being under the new Liberal Government.. This included opening the universities to secret ballot and government funded education.

However ill-health forced him to retire from the Cabinet in December 1870.He returned to political life in 1881 as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster but retired a year later because he opposed Gladstone’s Home Rule policy for Ireland. Bright announced that he was not prepared to see power given to Irish nationalists who had made a mockery of parliamentary government.

He died in his birthplace of Rochdale in 1889.Following his death , Manchester took the step of commissioning a public statue.

A marble statue was placed in Albert Square in front of the town hall, where it was unveiled in 1891. The sculptor was Albert Bruce Joy who also carved a statue of Bright for Birmingham, the constituency that he represented from 1857 until his death. These were not the only public monuments. Rochdale honoured Bright with a posthumous statue in 1893.

The celebration will take place at the Manchester Free Trade Hall (the present site of the Radisson Edwardian Hotel) on Thursday 17th November 2011, beginning at 17.45 for an 18.15 start. To attend this exclusive event, please RSVP to

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