No debate: Putney’s the place to be this Friday..

I guess you can’t really get away from politics at the moment, and let’s face it – the songs Ferocious Dog regale us with are full of political past, present and maybe just the promise of a brighter future (if you listen to Freethinker right the way through at least!).  When you finally get your mits on the new album – or if you’re especially keen at picking out lyrics at live gigs – then the second album has an almost certainly more overt political theme.

This isn’t really an appropriate vessel for current political commentary, not least because I’m not really qualified to provide it, but it is quite timely that the band happen to be playing in Putney this coming weekend (c’mon – is it Friday yet already?) given the role this once small town nestled by the river outside the capital once played in shaping modern British democracy (if you can call it that.. hang on, I said I wasn’t going to get political, didn’t I? I do apologise).

Putney is a political landmark for the development of British democracy – in 1647 in played host to a series of discussions (the Putney Debates) between Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army to attempt to resolve the constitution and future of England.  Matters like whether to come to terms with the defeated Charles I, should we even have a King or Lords?  Should it really only be owners of property who have the right to cast a vote on those who should govern them?  Would giving such power to the common-man lead to destructive anarchy?

Whilst folk are currently (and understandably) campaigning for a more representative democratic present – in the seventeenth century common soldiers were taking on their generals to pave the way for the greater democracy that we do currently have the right to.  Ultimately the more radical sections of the parliamentarians were dissatisfied with the proposals that included a strong monarchy and a House of Lords, and this was the system that was borne out of the debates in the end.

At this time Putney was a small town by the Thames, yet to be swallowed by the wider behemoth of London – still six miles distant – chosen for a combination of convenience but keeping a healthy distance between the army and parliament.  Fast-forward nearly 368 years and our band of modern freethinkers will take to a Putney soapbox in the form of the Half Moon in Putney to continue the debate that never really ends.  How apt we’ll hear from John Lilburne (although he wasn’t present at the debates, but his ideas certainly were) in Putney of all places.

Indeed, Lilburne reportedly thought the term Levellers was coined by Cromwell et al at these debates – the man himself not favouring it, considering it pejorative.  He preferred the term Agitators – feeling that Levellers implied a mandate to bring all down to the lowest common denominator rather than raising those at the bottom of the rung to an agreeable level.  He would later relent due to the general acceptance of the term – and indeed, upon arrest in 1649 Liburne, Walwyn, Overton and Prince even referred to themselves as Levellers in a manifesto.

Ultimately the Putney Debates failed to achieve the ultimate democratic point of principle proffered by Colonel Rainborough:

“The poorest that he is in England has a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under than government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he has not had a voice to put himself under.”

But well, in an age when radicalisation is too often automatically a synonym for extreme fundamentalism or terrorism rather than campaigning for the rights of the common man it is a stark reminder at how unradical we have become. We have a very well developed media now who quickly smear any interruption to the status quo and a largely apathetic populace (that’s not a slur, I’m one of them really).  To hear accusations of Ed Miliband trying to take Labour too far to the left all week is a pretty good indictment of this!

But anyway, I’m lapsing back into the present day and I said I wouldn’t do that – however, I will look forward to four days hence when the tour resumes in what is now the capital.  Putney is the perfect platform for Ferocious Dog, and I’m looking forward to.  Not only do they represent in a political landmark, in the Half Moon they take to a stage that has been trodden by the likes of Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, The Who and hell, it was the first place Kate Bush ever performed to the public.

It’s going to be a great night – if you’re still considering it, stop considering and get yourself a ticket!  At some point I’m going to have to get to that book I have about the Putney Debates.  But for now move over Livingstone, there’s a new Red Ken in town!

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