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Provoking Paranoia.

Geoffrey Partington has balanced Susan Hibbins' alleged one-sidedness concerning the Pentrich Rebellion by being equally one-sided himself (Letters, February 2011).

He describes the fear of revolution in early 19th-century England as 'justifiable'. Many historians might prefer the adjective 'exaggerated' and would acknowledge that repressive legislation heightened rather than reduced the risk of revolution. He also uses the loaded and anachronistic word 'terrorism' and, in my view, misinterprets the quotation from Francis Place. Since hanging was a judicial punishment at the time, Place seems to be implying that 'in a well-ordered community' the framers of repressive legislation would be hanged as criminals, i.e. through process of law, not as 'political murders'.

Partington asserts, without evidence, that the rebellion would have taken place without the intervention of Oliver and that Luddism would have created more poverty than actually occurred. On the former point, one can only quote the law reformer A.R Herbert on the agent provocateur: 'so repugnant to British notions of fair play and decency that it has never found expression in our language'. On the latter, might it not be more relevant to ask why the government did not do more to prevent poverty?

For most of British history, governments demonstrated an ability to respond to and manage legitimate protest. Occasionally, as in the 1810s, it lapsed into paranoid repression. Recently a court case against 'eco-terrorists' collapsed because of the actions of an undercover police officer (or should I say agent provocateur?). I find it odd that anyone should defend the behaviour of the government during the 1810s and it is worrying that they should do so when today's security services are encouraging the government to erode civil liberties to protect us from a questionable 'terrorist' threat.

Martin Jenkins Eltham, London

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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Jenkins, Martin
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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