Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Magna Carta

(Press Association)

According to a survey on the BBC History magazine, the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta is the best day to celebrate Britishness .
Personally I would prefer some event after the founding of the United Kingdom, such as the abolition of the Slave trade, but the signing of the Magna Carta isn't just an event in a school textbook. It marked the start of our unwritten constitution. You can put the survival of the monarchy and our democratic traditions down to this, as not only did it show English monarchs that they could not rule carte blanche over the nation, but that it shows the British resilience to adapt to the changing movements of our times, before those movements imploded. Hence why we managed to keep our monarchy and France, Russia and various other nations did not.


Louisa Willoughby said...

You're right it set a precedent, but personally I think it's overrated. Something was always going to happen, and the movement was actually happening in other European countries, so it's not really a case of Magna Carta being the definitive be-all and end-all which helped us keep our monarchy and France to lose it.

Shaun (ed.) said...

It is a pity that Blair's government doesn't hold the Magna Carta's values in the same high regard as you do, Paul.
As I've said before, because our political system makes any government an elective dictatorship we can only trust them to restrain themselves from violating the 'spirit' of Magna Carta and the unwritten constitution.
The central principle of Magna Carta is that an Englishman shall not be deprived of his liberty except by due process of law and by judgment of his peers. If Blair gets his way in many of his efforts to abolish/curtail jury trial and haebus corpus, to threaten the independence of the judiciary and clamp down on freedom of speech and the right to protest, we can say goodbye to Magna Carta. It might actually become reality if the new Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill ("Abolishment of parliament" bill) is passed, which takes more and more powers away from parliament and hand them to ministers.

Paul Burgin said...

I agree it wasn't the only thing in itself Louisa, I am simply arguing that it was the first domino to fall.
Manic Minarchist, the Blair government didn't scrap a local authority that kept giving an overall majority to it's opposition. Nor did it run a gerrymandering scheme in Westminster!
One political party did however!

Shaun (ed.) said...

Ah, another bout of mudslinging. Why does politics have to be so bitchy?

Seeing as you don't find my criticisms of Blair credible because you deem it to be partisan, how about the fact that so many of these criticisms are also made by people inside your party? Complaints against the rigging of selection for London's Labour mayoral candidate as well as Scottish and Welsh assembly seats was widely made amongst party members and they used the word 'gerrymandering' a lot. Read Peter Tatchell's resignation letter where he states that "Labour's abuse of democracy is unforgivable" at

I forget how many times Bob Marshall Andrews QC, the Labour Party's best parliamentarian, has described legislation being introduced by his own government as an 'attack on our liberties'.

Oh bugger what Labour politicians has to say, here's what Daniel Finkelstein had a nightmare about: In my nightmare, Tony Blair finally decides that he is fed-up with putting Bills before Parliament. He has so much to do and so little time. Don’t you realise how busy he is? He’s had enough of close shaves and of having to cut short trips abroad. He decides to put a Bill to End All Bills before the Commons, one that gives him and his ministers power to introduce and amend any legislation in future without going through all those boring stages in Parliament.

That’s not the end of my feverish fantasy. The new law is proposed and hardly anyone notices. John Redwood complains, of course, and a couple of Liberal Democrats, but by and large it is ignored. The Labour rebels are nowhere to be seen. The business lobby announces that it is about time all those politicians streamlined things, cutting out time-wasting debates. In a half empty Commons chamber, a junior minister puts down any objections with a few partisan wisecracks. Then the Bill to End All Bills is nodded through the Houses of Parliament, taking with it a few hundred years of Parliamentary democracy.

I wake up, sweating.

Only one thing persuades me that I’m not cracking up. When I have my nightmares about the Bill to End All Bills, I am not dreaming about dastardly legislation that I fear a cartoon Tony Blair, with an evil cackle, will introduce in some terrible future. I am tossing and turning about a government Bill that was given its second reading in the House of Commons last week and is heading into committee.

Now I know what I am about to tell you is difficult to believe (Why isn’t this on the front pages? Where’s the big political row?) but I promise you that it is true. The extraordinary Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, currently before the House, gives ministers power to amend, repeal or replace any legislation simply by making an order and without having to bring a Bill before Parliament. The House of Lords Constitution Committee says the Bill is “of first-class constitutional significance” and fears that it could “markedly alter the respective and long standing roles of minister and Parliament in the legislative process”

Goodbye Magna Carta?

Paul Burgin said...

I think Parliament is too sturdy for that, we have faced worse and come through. In any case I was simply pointing out that the Tories haven't got an unblemished record here!