Magna Carta, 'heritage' and delusion

By Jill Segger
June 17, 2015

We have a tendency in these islands – particularly in England – to prefer our history packaged as 'heritage'. Pageantry and grandiose words may easily replace rigorous and realistic analysis with a warm fuzzy feeling. It can also make us look both foolish and false.

The event which took place at Runnymede on Monday (15 June) to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta made this quite clear. The sight of an hereditary head of state, a Prime Minister for whom only 24 per cent of the electorate voted and the leader of one denomination of one religion, who is also an unelected peer, all assembled in apparent witness to freedom and democracy, would have been comical if it had not been so pernicious a piece of deception.

David Cameron's speech at Runnymede was a shameless act of party politicking. His prating of “guaranteed access to justice” is a nonsense in the face of legal aid cuts. To speak of the limits of executive power is meaningless when the repeal of the Human Rights Act and the threat to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights is on his government's agenda. To set claim to the “belief that there should be something called the rule of law” must surely be questioned when plans have been laid to scrap judicial review for all but those with the deepest pockets. And what does “There shouldn't be imprisonment without trial" mean for victims of the UK's immigration detention system?

Magna Carta introduced the idea that the law stands above executive power. But it was, as Savi Hensman has pointed out, a charter for protecting the power of the barons, not for redistributing it to all, whatever their birth or status. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21795). A sentimentalising of its intent and impact does not serve our freedoms. It seems a good time to remind ourselves that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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