A New Magna Carta?

A police officer comes to tell protesters they need permission use a megaphone to speak in Parliament Square

On June 15th 1215 King John met the Barons at Runnymede and put his seal on Magna Carta, which several hundred years later began to be touted as the basis for our legal system and the “foundation of our liberties”. John immediately then went off and wrote to the Pope, Innocent III, and got him to declare it “null and void of all validity forever” on the grounds that he had signed it under duress.

There were later versions of Magna Carta that reinstated the important parts of the treaty so far as our law and liberties are concerned, and we might have been better to wait to celebrate until 2017 or 2025, but in perhaps the whole thing is misguided, as the rights and freedoms involved were not novel, but date back certainly to before the Norman conquest; Magna Carta was their reinstatement rather than their genesis.

What we need now is not a celebration of Magna Carta, but a new Magna Carta, to replace the rights and freedoms that we have lost – and which if our current government has its way we will lose more of, with proposals to repeal Human Rights legislation, bring in corporate control under TTIP, further restrict trade union rights, close down freedom of information requests and more.

Of course it isn’t just the current Tory government who are responsible, not just them and the ConDem coalition. The two previous New Labour governments brought in an enormous number of new laws, many of the impinging on our freedom, and of course governments both Tory and Labour before them. But it does seem to have taken on a new impetus since the last election.

Police prevent people coming to celebrate Magna Carta at the Runnymede Eco-Village

It isn’t just laws, but also the way that the state and authorities act, often using the police and security agencies and abusing the laws. And a very clear example of this was over the suppression of the Magna Carta festival planned at the Runnymede Eco-Village, which I’ve written about here earlier. A huge police operation took place to stop just several hundred people celebrating peacefully close to where the charter was signed.

The Eco-Village was evicted and their homes destroyed around a week ago, following a court decision a few days earlier, which privileged the rights of property owners above those which were important in the thirteenth century charters. The villagers were looking after the forest rather better than the owners, and were not in the way of the development at the top of the hill.

On the anniversary of Magna Carta, I began at the Truth & Justice Magna Carta Day Protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice by the Campaign for Truth & Justice. While there were – as my account I think makes clear – some rather odd characters and views among those taking part, it is hard to doubt that there is something rotten at the heart of our society.

From there I went to another rather odd group, Voice for Justice, with whom I felt rather less empathy. It really did seem to me that these people were protesting for the freedom to be a bigot rather than standing up for the kind of values which I feel important. Though some of their placards said ‘Magna Carta – Equal Rights for All’ they seemed firmly opposed to equality laws.

Protesters wore yellow rubber gloves like cleaners might wear

Not far away, the PCS were protesting for a true living wage for all governent workers on the 25th International Justice Day for Cleaners and Security Guards outside the Treasury. Fine I thought, but why just those who work for HMRC. All workers deserve a living wage – something even the government now seem to believe in, though their idea of a living wage is far too low.

Selma James

Back in Parliament Square, another protest was taking place, Close Yarls Wood, End Detention! with the All African Women’s Group leading a rally in the International week against detention centres, calling for the closure of all immigration detention centres to be shut down. And up came a police officer to tell them of the restrictions on protest outside Parliament.

Jeremy Corbyn MP

I’m pleased to say that they more or less ignored him, with Selma James and another speaker being followed by 3 MPs, Jeremy Corbyn, Kate Osamor and John McDonnell before the protesters marched to Downing St to deliver a report on rape and sexual abuse in Yarl’s Wood.

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Downing St was convenient for me, because the next event in my diary, Magna Carta justice for Shaker Aamer was taking place on the opposite side of Whitehall. Speakers there again included Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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