Friday, 20 July 2012

Harrogate Conference - Constitution

A little tardily repeated on my part, the next item to come out of Harrogate and reported by Richard North is the issue of a constitution. We are famous of course for having a democratic system that has inspired constitutions across the globe yet we lack one of our own. The unwritten constitution is a mix of ceremonial, feudal remnants, custom and practice and democratic re-invention; on the positive side, it has been flexible enough to accommodate changes in response to changes in society, culture and economic and external conditions, but on the negative side, there is no framework to regulate the relationship between government and citizens.

And this I think was the major drive from Harrogate - to ensure that the government is the servant of the people, and not the other way around. All my attempts to re-phrase an illustrative opening paragraph quoted by Richard have mired in difficulty; you can't get much further than "We, the people of Britain" (excludes the province of Northern Ireland) or "We, the people of the United Kingdom" (immediately implies a monarchical system) and neither overcomes in terms the more federal structure that the UK may evolve towards and which the unwritten constitution seems to be elastic enough to accommodate. 

My own view gravitates towards a new Bill of Rights rather than a written constitution, in which habeas corpus regains the power it once had and the powers of the State are fettered back towards that condition described by William Pitt; "The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!"

Pitt of course meant civil defiance, not criminal activity. The extent to which successive governments have criminalised civil trespasses - not paying Council Tax or the TV Tax, and today even displaying an anti-Olympics poster in your window is a criminal matter - to the extent that scores of petty functionaries and prodnoses now have the right to smash their way into that place where Pitt's King dare not tread. This must be reversed. 

But what do you think?


Barnacle Bill said...

Yes habeas corpus must be restored to it's pre-1996 status.

Along with the ability of constituents to recall their MP at anytime, not just when it pleases them!

malvoisin said...

As I understand it,you cannot have a new Bill of Rights as the old one is a settlement treaty and therefore cannot be repealed, in fact it would be illegal to do so.

Wildgoose said...

That's an interesting comment malvoisin, but to what extent is it true?

Our 1689 Bill of Rights doesn't allow a standing army which is why we used to have an annual bill in the House of Commons in order to keep one - a practise that was stopped only a few years back, i.e. well within my lifetime, and I'm only 47.

It also insists on the Freedom to Bear Arms, (for Her Majesty's Protestant subjects in the very least), something else which we seem to have allowed to slip by the wayside.

G. Tingey said...

We could do witha re-instatement of the original Bill of Rights, in fact?

Is this correct?
If I put up a poster next week with the rings and the sawastika, along with: "olympics: corrupt, fascist, overbearing, lying, in your face on your lap, at our expense"
I could be arrested?
What for?

johnse18 said...

I don't think "Britain" excludes NI does it? - though "Great Britain" would.

Anonymous said...

DP111 said

The disadvantage of a written constitution is that it is written. The arbiter of what is written then become lawyers and their interpretation of it.

In the end it becomes the supreme court or the supreme EU court, a court packed full of appointees of the state. People no longer have a say.

I would like a Direct Democracy system, but we have no tradition for such a system.

We have the best democratic system, but over a period of time it has atrophied.

It needs rejuvenation.

Anonymous said...

@johnse Great Britain does exclude NI but UK does not. (Minor Britain ia Brittany ofc)

The foundation must be the people are sovereign and they 'lend' power to the executive and legislature.

Whether this can be achieved within a Bill of Rights I doubt. Who controls the Bill of Rights?

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with just "we the PEOPLE"? Do we have to define the 'borders' of the extent of a constitution? Can't that just be implied?

Tarka the Constitutional Rotter said...

We, the freeborn commoners of the Islands of Great Britain...

That seems to cover all bases - the term Great Britain is a geographical one and covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It cuts out the monarchical reference and substitutes freeborn commoners for the European 'citizen.'

Demetrius said...

First, find your revolution. Given your Anglian location, what about a new Eastern Association?

Odin's Raven said...

This is a worthy endeavor, but seems unrealistic. How is any agreement to be enforced without control of the state? How can enough of the public be persuaded of it's legitimacy without control of the media over at least a generation?

It's not a matter of tightening standards and eliminating a few abuses and rotten apples, so that the basic virtue of the 'people' can shine forth. The ruling classes will ignore, then ridicule, then eliminate you if you become a noticeable nuisance. They hate, deride and destroy anything British or even decent. They have achieved power through generations of media and education facilitated brain washing and corruption. To ensure their continued grasp of power they are eliminating the British and substituting a rag tag of riff-raff who do not share your ideals, they merely share your taxes.

A few voices in the wilderness will not herald a messiah or revive a corpse; but this may mark the passing of Britain into it's multi-culti omnishamble third world successor.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

Personally I think written constitutions a load of guff and no protection against an overweening government (once a law is written down it can be re-written, ancient customs and habits like the monarchy have more staying power) but since you want one, why don't you just start off with "We the people" and spare us all the tedium of a geography lesson?

malvoisin said...

Wildgoose I hope this helps it is from the Magna Carta society,

The Act of Supremacy is now largely repealed, but its central intentions live on through the use of almost identical words 129 years later, when The Declaration of Rights of 1688 was written. This, too, is a settlement treaty, and not an Act of Parliament. It too, therefore, cannot be repealed by parliament.

The Convention Parliament which drew up the Declaration was called when the Bishop of Salisbury invoked clause 61 of Magna Carta, and demanded the attendance of 25 barons to address his grievances - evidence that clause 61 has teeth, and that there is a precedent for such action today.

The Declaration was engrossed in parliament and enrolled among the rolls of chancery. It has never been listed, however, within the chronological tables of Acts of Parliament - a fact which might be significant.

The Bill of Rights, December 1689, incorporated all the essential clauses of the Declaration of the previous February, and may be argued to form an entrenchment of the Declaration, severely limiting parliament’s ability to make changes. Indeed, it could be held to be doubly entrenched.

Clause 13 lays specific responsibilities upon members of parliament to protect the best interests of the people who elected them:

"And they do claim, demand and insist upon all and singular the premises as their undoubted rights and liberties, and that no declarations, judgments, doings or proceedings to the prejudice of the people in any of the said premises ought in any wise to be drawn hereafter into consequence or example."

The Bill of Rights includes an unequivocal and entrenching statement from the Declaration of the previous year. Its intention was:

"…for the ratifying, confirming and establishing the said declaration and the articles, clauses, matters and things therein contained by the force of a law made in due form by authority of Parliament, do pray that it may be declared and enacted that all and singular the rights and liberties asserted and claimed in the said declaration are the true, ancient and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of this Kingdom, and so shall be esteemed, allowed, adjudged, deemed and taken to be; and that all and every the particulars aforesaid shall be firmly and strictly holden and observed as they are expressed in the said declaration, and all officers and ministers whatsoever shall serve their Majesties and their successors according to the same in all times to come."

On 21 July 1993, the Speaker of The House of Commons issued a reminder to the courts. She said:

"There has of course been no amendment to the Bill of Rights…the house is entitled to expect that the Bill of Rights will be fully respected by all those appearing before the courts."

Anonymous said...

The Olympics Bill is a draconian piece of legislation, which should be repealed once the Olympics are over.

But unless we kick up a fuss, the government will keep it.

I'm inclined towards a written constitution*, US-style (although with greater safeguards) which strictly limits government powers.

For that to work, we'll need to bring real power back to the local level - including tax and spending powers. We'd have proper powers of recall for local governers and parliamentary MPs.

* I wouldn't trust the current lot to draft a constitution: they'd gerrymander it.

anon 2 said...

We, the freeborn commoners of the Islands of Great Britain...

That seems to cover all bases - the term Great Britain is a geographical one and covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It cuts out the monarchical reference and substitutes freeborn commoners for the European 'citizen.'

I like, Tarka, I like it. Someonw already suggested that "freeborn" leaves people room to think in terms of the ancient heritage we are duty-bound to pass to our children; and I love your "commoners." Perfect!! Did you post it on the EuRef thread?

White Dragon said...

Looking forward, 'We, the English people', .....

Anonymous said...

Posted this as an example to Richard North earlier today. Doubtless not perfect, but it might work in principle for some.

...'We the people demand we be given and will ever retain due recognition in capacity and soul to be free and independent individuals.

That no manner of obligation, limit nor prejudice be placed upon that body of peoples save those we might choose to place upon ourselves by means of benificent, equitable and lawful governance. That the sovereignty we award to such governance resides in the authority of the people only
at all times, and that the means of governance will ever defer to the authority of the people to define.'...

That's a broad-brush principle. The details can be added in law. It doesn't ask for the right to be free. It implies that we already are and that we demand that status to be recognised as permanent. Also implies that in acceptance of Governance, the governing body must accept that principle from which they draw their mandate.