Last week a ceremony took place in a field by the river Thames at Runnymede. It was the beginning of five years of celebrations leading up to the 800th anniversary of a king signing a piece of paper. This is, or was, what became known as the Magna Carta.
While essentially the laws and rights outlined in the Magna Carta have since been superseded or swapped for others, the founding document is still held as historically important for being the first time rights of the ordinary people (or at least the free men) were codified in England. The original Magna Carta was also used as a basic outline for the Constitution of the United States of America.
It was a pretty influential piece of paper.
There is an irony, then, that successive governments in the United Kingdom have seen fit to chip away at those basic rights set out in AD 1215. Such basic things as having the right to be judged by a jury of your peers, or not being imprisoned without due process of the law, and so on.
What I find frustrating is that hardly anyone seems to care that these rights are being taken away from under our noses. Our rights as citizens of the UK are being eroded, bit by bit, chiefly in the name of “increased security”.
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin
Never a truer word spoken.
The problem I see is the general population of these benighted islands is far happier with their noses stuck in colourful, noisy celebrity-obsessed magazines and newspapers, watching endless and ultimately pointless “reality television”, and looking forward to a royal wedding next year. As long as they have their bread and circuses, what do they care if people get locked up in prison without due process of the law, or people are tried in a court of law without a jury?
It also seems those who claim to have been elected with a mandate from the people are complicit in this charade. Just this past couple of days:
Speaking in the House of Commons, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said civil legal aid would only be routinely available in cases where life or liberty was at stake.
So, at a stroke, all but people with a reasonable income — the rich, in other words — will find themselves unable to take a case to court if they cannot afford legal representation. How, in the name of all that’s holy, is that fair?
There are also the proposed public spending cuts, all in aid of reducing a huge deficit in the country’s finances. This will, of course, hit hardest those least able to cope. All the time our lords and masters, most of whom are millionaires we should never forget, chant the platitude “we’re all in this together”. All the time, huge corporations are legally able to avoid paying vast sums of tax to the state, sums which would virtually halve the budget deficit at a stroke. But, no. It’s the poorest, the disabled, the retired, the unemployed, the disadvantaged — these are the people who will be made to suffer.
What are we to do about it? What can we do about it?
I don’t know. Unless we all decide to stand up and be counted, I guess nothing will happen to change anything. Apathy with win, again. We’ll just have to be happy with the prospect of a royal jamboree next year, an Olympics the year after, and then decades of blood, toil, tears and sweat. Never mind that everything is a huge distraction from what’s really going on, just keep the proles dosed up with entertainment and food.
I am now thoroughly depressed. I shall leave you with some further reading from The Guardian and Channel 4 News, some of which shows that at least some members of the Fourth Estate are beginning to take notice.