Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

WHAT a Tribute Was Paid [...]

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

WHAT a Tribute Was Paid [...]

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID BANKS COLUMNIST

WHAT a tribute was paid this week to the agreement forced on a king 800 years ago by the bullying barons of that age.

At a stroke, 'tis fondly imagined, all torture, banishment, secret trials and cloak-and-dagger doings of the state were outlawed. A new age dawned. All hail Magna Carta! She did not, as Tony Hancock once comically feared, die in vain.

The whole civilised world, our prime minister boasted, adopted this unique, far-sighted charter: America's founding fathers framed their revolutionary constitution around its premises; in India, Gandhi demanded the "Magna Carta of our liberty in this land" and, facing a lifetime in a South African prison, Nelson Mandela stood in the dock and cited King John's plea-bargain with the barons.

Eight centuries later our dear old queen was hauled back to Runnymede to rejoice that her hapless predecessor had scratched his name on a document that would, according to 'baron' Cameron, "limit executive power, guarantee access to justice, [ensure] the rule of law [and end] imprisonment without trial" not just in England (as it then was) but across the civilised world.

In its place, today we have water-boarding, trials where evidence and accusations are hidden from public view, extraordinary rendition for purposes of torture, and Guantanamo Bay. It's called progress.

In fact while politicians love to invoke Magna Carta as a bulwark for the rights of the ordinary man its clauses actually offered special legal protection for the Church and aristocracy, advocated tax breaks for the wealthiest, freed the City of London from regulatory oversight, promised total freedom of immigration and placed the burden of infrastructure maintenance on local communities instead of government.

Any party that stood on a platform that was true to the spirit of Magna Carta today would be massacred at the polls.

Less violent, perhaps, but just as ironic is David Cameron's 'Euroadshow' aimed at renegotiating our treaty with the rest of Europe and burying the Convention on Human Rights.

Magna Carta was, after all, far from being the original all-English lawgiver. …

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