Why we should still celebrate the values of Magna Carta

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From: David Tucker, Thirsk.

DIANA Wallis (The Yorkshire Post, January 30) has some interesting ideas about Magna Carta, this year’s celebration and its relevance today. She kicks off with the common mistake of referring to the ‘signing’ of Magna Carta. It was not signed by King John. It was given authority by the affixing of the Great Seal to the many copies made in order to carry the news of a peace treaty with teeth around the country.

To disparage the celebrations as a load of tea towels and mugs is nonsense. Apart from the national events such as the British Library exhibition of the four surviving copies of the 1215 version of Magna Carta, there are plenty of events around the country.

North Yorkshire is unique in having four towns – Thirsk, Topcliffe, Helmsley and Skipton – with a direct link to the Charter and to its most ground-breaking element, the appointment of 25 of the barons to supervise compliance by the King with the terms extracted from him, no doubt through gritted teeth, terms from which he sought to renege as fast as he could.

As a peace treaty Magna Carta lasted just 10 weeks or so. But it was re-issued in 1216, again in 1217 and in 1225, and changed from a rebel document into a constitutional one.

After sinking into obscurity because it was founded on a feudal society, it surfaced again courtesy of Sir Edward Coke and the American Declaration of Independence. Many American states have written constitutions incorporating chunks of Magna Carta.

There is no need for a written constitution to heal the disconnect Diana senses between people and politicians.

Democracy today means that I can phone or email my local and county councillors and my MP and my MEPs. I can and do use the Freedom of Information Act to uncover what lies beneath some government stones. Our media is diverse and difficult to censor. This is freedom. It is up to us to use it. This is how to bridge the gap between the governing class and the rest.

If Diana really wants a campaign, how about consolidating and reducing the volume of legislation and reforming its language to make it more widely understandable? A country governed by laws has a duty to make those laws clear and accessible. Only a short period of time delving through current Acts of Parliament will show how far short of that target we currently fall.

So let’s drink from our Magna Carta mugs to the continuation of freedom and democracy, and wipe them dry with our Magna Carta tea towels.

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