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A New Magna Carta – but nothing too radical.

August 3, 2014

The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform select committee has just issued a report entitled ‘A New Magna Carta?’ , which sets out options for reform, and now seeks comments – deadline 1 January 2015. But they appear to be keen to rule out anything too radical.

This is a pity because, for reasons I set out below, I believe that without radical change Britain will be a failed state within a generation.

Respondents are asked:

  • Does the UK need a codified constitution?
  • If so, which of the three options (below) offers the best way forward?
  • What changes would you like to be made to your favoured option if you have one?

The options set out in a paper written by Prof. Blackburn of Kings College London were:

  • Constitutional Code – a document that doesn’t have legal force, but which would set out the existing principles of the constitution and the workings of government.
  • Constitutional Consolidation Act – a document which would consolidate existing constitutional laws in one place.
  • Written Constitution – a document of basic law by which the UK would be governed, setting out the relationship between the state and its citizens.

Prof. Blackburn sets out a possible model constitution but apart from an elected second chamber there are no significant changes from our current uncodified arrangements. Hardly a ‘New Magna Carta’, hardly a contribution to a national debate on what we really need.

Unlock Democracy had clearly envisaged the need for radical change and had recommended:

Unlock Democracy believes that the best way of bringing about a codified constitution would be through a UK government taking office with a commitment to instigating a constitutional convention; but then taking a step back from the process. It could establish a body, preferably made-up of a balanced sample of the UK population chosen at random, charged with considering the possible content of a constitutional text and making proposals. It would be to some extent removed from the party political arena and better placed to develop decisions for the country as a whole. This convention would be provided with sufficient time and resources, such as expert advisers, to carry out its task effectively. Ideally the Government would commit itself to directly submitting the recommendations the convention made for ratification without altering or interfering with them. This ratification might involve a referendum of the UK population, or perhaps approval by the UK Parliament and all of the UK devolved legislatures.” [1]

But the committee appears to have completely ignored this advice.

‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’, is often good advice. If you are a winner in the corrupt ‘winner takes all’ polity, and if you are confident that you and your children will remain winners, then this advice applies. If you are anyone else you should realise that the polity is broke, that the poor and the old middle class can only get poorer, and that civilisation will collapse within a generation.

The current situation is neatly summed up by Occupy London as follows,

” … we are ruled by an elite group of psychopaths who own the banks that control the governments and media. …and they manufacture the consent of the public through the propaganda of the media.”

How exactly does parliament fit into this picture? Perhaps the fact that senior civil servants have referred to the House of Commons as ‘the monkey house’ gives some clue. If democracy is to be restored we have to take this diagnosis seriously.

But it is not just democracy that is at stake; it is the very future of human civilisation. In a recent academic study [2]Safa Motesharrei,  Jorge Rivas, and Eugenia Kalnay, ‘Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of
resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies’, Ecological Economics 101 (2014) 90- 104, found at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615%5D the authors sought a general theory to explain the collapse of past civilisations. They develop a simple systems dynamics model which explains the collapse of historic civilisations and use it to explore the conditions under which a civilisation may collapse. They conclude,

“In sum, the results of our experiments, discussed in Section 6,indicate that either one of the two features apparent in historical societal collapses – over-exploitation of natural resources and strong economic stratification – can independently result in a complete collapse. Given economic stratification, collapse is very difficult to avoid and requires major policy changes, including major reductions in inequality and population growth rates. Even in the absence of economic stratification, collapse can still occur if depletion per capita is too high. However, collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

Who are the psychopaths referred to by Occupy London? Some are real life flesh and blood human beings. These include vulture fund managers, private equity bosses, those bankers whose whole life was making money out of money and not knowing how to spend it, and top corporate lawyers who wouldn’t know justice if it hit them in the face.

“Call it the asshole effect. That is the term coined by US psychologist Paul Piff after he did some stunning new research into the effects of wealth and inequality on people’s attitudes.

As we ponder Joe Hockey’s budget and his division of the world into “leaners” and “lifters”, as we learn from Oxfam that the richest 1% of Australians now own the same wealth as the bottom 60%, we would do well to consider the implications of Piff’s studies. He found that as people grow wealthier, they are more likely to feel entitled, to become meaner and be more likely to exploit others, even to cheat.”[2]

The others are artificial creations, the corporations. The first corporations were created to serve a human purpose, but gradually through man’s folly they have become monsters, which like the machines in ‘Terminator’, have come to dominate us. We have to fight back.

One of our biggest follies was to give these creatures human rights. This started in the USA, but this doctrine has become part of the common law on both sides of the pond, so much so that when the European Convention on Human Rights was drafted by British lawyers after the second world war it was not thought necessary to define who or what was to enjoy these rights. British courts in particular have assumed that corporations enjoy these rights. Corporations need some rights but should have only those needed to carry out their functions and these should not be entrenched. In order to strip corporations of these ‘rights’ it  may be necessary, temporarily, for the UK to withdraw from the Convention, and draw up a British Bill of rights. However in the meantime the UK should negotiate with other nations in the Council of Europe to amend the Convention.

Having stripped corporations of entrenched rights, then it is necessary to take other measures to curb their malign influence. One would be to stop any body corporate from making any political donations, limit the size of individual donations and provided more state funding.

The current position whereby ministers can use the Royal Prerogative to ratify treaties must be ended. Ratification must involve the consent of both House of Parliament and any attempt by ministers to ‘fast  track’ this would be a treasonable offence. But it is also essential that treaty negotiations be as open as possible; otherwise treaties will continue to be in the interest of corporations not peoples. To this end ministers must not be permitted to enter treaty negotiations without the approval by Parliament of the negotiation procedure, even if this means that the UK might have to withdraw from the EU.

The corporate ownership of the media must be broken up. All print media distributed in the UK must be by workers co-0peratives. In the transition phase any news title distributed in the uk must be hived off into a subsidiary run by a board appointed by the workers. No representative of a creditor or of an advertiser shall be permitted to join the board.

As regards broadcast media, the BBC is a particular disappointment, its coverage of current affairs being very unbalanced, favouring the powers that be. All connection with government must be severed. The management board should be elected by the workers. There should be a supervisory board, randomly selected from the population and  charged with ensuring that heterodox views on all all important issues are covered. However a power of popular recall should exist in case the supervisory board goes off the rails. The level of the licence fee should be set by a formula set by primary legislation and variable within limits through referendum.

The major political parties have become a mechanism for the corporate agenda to be imposed on parliament. In order to break this stranglehold, the House of Commons should be elected in 4 or 5 member constituencies by STV.

References:

[1]written evidence to The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee inquiry into ‘Mapping the path to codifying—or not codifying—the UK’s constitution’. Item CDE 07

[2]Safa Motesharrei,  Jorge Rivas, and Eugenia Kalnay, ‘Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of
resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies’, Ecological Economics 101 (2014) 90- 104, found at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615

[3]Anne Manne, ‘The age of entitlement: how wealth breeds narcissism’, The Guardian, 7 July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/08/the-age-of-entitlement-how-wealth-breeds-narcissism?CMP=fb_gu

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