The People’s Charter of 1838
The Cat thinks so. The original Chartist movement began in 1838, six years after the First Reform Act was passed, which extended the franchise to property-owning males and abolished the Rotten Boroughs. Sadly, it didn’t go far enough. The working class were still effectively excluded from the franchise, yet they were still subjected to the tripartite social dictatorship of the aristocracy, the landed gentry and the industrialists who were represented in Parliament by the Tories and the Whigs. The Poor Act of 1834 provided a further catalyst for the Chartist movement. Fast forward to the present day and Conservative government is threatening to rebrand the Poor Law.
Today’s neoliberal politicians continue to talk about The Deficit. The Conservative Party claims that deficit reduction is their key priority and talk about little else. The Labour Party under the Blairite postmodernists bought into their mantra andrepeated the urgency of cutting the deficit for no other reason than to appear legitimate and responsible (sic). What these parties ignored was the democratic deficit. The Conservative government’s demand for deficit reduction at all costs coupled with their creeping authoritarianism has been matched by the Labour Party’s lack of opposition to some the severest cuts to public services in a generation. A weak opposition does no one any good. Even Francoist Spain had token opposition parties that lent a democratic veneer to a deeply reactionary and authoritarian regime. However, now that Jeremy Corbyn has become the new Labour leader, there is a chance that the party will become a proper opposition.
Commentators (themselves institutionalized through their role as lobby journalists) have long regarded the United Kingdom’s Parliament as “the mother of all parliaments”. Furthermore, they will also claim that this country has given the world the “rule of law”, which they claim stems from the Magna Carta, a document that freed the barons but not the peasantry. Because the United Kingdom lacks a written constitution and a bill of rights, civil liberties can be suspended at any time at the whim of a sitting Prime Minister. That’s right, your freedoms are entirely imagined… unless you have the money to pay for them.
Later this year, Tory government plans to redraw the constituency boundaries without offering electoral reforms. This is gerrymandering. They may claim that there are too many MPs. What they really mean is that there are too many opposition MPs and they want to rule unopposed indefinitely. They must be held to account.
The original People’s Charter made the following demands for political reform:
1. A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
2. The Secret Ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
3. No Property Qualification for Members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
4. Payment of Members, thus enabling an honest trades-man, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency; when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.
5. Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.
6. Annual Parliament Elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since as the constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.
Six simple demands. Yet it would take decades before most of these demands were met.
In 1988, Charter 88 was formed for much the same reasons as the original Chartist movement. Their demands were:
We have had less freedom than we believed. That which we have enjoyed has been too dependent on the benevolence of our rulers. Our freedoms have remained their possession, rationed out to us as subjects rather than being our own inalienable possession as citizens. To make real the freedoms we once took for granted means for the first time to take them for ourselves. The time has come to demand political, civil and human rights in the United Kingdom. We call, therefore, for a new constitutional settlement which will:
- Enshrine, by means of a Bill of Rights, such civil liberties as the right to peaceful assembly, to freedom of association, to freedom from discrimination, to freedom from detention without trial, to trial by jury, to privacy and to freedom of expression.
- Subject Executive powers and prerogatives, by whomsoever exercised, to the rule of law.
- Establish freedom of information and open government.
- Create a fair electoral system of proportional representation.
- Reform the Upper House to establish a democratic, non-hereditary Second Chamber.
- Place the Executive under the power of a democratically renewed Parliament and all agencies of the state under the rule of law.
- Ensure the independence of a reformed judiciary.
- Provide legal remedies for all abuses of power by the state and by officials of central and local government.
- Guarantee an equitable distribution of power between the nations of the United Kingdom and between local, regional and central government.
- Draw up a written constitution anchored in the ideal of universal citizenship, that incorporates these reforms.
The inscription of laws does not guarantee their realisation. Only people themselves can ensure freedom, democracy and equality before the law. Nonetheless, such ends are far better demanded, and more effectively obtained and guarded, once they belong to everyone by inalienable right. Add your name to ours. sign the charter now!
Today, over a century later, we continue to suffer from a lack of democratic accountability and it’s getting worse. It is for good reason that our European neighbours refer to this country as “the most centralized country in Europe”. The lack of modernity in the United Kingdom is more than matched by the antiquated nature of our legislature and electoral system.
The Cat demands:
- An electoral system that is proportional and fair. The Alternative Vote system put before the British people in 2011 was neither proportional nor fair and was offered as an inferior substitute to force the issue of proportional representation off the table for generations.
- An end to the City of London’s undue and disproportionate influence on Parliament. The cosy deals between corporations, hedge funds and other financial institutions and political parties must be ended. Political parties should be state funded to avoid any conflict of interest or corruption of the democratic process by corporations and finance houses exerting influence on them.
- The abolition of the monarchy and the honours system. The monarch should be replaced with a president that has been elected by the people. The president shall serve for a term of seven years and shall be subordinate to Parliament. The antiquated institutions, titles and roles that stem from monarchy should also be abolished. These include the House of Lords, Lord Lieutenants, Governor Generals, High Sheriffs and similar titles.
- The devolution of power from Westminster to the nations, regions and metropolitan counties of the United Kingdom, and the creation of a federal state. Each political division shall have its own democratically elected assembly that is elected by universal suffrage on a proportional basis. The creation of workers or community councils to supplement and complement the work of the larger bodies.
- The voting age be reduced to 16.
- A written constitution that contains a Bill of Rights, which enshrines civil liberties in statute and defines the roles of the officers and executives of the nations, regions and other political divisions.
- An substantial reduction of the election deposit.
Jeremy Corbyn may have won the Labour leadership, but the work outside of Parliament must continue. Politics neither begins nor ends with politicians or Parliaments!
You may have your own idea of what the new People’s Charter should look like. Feel free to add some more.
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