That the Daily Telegraph should choose this moment to help launch Billy Bragg’s campaign for a Declaration of Rights based on open public debate shows how much things have changed in Britain. It is a measure of how far New Labour has gone in destroying the most fundamental rights, some of which, like habeas corpus, were established in medieval times.
Bragg, aka the Bard of Barking, who campaigned for New Labour in the last election, is now denouncing its measures: “New powers will allow the Government to compile data on every citizen; the suspension of habeas corpus and the erosion of right to trial by jury has overturned centuries of convention.”
Also in response to the whittling away of basic rights, a packed meeting of lawyers and rights campaigners met last night in Chancery Lane to discuss proposals for a Bill of Rights for Britain.
Neither Bragg nor those who place their faith in constitutionalism alone are looking beyond parliament to reverse the massive damage done by New Labour’s legal and constitutional demolition job. But in the real world, about 40% of the people in Britain have shown how little trust they have in what is wrongly called “democracy” by withholding their vote in the last election.
These debates give the campaign for a 21st century constitution an added urgency. The big issue is: do we have confidence in the existing political parties and processes to protect and enhance fundamental social, civil and economic rights? We urgently need to go beyond these structures to give voice to the powerless, unrepresented majority of people in society, as the Rights for a 21st Century Democracy document, supported by A World to Win, states:
“The existing system of government fails to represent the interests of the vast majority of people. The current political system is democratic in name only. A market state has replaced the welfare state and parliament’s role is reduced to a farce. The state’s primary purpose is to promote global business and financial interests to the detriment of ordinary people. In Britain, these commercial interests are championed by New Labour. This state operates in an increasingly authoritarian, lawless and tyrannical fashion, from the invasion of Iraq to the suppression of democratic rights and civil liberties in Britain. Pressure and even mass protests are simply ignored. Under the impact of corporate-driven globalisation, key public services are converted into sources of profit for big business. At the same time, the existing state has proved incapable of tackling the ecological crisis that threatens our very existence – indeed, emissions in Britain are 3% higher since New Labour came to power in 1997. Under these conditions, our hard-won right to vote is undermined and the mass of people are effectively disenfranchised. We therefore support the campaign for a written constitution for a truly democratic, republican Britain. human needs, not profit, shape production, consumption and lifestyles."
While we need to preserve and defend the rights gained in the past, this is only possible by making a mental and political leap towards a 21st century concept and practice of rights. You can sign up for the campaign here.