Introducing Magna Carta 2.0 – our way forward

9:30 am - May 13th 2009

by Anthony Barnett    

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You want to know where we go from here? We need a new Magna Carta. Sunny recently said he wanted “an insurgency to take our rights back from the state”. This now includes our right to honest government, though I think we always knew that. The emphasis needs to be on achieving this.

In February the Convention on Modern Liberty in London and across the UK showed a clear public concern with the threat of authoritarian power and a hunger to debate and confront it in an intelligent and democratic way. Guy Aitchison, Clare Coatman and Tom Ash are, from today, launching Magna Carta 2.0 with the aim of taking the spirit and intelligence of the day to the country.

They have a post setting out the idea here on OurKingdom. I’m joining them. We need you to as well if you have a moment – on your own terms and in your own way and whatever your political affiliations if you are a democrat concerned with how we’re governed.

Here are six problems they set out:
1. The corruption and suborning of parliament as a check on the executive, which accelerated after the Iraq invasion.
2. The rise of a surveillance society: from the blanket logging of all our electronic communications to CCTV to travel scrutiny
3. The sharing of personal information on official and commercial databases: the rise of the so-called database state.
4. Growing police autonomy, both nationally – the Association of Chief Police Officers, for example, is an independent corporate entity not a public body – and internationally, especially within the EU.
5. Exploitation of the threats of crime and terrorism to excessively enhance state power and undermine our fundamental rights often accompanied by encouraging populist fears and alarms
6. The exercise of arbitrary and unaccountable power by government agencies and quangos.

Here is what we want to do about it: launch Magna Carta 2.0 on Sunday 14 June at Runnymede, or at a place near you, on the anniversary of its signing. Then, take the issues to candidates everywhere and draw up a Parties and Candidates Audit across the whole civil liberties and human rights agenda before the end of the year, not by questionnaire but by meetings, public and private, in pubs, tea rooms and bars. Then, hold a convention of some kind in June 2010, face to face with the incoming government.

And then? The point is to start as we need to carry on: in an open, cooperative fashion, sharing concerns, building energy, learning not lecturing, facing the big issues, being cross-party not tribalist, confronting the big picture.

I want to emphasise two things. From climate change to the digitalisation of our identities we are facing huge changes. These create inadvertent as well as deliberate dangers. It is right to be very suspicious of who is doing what. But not to be totally paranoid.

Indeed a big part of the problem is the weakness of government, as a civil culture of honest public service and public values has vaporised. We need to research, investigate, debate and map what is happening. As Calvino once said, we need an open frame of reference as there is no longer a well-proven system or working tradition we can link to. Also this is not just about government. Corporate power, including big media, gain as parliament crumbles.

MC2 is about what we do now and how we govern ourselves. But it goes wider than the political system as we have known it. It isn’t exclusive, on the contrary it’s about linking up organisations, campaigns and blogs.

It’s a chance to make a little history the way you’d like it to be. We’ll launch on June 14th. Add your sword!

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About the author
Anthony Barnett is a regular contributor, and editor of the blog Our Kingdom. Also a founder member of OpenDemocracy and Charter 88. He co-organised the Convention on Modern Liberty.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Magna Carta 2.0 ,Our democracy

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Reader comments

Can I be first with the Tony Hancock clip

have also posted on the campaign

1,2,3,4,5,6 – check.

Excellent project.

This is an excellent idea. My main concern regarding 12 years of Labour government has been how ineffective the checks and balances from within parliament have been.

The traditional constitutional arrangements have been overridden and this has contributed to a widespread feeling of detachment between elected representatives and voters. We need to address separation of powers within parliament so future governments remain accountable throughout their term of office. It is no longer sufficient to suggest that a vote once every five years provides a sufficient check on government powers especially when electoral mandates are based on a minority of votes and voters.

Great Idea, a big job to be done!!

“But it goes wider than the political system as we have known it. It isn’t exclusive, on the contrary it’s about linking up organisations, campaigns and blogs.”

It also needs to go deeper, we need to change how we think and how we take responsibility for our freedom.

Nader n. Chokr who was Professor of Philosophy at Shandong University has written a useful essay on how we should shape our own education to provide for “Democracy to Come”

it’s called:
Unlearning or “How not to be Governed”
it’s published by Societas

It takes the “learnign not lecturing” idea mentioned above one step further and points our how much we need to question and “unlearn” what we have been taught so that we can develop “a good and capable citizen, trained for freedom, autonomy and virtue”

Someone should invite Chokr over here

Sorry if this looks like lectuing rather than learning.


What does “travel scrutiny” refer to?

Why does Benn not criticise Castro for lack of elections and unions for not holding votes before strikes?

7. Stuart White

Excellent and timely. Count me in. One issue I’d also like to see addressed is the accountability of financial institutions, but items 1-6 are an important start.

I agree with the points, but there might be a slight naming issue…

Tks everyone esp Sunder for your post on Next Left. It’s Tony Hancock’s “she” that is esp hilarious and always makes me laugh.

“Travel scrutiny” is a bit cryptic 🙁
I’m referring to E-Borders and the incoming legislation demanding we give the authorities detailed information about ourselves, where we are going and who are are with before we leave. Henry Porter refers to it as an “exit permit”. See These processes are still underway.

@6 – Tony benn isn’t involved in this, is he?

I might have to reconsider my support…

Why does Benn not criticise Castro for lack of elections

You fail to understand; democracy is only for us, not for them…

What has your beloved leader Cameron said about the need for Chinese democracy, cjcjc?

Anyway, off-topic rubbish aside, great idea Anthony! I’ll be there!

Did you also know that terrorism affects women more than any other demographic group? Please help us to stop terrorism by filling out a short survey at:

I would really value your opinion and the opinion of your readers. The long-term goal of this project is to facilitate a more diplomatic American foreign policy in the years ahead.
Thank you,

John Maszka


That’s fair enough, would be good to make it a bit more specific imo. I was worried it might be to appease the crackpots who believe there’s an army of people monitoring and compiling a database of oystercard information.

Calm down.
I was merely responding to #6.
NB he is not my “leader” though he will be the country’s “leader” in 12 months time or so…God help us

Thanks Kentron for flagging up the MCII xbox game – shouldn’t be too much of an issue as we’re working in different domains…in fact the game has almost nothing to do with magna carta apart from the name so far as I can tell.

16. Sunder Katwala

Anthony is right about the “she” and the timing being the thing about Hancock.

But perhaps it is the next line which could be most useful for the launch … “Brave Hungarian peasant girl who forced King John to sign the pledge at Runnymede and close the boozers at half past ten! Is all this to be forgotton?”

I shall not go through the facts of this case again, save to suggest to you there is some element of doubt in this boy’s guilt. As Shakespeare said in ‘The Merchant Of Vienna’, when Portion accused Shylock Holmes of pinching a pound of meat: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven, upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d, twice bless’d, the sign of good – no – it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” Take the case of Doubting Thomas, who was sent to Coventry for looking through a keyhole at Lady Godiva. Can anybody prove he was looking at her? Can anybody prove it was he who shouted out: “get your hair cut”? Of course not, this is sheer supposition! Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain? Brave Hungarian peasant girl who forced King John to sign the pledge at Runnymede and close the boozers at half past ten! Is all this to be forgotton? My friends, it is not John Harrison Peabody who is on trial here today but the fair name of British justice, and I ask you to send that poor boy back to the loving arms of his poor white-haired old mother a free man! I thank you!

17. Shatterface

(11): China might make a better stick to beat the Tories with if Brown had allowed protests against them. Cameron’s crime is silence, Brown’s is silencing.

“What has your beloved leader Cameron said about the need for Chinese democracy, cjcjc”

Uhh, not that I am a massive supporter of Cameron (or necessarily democracy) but this all sounds rather sensible:

Sunder, that is pure brilliance! I imagine it is rather better than some real speeches in defence of liberty.

Great idea – add to to blogroll and will be reading in anticipation.

*Thumbs up thinghy*

This all sounds great, Sunny. I agree with the whole thing.

But what has climate change got to do with it?

22. William Gladys

MC2. Let us hope that this time there will be absolutely NO reference to Queen Liz or King Charles or King William or King Harry, or Queen Anne or Queen Beatrice and etc. If you add that proviso to your lists at number seven for example then Mr Barnett you will get our total backing. William.

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