I confess that I missed this scintillating piece of news yesterday; it emerged not so much with an earth shattering drum roll but more of a B-Flat squeak on an old violin.
The annals of history have been changed, no longer will generations of American school children be taught that Britain has no ‘written constitution’ – never totally accurate, what they mean is that no one has ever kept all the scraps of paper in one place, although Bagehot, Dicey and Erskine May made valiant efforts.
It was said that our constitution rested on the sovereignty of parliament, the simple fact that every four years we had the right to elect new representatives (down knee, down! Wait till the end, there will be a special knee jerking space provided) who would reflect the will of the people and could remake any law passed by the previous incumbents. That was our protection, our rights. Then we gave them away to the European Parliament, and puff! We had no constitution.
Yesterday, a humble grammar school boy from Battersea published – ta-ra! – the complete, unabridged version of the British Constitution. We barely noticed, even those of us in the political Blogosphere.
Naturally we weren’t consulted about our requirements in this ground breaking document, written almost exactly 800 years after Stephen Langton penned the foundation of the freedom of the individual against tyranny. It is not as elegant as ‘We the People’, more ‘I, the most important Civil Servant’. It does not look to a future free from tyranny, but sets in stone the mechanisms of the past by which we have come to be ruled.
The ‘Augustine’ of my title is better known to you as Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Battersea grammar school boy who rose to the highest echelons of the corridors of power, albeit that it was the exclusive Catholic fee paying Salesian College in Battersea.
He was set the task of producing a ‘written constitution’ by Gordon Brown – and thank God, Brown was ejected from No 10 before he could edit this final version, for it is remarkably free of Nu-Labour jargon.
We could have ended up with a written constitution that all those on incapacity benefit be given a mansion in Chelsea, that voters in Kirkcaldy each be granted 10 million pounds a year from the Bank profits, the mind boggles at the mischief Nu-Labour could have inflicted had we realised they were writing a constitution for us.
Prime Minister come and go, but Gus O’Donnell has the sticking power of the true Whitehall Mandarin, and he has continued with his lonely task in the palatial splendour of his suite of offices.
When Robin Butler occupied those offices, he was asked to describe our Constitution to Parliament; he replied, ‘it is something we make up as we go along’ – now it is set out in a formal document, and you literally could not make up the fact that this has crept up on the British without fanfare, penned by a Civil Servant – the ultimate ‘we’ of Butler’s statement.
‘We’ may elect our representatives every four years, but ‘we’ have no say in the ‘we’ that really holds control over this country.
You can gorge yourself on despair and angst – and read our new constitution document HERE. It is not, you will note, a ‘consultation document’, merely a statement of how the Whitehall Mandarins intend to rule us until we rise up against them……
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