First the link dump…
Charlie Whitaker at perfect.co.uk
Got the general picture?
A non-partisan grand coalition of the British people with a uniform objective - a new constitutional settlement with all the trimmings; a written constitution, bill of rights, electoral reform, the full works. Think the Levellers, the Chartists. Think John Locke, J S Mill and Thomas Paine.
You’ll also see me popping up in conversation in relation to hosting a new website called Liberty Central, which will hopefully provide a central gathering point for the ‘coalition of the willing’.
This new site will be up in a few days with a target ‘official’ launch date of March 6th to coincide with the return of the ID cards bill to the House of Lords.
The purpose of this site will be all the usual things, to educate and inform, lobby, campaign, help people to organise, meet and shared ideas plus one very special purpose that I want to flag up.
There have been campaigns of this kind before, many of which are still active. Some of these have been ‘global’ in scope (Charter 88), others like Elect the Lords, NO2ID, Make My Vote Count focus more on specific issues - and naturally we want them all to work with the ‘coalition’ and contribute their expertise and experience.
I’ve spent the last day or so mooching around some of the existing campaigns and form what I’ve seen, I’ve come to what I see as an important conclusion - to make a real impact we need to take this one step further than any of them have done as yet.
There is a hell of lot a good material in all these campaigns, information and resources which need to be taken on board to frame the debate - but what is lacking in pretty much of all of the them is, to varying degrees, specificity. It is not enough, I believe, for us campaign, lobby and inform in general terms; to say ‘yes we want a Bill of rights and these are some of the issues that should be debated, but we’re really not sure what will come of this at the end’.
We have go beyond debate and beyond principles and be bold enough to say exactly what is it we do want in quite precise terms - if a Bill of Rights is one of our objectives, then we should debate and discuss it, of course, but we should also be clear about what the contents of that bill of rights should be, take the debate beyond principles and actually draw up a Bill of Rights.
We have the tools to do this - the site will incorporate an integrated Wiki module, part of which will be turned over to actually drafting a constitution, Bill of Right, etc - and we also have amongst bloggers, I believe, the necessary talent and ability to do this. In the case of a Bill of Rights I believe the skills are out there to go as far as drafting the necessary legislation, on the constitution we may not get quite that far but we should get far enough to be clear about what it should look like and what should be in it, even if it requires the work of a specialist in law, or two, to draw up the finished article.
I realise this also opens up a number of potentially contentious debates, on the role of the Monarchy and the Church of England for starters but also the dreaded spectre of Europe.
My own position on this is that even here we can find a consensus that accommodates everyone, even if that consensus in not everyone’s ideal. At the heart of this lies a simple principle; that any substantive change in the status of the Monarchy or Britain’s relationship with Europe must be subject to a referendum, that these are issues on which only the people of this country can make the final decision.
There is not, I believe, widespread public support for bringing about the end of the Monarchy, even as a republican I have to concede that. Any such debate must therefore focus not on the Monarchy itself but on the constitutional position of the royal prerogative and how we curb its misuse by politicians.
As for Europe, there is no absolute compromise position between pro-Europeans on the left and the Eurosceptic/nihilist wing on the right and therefore no perfect solution - what I hope we can agree is a position which stresses the primacy of the British constitutional settlement we are working towards and that implicit - or even explicit - in what we do is a message to the technocrats of the European Union that on constitutional issues says ‘this far and no further’, that here are the boundaries of sovereign national authority in the UK and we will go no further. Hopefully that principle is one behind which we can all work together in ways which do nor make Europe a wholly divisive issue.
Liberty Central will serve as a open hub for the coalition - which reminds me of how much work I should be doing on it rather than waffling on about it here - and will be live in a few days, before the Terrorism Bill returns to the Lords on Feb 28th.