Ever fancied being one of a million Founding Fathers or Mothers of one of the planet's oldest democracies, or how about taking your chance to be the modern Thomas Jefferson and write the Preamble to a national constitution? The UK Parliament, in an unprecedented democratic consultation on the need for a UK Written Constitution, is offering exactly that to any global citizen.
With the United Kingdom under stress and a break up possible, with an anti-politics party pulling in over 20% of the popular vote at the last election, with no party having a serious plan of reform to end the UK's suffocating over-centralisation, with depoliticised leaderships fearful and led not by vision but tomorrow's newspapers, and with negativity and cynicism about politics at an all-time high, can we dare to admit: "it is broke and we must fix it".
As always in UK society we have to have permission from the past to look forward. One of the most famous constitutional documents in history, the Magna Carta, has its 800th Anniversary next year. Celebrations are planned, and rightly so. The significance of Magna Carta is immense: it is widely recognised as the foundation of the concept of limited government, subject to both the law and the people. Eight hundred years later, this concept is still a cornerstone of the United Kingdom's constitution. We should celebrate the past, but we shouldn't live in it. This is also an opportunity to look forward and to ask: what should the next 800 years look like?
Parliament's Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, which I chair, has been doing just that by working over the past five years on a project with King's College London to develop several visions of what a democratic settlement for the United Kingdom could look like. The United Kingdom is famously one of the very few democracies in the world that still doesn't have a codified constitution. Instead, its constitution consists of various Acts, common law principles, conventions and practices that are not written down in one place. Among other democracies, only Israel and New Zealand do not have codified constitutions.
My Committee has just published a report, A new Magna Carta?, which asks whether the United Kingdom needs a codified constitution in future and invites the public to submit their views to a national consultation. Along with the report, we've published three example constitutions.
The arguments for and against codification are also explored. The report says the United Kingdom has a "sprawling mass" of common law, Acts of Parliament, and European treaty obligations, and a number of important but uncertain and unwritten "conventions" that govern administration, but the full picture is unclear and uncertain to electors in our democracy. It also points to concerns about an "elective dictatorship", and argues that it has "become too easy for governments to implement political and constitutional reforms to suit their own political convenience". A codified constitution would entrench requirements for popular and parliamentary consent. The present uncodified constitution is "an anachronism riddled with references to our ancient past, unsuited to the social and political democracy of the 21st century and future aspirations of its people. It fails to give primacy to the sovereignty of the people and discourages popular participation in the political process."
It will come as no surprise to many people that I personally support a codified constitution. I think every person in the United Kingdom--from school children to pensioners--should be able to put their hands on their own copy of the rules that show how our society works. It should be a document of which we can feel proud. A codified constitution is not a panacea--it is the boxing ring not the fight itself--but I believe very strongly that people would feel more engaged if our politics were not so inaccessible.
What I want most of all, though, is for British subjects (citizens soon perhaps?) to throw off their deference and passivity and help write their own political rulebook. Send us your views between now and 1 January 2015 via our website: www.parliament.uk/new-magna-carta-consultation
For the Jeffersons or the Mandelas amongst us we want your rousing preamble (350 words) to a written constitution for the UK. There are already some entries, including my own, on our website. www.parliament.uk/pcrc-preamble
If having your words ring down the decades of democratic history is not enough then a bottle of House of Commons champagne is also going to the best entry.
I look forward to hearing from you!