ENGLISH DEMOCRACY – THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE

The word ‘democracy’ comes from the Greek language and literally means ‘voice of the people’

But for very many centuries, the common people of England had no voice in a political sense and were ruled over by a sovereign who exercised executive power of authority without consulting a parliament.

Then twenty one Barons colluded to legislate the Magna Carta in 1215 which would enable the will of the sovereign, King or Queen, to be overruled if it was considered necessary.

But it was not considered necessary until the middle part of the seventeenth century when England became embroiled in a twenty year civil war between the common people and royalty, the roundhead against the cavalier.

The Tudor dynasty had passed into history and William Shakespeare was barely a household name for the dramatic plays he wrote.

Upto this time, the sovereign turned to trusted advisers on matters of home affairs and warfare rather than members of parliament, aristocrats who saw it as something of a status thing to undertake than a job to represent the people.

There was no democracy in the literal sense of the word.

Local folk could complain to clergy, aldermen, constables, magistrates and even perhaps to the member of parliament for their constituency but the right to vote in an election and participate in a democratic process was still a long way off for the Englishman and woman.

A Bill of civil rights was introduced in 1688 as a means to ensure that there was no repeat of the civil war a few years earlier, that there was a defined dynastic line of succession to the monarchy and that the common man could exercise free speech by petition to parliament via his elected representative.

The Bill of Rights became the inspiration and foundation for the American constitution a century later.

A Parliament building was eventually built on the north bank of the river Thames in London in the district of Westminster.

The Parliament comprised the House of Commons for elected representatives and the House of Lords for the privileged clergy and nobility.

Democracy was gradual but it took a long time to become available to everyone.

Not everyone was educated, could read or write.

Not everyone met the qualifying age and was of social privilege.

The Napoleonic and Crimean Wars, the Boer War and certainly the first World War changed all that within the space of just over a hundred years as the common man (and woman) did indeed fight for King and Country, just as Henry V once demanded of his sicken troops at the Battle of Agincourt.

The voice of the people could no longer be ignored and the English Democracy became a reality in 1918 when every citizen  aged twenty one or over became entitled to vote and elect a member for parliament from their constituency.

It was obviously regrettable that it took the likes of Emily Davidson to throw herself under the Kings horse in a horse race for the vote to be given to woman at all as well as man.

Universal suffrage would have its day.

The age to vote was reduced from twenty one to eighteen by the Labour Government in 1969.

This is the path which has been taken to achieve English democracy.

England today is in a political union with neighboring countries Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In 2014, the people of Scotland voted in a referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom and not become independent.

On 24th June 2016, the people of England  (as well as in Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland) voted in a referendum to leave the European Union in what has become known as Brexit.

Honorary persons who once served as elected representatives find themselves now sitting in the House of Lords in judgement.

They can overrule the House of Commons where it is considered necessary on political issues but that is where the parallel ends with the Barons of 1215.

They cannot overrule English democracy or subdue the voice of the people.

The vision of William Shakespeare and Henry V has seen the light of day.

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