750 years ago today England made an important democratic advance. The so called De Montfort Parliament met at Westminster. It was not the first Parliament, and it was the idea of a rebel government that had outmanoeuvred the King. They invited two knights from each shire and two burgesses from each important town, as well as nobles.
This was far from the first time powerful people in the land had instituted formal discussions with the King, the executive government. After all, on June 15th we will celebrate 800 years since Magna Carta. That too was a negotiation between Crown and powerful forces in the country. That established the idea of more meetings between Crown and barons to keep the King honest and to ensure follow up to promises. Subsequently Parliaments of varying composition had been called.
The central underpinning of this proto democracy was a simple one. Those who paid tax and offered allegiance to the King, should be able to seek redress of their grievances before granting more money. They should look to the Crown to offer impartial and fair justice for all, so disputes could be sorted out and criminal conduct dealt with in an independent and acceptable way.
Parliament grew from these origins. There was a strand of work gradually widening the franchise, until all adults came to enjoy the vote. There was another strand of political action, tightening the grip of Parliament over taxation, so monarchs first had to deal with Parliament to get supply, and then became figureheads as Parliament took over the administration of the executive and its budgets.
This impressive story of the growth of democracy was interrupted by our membership of the European Economic Community. It is still causing troubles, as there is no proper redress of our grievances with the EU before they take our tax revenue. There is no easy way of removing the EU government if it no longer pleases us the voters. That is why we need to have a constitutional debate about our relationship with the EU, and need to sort it out. This year of anniversaries reminds us of how precious our early development of freedom under the law, habeas corpus and Parliamentary representation was. It also reminds us how it has been damaged by EU administration and jurisprudence.