Wednesday, 31 January 2007

30th January - Democracy Day ?

Yesterday was the anniversary of the execution of Charles I in 1649. The first and only legal public execution of an English monarch as opposed to the mafia-style whacking of a rival that was commonplace in the middle ages.

As usual it passed by largely un-noticed. In France and the USA there are public holidays to mark the turning points in their political history. But in this country our Civil War is massively under-played, as if there was something embarrassing and un-English about it.

History of course is written by the victors. And the victors of the Civil War ultimately were the compromisers - moderate royalists and moderate parliamentarians. The royalists outraged at the king's preference for secret deals with Presbyterian Scots, Irish Catholics and even the French, just about anyone other than his own people, and the parliamentarian gentry and middle class scarred at the threat of actual democracy from below posed by the radical republicans and levellers.

The compromise was a protracted one that took about thirty years to work out. It spanned the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II, and ultimately the invitation of William II to come over from Holland and take the job as king when James II showed too many signs of following in Charles I's footsteps. This coup in 1689 is celebrated as the 'glorious revolution when of course it was actually neither of these things. But it does mark the settlement of a 'constitutional monarchy' with which we have been stuck ever since.

And of course the compromisers had a natural desire to play down the idea that there was any kind of conflict. As if the present day arrangements that pass for a constitution were the outcome of a gentlemens' agreement rather than centuries of struggle and conflict. In particular the Civil War(s) were almost fifty years of bloody and traumatic battles that touched every part of the country and every aspect of daily life.

As you might have guessed by now, the civil war has always been something of a passion of mine. It is the most significant period in English history, when for the first time we saw the ideas of democracy raised, and even implemented in the short-lived English Republic and Commonwealth.

So, let's start the campaign for the 30th January to be a public holiday in this country - Democracy Day. A celebration of the birth of democratic ideas ,and of the concept that no authority is above the law and the elected representatives of the people.

Amazing isn't it that to float such an idea is still controversial some 350 years after the event ?


Anonymous said...

It's a great idea! We could behead a member of the Royal family every year on the 30th until we run out of them. Could take a while but at least we'd get some more practice at execution, we obviously need some. We could also have an official 'Democracy Day' and a real 'democracy day'.

journeyman said...

I think we've come some way in 350 years and I wouldn't advocate executing them. (see earlier posts on the death penalty)

Just sack them, evict them from the homes owned by the nation, and then send them a bill for all their back-taxes.

Maybe then we could employ them as guides at historic sites - afterall monarchists always tell us how good teh royal family are for tourism. We could make some great reality TV from this too ...

Anonymous said...

Beheading is for the French. We could burn them out of their houses. But the Irish have come to regret that destructive solution. There must be a reality TV show to be made.

Anonymous said...

I don't think 'we've' come anywhere in 350 years. We are using exactly the same barbaric and distorted methods of meating out justice through power now, as were used then. 'Democracy day' may also need a new name. Democracy is now being seen in it's true colours in the middle east. Lets call our 'day off' something else. Something that dosn't carry the stench of death. How bout 'Day off' day.

fellow traveller.