Happy 2015: despite this week’s horrifying atrocity in France, it’s going to be an extraordinary year. Not just for the sharp downward trends in oil, food and retail prices reshaping the business landscape even as they prove a welcome January gift for hard-pressed Brits. Nor even for the electoral wrestling-match set to occupy the next few months, or the prospect of an even more significant EU referendum if the Tories win. On 15 June, a great anniversary will arrive: the moment the treaty was agreed that laid the cornerstone of modern democracy.
Eight hundred years ago this summer, Magna Carta was sealed by a reluctant king. The City was a key player: without London’s backing, the miracle of 1215 would never have happened. Its fine 1297 copy is on show at the Guildhall from next week.
As a result, Magna Carta confirmed the liberties of the City of London, but its greatest gifts – democracy and the rule of law – are global. The British Library’s anniversary exhibition, sponsored by Linklaters, will include Thomas Jefferson’s manuscript of the US Declaration of Independence and an original copy of the US Bill of Rights.
Today, some wish to suggest the ordinary citizen’s interests are somehow at odds with the interests of those with more money or who stand at the helm of large businesses. But as Magna Carta shows, the principles of justice at stake in taxing a great city beyond endurance, and denying to certain landowners the proper course of law, prove to be those that, upheld, bring down arbitrary power to the benefit of all, raising up and liberating every citizen. At a time when an act of barbaric violence has shocked the world, rereading Britain’s talismanic charter of justice still recalls the civilised values that can unite us all.