Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Shaking Up British Democracy

Nick Clegg’s promise of the ‘biggest shake up of British democracy for 178 years’ is a big one. Anyone who reads Ben Wilson’s article on the British Constitution of the 18th century in the new edition of History Today – on the newsstands tomorrow – will realise the enormous changes wrought by the Great Reform Act of 1832 and the subsequent reforms that led eventually to universal suffrage. The new government’s plans to scrap ID cards and the National Identity Register suggest an affinity with traditional British notions of liberty that would have been familiar to Burke or Hogarth and which long predates modern democratic ideals. Marrying 18th-century notions of liberty with the mass democracy of the 20th century sounds fine in principle, but will it work in practice at a time when large sections of Britain’s population has become dependent upon the state for its well-being?

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