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In the 800th anniversary year of the original Magna Carta, two barons will debate the need for a new Magna Carta at the 4th annual Bagehot Debate, run by the Bagehot Memorial Fund and held as part of the 2015 Langport Festival. The motion to be debated on the evening of Saturday 6 June at Huish Episcopi Academy will be ‘It’s time for a new Magna Carta“.

The Chair of the Bagehot Memorial Fund, Barry Winetrobe, said, “We wanted to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and base the theme of our Debate around the issue of whether the UK needs a written constitution, as is often claimed, in place of the present ‘flexible’ uncodified constitution (or non-constitution).”

The motion to be debated on the evening of Saturday 6 June at Huish Episcopi Academy will be ‘It’s time for a new Magna Carta“. Speaking in favour of the motion is Lord Tyler, the former Liberal Democrat MP, Paul Tyler, and against the motion will be the Conservative peer Lord Norton of Louth, the Hull University professor of politics, Philip Norton. Both are highly respected figures in the constitutional reform world, and regular bloggers on current political and constitutional questions.

As has become the practice at the last two Bagehot Debates, the two guest speakers will be supported by two star debaters from the Academy’s Debating Society.

Barry said: “As the original 1215 Magna Carta was agreed between the King and a group of barons, we thought it would be wholly appropriate for the two speakers on a motion on a new Magna Carta to be barons too. With two such eminent constitutionalists as Lords Norton and Tyler, alongside the two Huish student debaters, we should have an entertaining and informative debate, which will be our contribution to the 800th anniversary celebrations.”

The debate will be chaired by Andrew Lee, editor of the Langport Leveller.

Walter Bagehot and Magna Carta

Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) of Langport, Somerset, the renowned Victorian constitutional and financial writer and long-time editor of The Economist, was the author of the classic The English Constitution (1867), still cited to this day. Bagehot described Magna Carta as “a great mixture of old and new; it was a sort of compact defining what was doubtful in floating custom, and was re-enacted over and over again. .. In truth, such great “charters” were rather treaties between different orders and factions, confirming ancient rights, or what claimed to be such, than laws in our ordinary sense.” More generally, he wrote, in his typical pithy way, that “.. an ancient and ever-altering constitution is like an old man who still wears with attached fondness clothes in the fashion of his youth: what you see of him is the same; what you do not see is wholly altered.”

The Bagehot Debate

The annual Bagehot Debate is designed to promote lively debate on an important topical issue, from the perspective of Walter Bagehot’s own expressed views. The first debate was held in 2012 (“The monarch should have greater powers”); the second in 2013 (“The United Kingdom needs Scotland”, with Tony Wright, former Labour MP and Chic Brodie, SNP MSP) and the third in 2014 (“Mass communication is the enemy of truth and knowledge”, with Donald Shell, former Senior Lecturer in Politics at Bristol University, and Ruth Dudley Edwards, the well-known journalist and novelist). The last two debates have also featured two students from our local Academy’s Debating Society, supporting the guest speakers, as part of the Fund’s policy of promoting engagement with young people locally. The Bagehot Debates take place during the annual Langport Festival.

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