We sat in groups of fours or fives, medical professionals mingling with students, media types with bankers, a mismatch of people with a common interest in developing a codified constitution. 800 years on from the sealing of the Magna Carta, the agenda for this evening was to discuss whether social and economic rights should be included in a written constitution for the UK.
After an introduction by Frances from Unlock Democracy, we were treated to a presentation by Daniel Regan from LSE’s Constitution UK project, outlining their work and introducing the topic of discussion for the night’s debate. Economic, social and cultural rights were defined; the right to adequate food, housing, safe drinking water, education, healthcare and science and culture included, the sources of these rights and their somewhat limited enforceability discussed.
In our groups we got to know our neighbours, introducing ourselves and debating whether we were for or against social and economic rights being included in a constitution and which of those we would prioritise. Additional rights we considered to fit the bill were brought to the table ready for the plenary session.
Hands in the air for the vote of inclusion; 15 for, 3 against; motion passed, with representatives from either side arguing their case. We discussed which were the most important, many of us settling for basic needs such as food, air, healthcare and water while the socialists among us argued the case for a collective right for workers to convert an employment contract in a for-profit business into a cooperative.
Tables were turned into ‘ministries’ and a few of us shuffled about, heading for our specialism. Among us was represented health and medical care, education, ecological rights, political participation and basic necessities. In our groups we had the task of expanding on our subject to create clear and coherent rights worthy of a constitution.
The medics demanded accessible, affordable healthcare for all and incentives to keep doctors in the UK. On the ecological team we championed not only the right to protect your environment but communities’ responsibility to do so, as well as the requirement that all businesses undergo an environmental audit. The political participation team preached devolution, a theme common across the board, as a way to outlaw political apathy and called for democratic intervention into our financial institutions.
After sharing our developments and debating our conclusions in depth we wrapped up the debate. Recording our resounding thoughts on what we’d discussed with Emily from Unlock Democracy and signing up to hear more came just before saying our goodbyes. We left feeling enlightened and keen to carry on the conversation in upcoming Constitution UK and Unlock Magna Carta events.