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‘Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?’

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So said Tony Hancock (who would have turned 90 today) in 1959’s 12 Angry Men, a brilliant spoof of Henry Fonda’s 1957 film of the same name. Magna Carta, King John’s grudging attempt to appease rebellious barons and clergy, celebrates its 800th anniversary in 2015.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014.

Magna Carta is seen as an historically significant document that enshrined liberty under the law and laid the groundwork for subsequent great constitutional documents. These include its own reissues in 1216, 1217, 1225 and 1297 (the last as statute), as well as the UK’s Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Petition of Right (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689), the Act of Settlement (1701), the US Constitution (1789) and UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights (1948).

Lord Denning, the late, great master of the rolls (the second most senior judge in England and Wales) described it as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”.

At the time, it represented a desperate last ditch effort to secure peace between a bankrupt and beleaguered king and incredibly whiny, warring barons. The barons resented paying tax to a king who had failed to defend their rights, privileges and, most importantly, their territories in France. As a result, they wanted the king to stop raising taxes and seizing inheritances without their explicit consent, and much of the document deals with those more mundane issues, rather than profound issues of the constitutional governance of a nation.

John’s hand was finally forced by the threat of full scale civil war and he gave his seal to the document on June 15 1215, near the reeds of Runnymede on the Thames. In effect, Magna Carta ended absolute monarchy and introduced semi-constitutional monarchy. The king, like everyone else, was to be under the law.

Lincoln Castle, where one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta is housed. Photo: www.visitlincoln.com

Magna Carta has grown in significance since. It was reissued four times over the first hundred years and has been cited in some of the greatest parliamentary and legal debates over constitutional reform. However, the original agreement lasted only a few months before Pope Innocent III annulled it, refusing to accept any constraint on the dignity and divine right of kings (clause 61). Civil war broke out shortly after, so the original version was not exactly a success; its later reissues more so.

William Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John (1590s) makes no mention of Magna Carta, reinforcing the view that its real constitutional importance came in later years – especially in the parliamentary debates leading up to the English civil war (1642-1651). As with so many of Shakespeare’s plays, it did leave us with the oft-misquoted phrase “to gild the lily“.

Over time, clauses of Magna Carta became absorbed into statute. Today, four clauses effectively remain in force: the freedom of the English church (clause one), the ancient liberties of the City of London (eight) and the right to due process (39/40). The last two, which became a single clause in the 1225 reissue, are the most significant, in that they state that people should be judged by their peers, and justice could not be delayed or sold. Recent governments have done their best to get around this right through extraordinary rendition and secret courts.

This incredible document has a special affinity for me as one of only four remaining copies (there is no original) sits in the castle prison in Lincoln, where I live, alongside its sister document, the Charter of the Forest. The castle is subject to a £22m refurbishment in advance of the 800th anniversary. Salisbury Cathedral has another copy and the British Library the other two. Magna Carta was also the basis of an alternate reality game I developed in 2006, which weaved its real history with a fictional tale of buried treasure.

Not many people know the courageous and pivotal roles played by Archbishop Stephen Langton, Elias of Dereham, William Marshal, Hubert de Burgh, Eustace the monk or Arthur of Brittany (the senior heir to Richard, reputed to be murdered by John, or on his orders). Nor do many know the throne of England nearly ended up in French hands with the popular support of the English, abruptly ending just under 150 years of independent Norman rule. Our history would have been radically different had Prince Louis Capet secured the throne in 1216.

John died (poisoned or broken by his struggles) in Newark Castle in October 1216, shortly after losing his baggage train and much of his wealth in the Wash between Lincolnshire and Norfolk. This created the schoolboy joke of “King John losing his Crown Jewels in the wash”. At that point, Prince Louis had captured Winchester and London, both our ancient and current capitals, plus half of England. John’s death allowed the rebellious barons to switch their support to his nine-year-old son, Henry III (although they probably regretted that decision by 1258). They simply wanted rid of John. Until his death, Louis was the only credible pretender. In 1297, John’s grandson, Edward I, directed that charters based on the Magna Carta become part of the common law of the land.

Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carta is perhaps the best preserved of all four remaining original copies. Photo: chappy14 via freeimages.com

John’s reputation has been that of a ‘bad king’, akin to Richard III. No king since has shared either of their names. In reality, it is far more complex than that. John inherited a kingdom bankrupted by King Richard’s adventurous crusades, imprisonment and subsequent ransom. Richard spoke no English and hated the cold and rainy country with a passion, staying away for all but five months of his 10-year reign. He is reputed to have said, “I would have sold London if I could find a buyer.” Now, he is lionised as one of our greatest historical figures, with a triumphant statue outside parliament in London, the very place he wanted to sell. Richard shares as much with patriotic Englishmen as our patron saint, St George, a Greek Roman soldier who never set foot on our green and pleasant land.

Faced with bankruptcy and war with the expansionist Philip, King of France, John lost land in France, raised taxes and seized church assets, while trying to appoint his own loyal archbishop over the heads of the clergy of Canterbury. In doing so he annoyed the pope, leading to the whole of England being excommunicated for several years. It was clerics who wrote the historical records of the time and they didn’t like sharing their choice of archbishop, wealth or power. Despite victories against France in the early part of his reign, he eventually lost too much territory that belonged to his barons. In contrast, his father, Henry II, had controlled the vast majority of France through the Angevin Empire, by marriage and conquest.

He was undoubtedly a ruthless man, but what son of the overbearing Henry II and a Plantagenet would not have been? All of Henry’s sons rebelled against him at some point. John persecuted his enemies mercilessly, but that is nothing exceptional for those times, and he was a particular insecure monarch (nicknamed ‘Lackland’ and ‘Softsword’) with strong pretenders and powerful enemies. Killing relatives to secure your throne has been the modus operandi for a lot of rulers.

In many ways, his weaknesses and bad luck left open the opportunity for taxpaying barons to secure more power and show that there was an alternative to absolutism. Once the barons had secured more power, the door was open for the taxpaying cities and shires, the commons, to demand more power. The Boston Tea Party cry of “no taxation without representation” echoes down from Magna Carta. British rulers in 1773 clearly hadn’t learnt the lesson of Magna Carta.

John’s failings led to Magna Carta’s creation, which in turn seeded our parliamentary democracy. A stronger, more effective absolute monarch might have held that door shut for another century or two. This would have been good for the monarchy, but bad for the people.

Magna Carta says rulers are under the law and only rule with the people’s consent (albeit ‘the people’ were the barons in 1215). It says certain groups require special protection and we all have a fundamental right to justice and freedom from arbitrary decisions.

What we can learn from Magna Carta is that sometimes we need a weak government to have the opportunity to create a better government. Is it time for a new Magna Carta?

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta’s signing, and there are a range of events planned in both the UK and the US. These include exhibitions of the four remaining original copies, housed in Lincoln, Salisbury and at the British Library in London, starting in May 2014.

Featured photo: Eric Chan via Flickr

Further reading:

New plans to boost HMRC’s tax powers contradict Magna Carta principles

Functioning markets, functional democracy, sustainable economics and the rule of law

Labour urged to take ‘equal and sustainable society’ vision to next election

Osborne’s omission heralds escalating emissions

The Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

Economy

Report: Green, Ethical and Socially Responsible Finance

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“The level of influence that ethical considerations have over consumer selection of financial services products and services is minimal, however, this is beginning to change. Younger consumers are more willing to pay extra for products provided by socially responsible companies.” Jessica Morley, Mintel’s Financial Services Analyst.

Consumer awareness of the impact consumerism has on society and the planet is increasing. In addition, the link between doing good and feeling good has never been clearer. Just 19% of people claim to not participate in any socially responsible activities.

As a result, the level of attention that people pay to the green and ethical claims made by products and providers is also increasing, meaning that such considerations play a greater role in the purchasing decision making process.

However, this is less true in the context of financial services, where people are much more concerned about the performance of a product rather than green and ethical factors. This is not to say, however, that they are not interested in the behaviour of financial service providers or in gaining more information about how firms behave responsibly.

This report focuses on why these consumer attitudes towards financial services providers exist and how they are changing. This includes examination of the wider economy and the current structure of the financial services sector.

Mintel’s exclusive consumer research looks at consumer participation in socially responsible activities, trust in the behaviour of financial services companies and attitudes towards green, ethical and socially responsible financial services products and providers. The report also considers consumer attitudes towards the social responsibilities of financial services firms and the green, ethical and socially responsible nature of new entrants.

There are some elements missing from this report, such as conducting socially responsible finance with OTC trading. We will cover these other topics in more detail in the future. You can research about Ameritrade if you want to know more ..

By this report today: call: 0203 416 4502 | email: iainooson[at]mintel.com

Report contents:

OVERVIEW
What you need to know
Report definition
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The market
Ethical financial services providers: A question of culture
Investment power
Consumers need convincing
The transformative potential of innovation
Consumers can demand change
The consumer
For financial products, performance is more important than principle
Competition from technology companies
Financial services firms perceived to be some of the least socially responsible
Repaying the social debt
Consumer trust is built on evidence
What we think
ISSUES AND INSIGHTS
Creating a more inclusive economy
The facts
The implications
Payments innovation helps fundraising go digital
The facts
The implications
The social debt of the financial crisis
The facts
The implications
THE MARKET – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Ethical financial services providers: A question of culture
Investment power
Consumers need convincing
The transformative potential of innovation
Consumers can demand change
PUTTING FINANCIAL SERVICES IN AN ETHICAL CONTEXT
An ethical economy
An ethical financial sector
Ethical financial services providers
GREEN, ETHICAL AND SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ISSUES IN FINANCIAL SERVICES
The role of investing
Divestment
The change potential of pensions
The role of trust
Greater transparency informs decisions
Learning from past mistakes
The role of innovation
Payments innovation: Improving financial inclusion
Competition from new entrants
The power of new money
The role of the consumer
Consumers empowered to make a change
Aligning products with self
THE CONSUMER – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
For financial products, performance is more important than ethics
Financial services firms perceived to be some of the least socially responsible
Competition from technology companies
Repaying the social debt
Consumer trust is built on evidence
Overall trust levels are high
THE ETHICAL CONSUMER – SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ACTIVITIES
Payments innovation can boost charitable donations
Consumer engagement in socially responsible activities is high
Healthier finances make it easier to go green
SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE COMPANIES
37% unable to identify socially responsible companies
Building societies seen to be more responsible than banks….
….whilst short-term loan companies are at the bottom of the pile
CONSUMER TRUST IN THE BEHAVIOUR OF FINANCIAL SERVICES COMPANIES
Overall trust levels are high
Tax avoidance remains a major concern
The divestment movement
Nationwide significantly more trusted
Trust levels remain high
CONSUMER ATTITUDES TOWARDS GREEN AND ETHICAL FINANCIAL PRODUCTS
For financial products, performance is more important than principle
Socially conscious consumers are more concerned
CONSUMER ATTITUDES TOWARDS TRANSPARENCY
Strategy reports provide little insight for consumers
Lack of clarity regarding corporate culture causes concern
Consumers want more information
THE ROLE OF FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRMS IN SOCIETY
The social debt of the financial crisis
THE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRMS
For consumers, financial services firms play larger economic role
Promoting financial responsibility
CHALLENGER COMPANIES AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Consumer trust is built on evidence
The alternative opportunity
The target customer

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Economy

A Good Look At How Homes Will Become More Energy Efficient Soon

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energy efficient homes

Everyone always talks about ways they can save energy at home, but the tactics are old school. They’re only tweaking the way they do things at the moment. Sealing holes in your home isn’t exactly the next scientific breakthrough we’ve been waiting for.

There is some good news because technology is progressing quickly. Some tactics might not be brand new, but they’re becoming more popular. Here are a few things you should expect to see in homes all around the country within a few years.

1. The Rise Of Smart Windows

When you look at a window right now it’s just a pane of glass. In the future they’ll be controlled by microprocessors and sensors. They’ll change depending on the specific weather conditions directly outside.

If the sun disappears the shade will automatically adjust to let in more light. The exact opposite will happen when it’s sunny. These energy efficient windows will save everyone a huge amount of money.

2. A Better Way To Cool Roofs

If you wanted to cool a roof down today you would coat it with a material full of specialized pigments. This would allow roofs to deflect the sun and they’d absorb less heat in the process too.

Soon we’ll see the same thing being done, but it will be four times more effective. Roofs will never get too hot again. Anyone with a large roof is going to see a sharp decrease in their energy bills.

3. Low-E Windows Taking Over

It’s a mystery why these aren’t already extremely popular, but things are starting to change. Read low-E window replacement reviews and you’ll see everyone loves them because they’re extremely effective.

They’ll keep heat outside in summer or inside in winter. People don’t even have to buy new windows to enjoy the technology. All they’ll need is a low-E film to place over their current ones.

4. Magnets Will Cool Fridges

Refrigerators haven’t changed much in a very long time. They’re still using a vapor compression process that wastes energy while harming the environment. It won’t be long until they’ll be cooled using magnets instead.

The magnetocaloric effect is going to revolutionize cold food storage. The fluid these fridges are going to use will be water-based, which means the environment can rest easy and energy bills will drop.

5. Improving Our Current LEDs

Everyone who spent a lot of money on energy must have been very happy when LEDs became mainstream. Incandescent light bulbs belong in museums today because the new tech cut costs by up to 85 percent.

That doesn’t mean someone isn’t always trying to improve on an already great invention. The amount of lumens LEDs produce per watt isn’t great, but we’ve already found a way to increase it by 25 percent.

Maybe Homes Will Look Different Too

Do you think we’ll come up with new styles of homes that will take off? Surely it’s not out of the question. Everything inside homes seems to be changing for the better with each passing year. It’s going to continue doing so thanks to amazing inventors.

ShutterStock – Stock photo ID: 613912244

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