Magna Carta, Quantum Physics and Nick Clegg


At the recent #EuroComm conference, I was invited to give a light-hearted talk as part of the Rapido session. Rapido sessions are a series of five minute talks on (within reason) any topic of choice. So for five minutes, I riffed on Magna Carta, Quantum Physics and Nick Clegg.

One of the common misconceptions about Magna Carta is that, out of its 63 clauses, only 3 are relevant today.

Which suggests that 60 are not. This is a 5% success rate. So the question is therefore why the document has become so famous and so revered. After all, a footballer who scored only 3 goals in 63 games is unlikely to be hero. Or a European Union that has been going 63 years, but with only three good ones …. oh wait….

But if many of the clauses are irrelevant to today’s world certainly the concepts and principles are relevant. So which is it? Relevance or irrelevance? But we don’t have to choose: we can borrow from quantum physics and declare that “Magna Carta exists in a quantum state of both relevance and irrelevance.”

And actually it can even be argued that the UK General Election of 2015 increases the relevance of Magna Carta because it is actually the party manifesto of each of the seven major parties contesting the election in Great Britain. Yes: whatever your political views, you can find inspiration in Magna Carta to help you decide how to vote in May.

For example, let’s start with the Conservative party. If you are of their ilk, you’ll probably like clauses 6,7, and 13.

  • Clause 6 is the party of aristocracy: “Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone of lower social standing.”
  • Or, just recently the Conservative Party made an election promise on inheritance tax; clearly inspired by Clause 7: “At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing …”
  • What if you are pro-business, or pro-wealth creation? Look no further than Clause 13: “The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs.” This is otherwise known as the ‘keep Boris on-side clause’.

Supposing instead you are the Liberal Democrat campaign team, looking for ideas. Try Clauses 9, 35, and 41.

  • The LibDem student loan policy can be found in Clause 9: “Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient to discharge the debt. A debtor’s sureties shall not be distrained upon so long as the debtor himself can discharge his debt.” In other words you don’t need to pay back your student loan until you have the funds to do so.
  • Clauses 35 and 41 are pro-European, especially when it comes to the free movement of people. “All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade.”

The Labour party, unfortunately, is not so well served, but we can find usefulness in Clause 16, even if it is a bit Marxist: “No man shall be forced to perform more service for a knight’s ‘fee’, or other free holding of land, than is due from it.” In other words, “from each according to his ability.”

Now it is true that there are other political parties too, and even if they are perhaps not so strong across the realm, they too can fund succour in its pages.

Nicola Sturgeon pf the Scottish Nationalist Party, for example, can take her inspiration around devolution from Clause 44: “People who live outside the forest need not in future appear before the royal justices of the forest in answer to general summonses….”. Or Plaid Cyrmu (the party of Wales) can cite Clause 56: “If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of land, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgment of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them.”

And even UKIP – even UKIP – can cite Magna Carta as an inspiration, for example in Clauses 50 and 51:

  • 50: “We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, and in future they shall hold no offices in England. The people in question are Engelard de Cigogné, Pierre, Guy, and André de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffroi de Martigny and his brothers, Phillippe Marc and his brothers, with Geoffroi his nephew, and all their followers.” In their canon, this is known as the ‘kick out the French’ Clause.
  • 51: “As soon as peace is restored, we will remove from the kingdom all the foreign knights….” And this covers immigrants from any other lands….

So while there is an argument that Magna Carta is irrelevant because many of its clauses have been rescinded, it can equally be argued that it is relevant like never before. So it hovers in a quantum state of being both relevant and irrelevant.

A bit like Nick Clegg.


Stephen Welch is past-president of IABC UK, currently working as a consultant. His expertise is in helping organizations with culture change, innovation, communication, leadership development and exploring the connections between behavior and job/organization design to understand how people in different jobs need to lead differently.

Twitter: @stephenwelch11

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