James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire - Service is a reminder of what we’ve signed up to (From The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
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James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire - Service is a reminder of what we’ve signed up to
12:00pm Thursday 14th March 2013 in News
It was a treat to be invited to the High Sheriff for Wiltshire’s annual Service for the Rule of Law in Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday.
Were it not for the magnificence of the building, the superb music and the great dignity with which everyone involved conducted themselves it might have been mildly Gilbert and Sullivan.
What a brilliant panoply of uniforms: the High Sheriff herself in lace and jabots; the deputy Lord Lieutenant in blue serge, judges in full-bottomed wigs and purple silk, mayors in all their civic finery, chains a-jangle, the Chief Constable, Bishop, Dean and choristers in their Sunday best – and a few scruffy herberts like the MP observing it all from the back row.
The High Sheriff is the oldest secular appointment (by HM the Queen) in England, dating back to Saxon times – 27 of the 63 clauses in Magna Carta refer to their duties. Today they do an important job of overseeing the judiciary, and playing an active part in the civic, ceremonial and voluntary life of the county. They play an extremely valuable role.
The service was all about the rule of law; about how we citizens appoint people to have authority over us, to maintain the peace, enforce good law, and collect taxes.
We all agree to accept the authority of judges, the police, local and central government and so on, because we believe that giving up some of our freedoms to properly elected and appointed people, is in our own best interests. It keeps everyone else under control even if we ourselves don’t need it. It’s what political philosophers call the ‘social contract’ and it’s what makes civilised democracies what they are.
Yet the social contract is invisible. It’s not written down. There are no institutions to uphold it. It has no headquarters, offices nor coats of arms.
And that is why events like Sunday’s service are so important. They are the visible representation of what we have all signed up to. People wearing funny uniforms; antique if not antiquated language and music, people carrying maces and genuflecting to the altar.
And Parliament is the same. We could probably do it all with conference calls via Skype, voting on our Blackberries.
Perhaps we don’t need to get together in Westminster, and just let the duly elected Government get on with it? I think not. The uniforms, the ceremony, the rules, the procedures, the very building – all are visual representations of democracy and the rule of law.