MP Eleanor Laing calls for new bank holiday to celebrate Magna Carta

By Peter Brown

Every day should be a holiday, sang the Dandy Warhols, and if a Conservative MP gets her way then the UK could be enjoying a special bank holiday from 2015.

Eleanor Laing, MP for Epping Forest, recently introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill to the House of Commons calling for a bank holiday on June 15th 2015 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta Memorial

Photo used under Creative Commons from Josie Fraser

The Magna Carta, as dedicated students of public affairs know all too well, is a cornerstone of the British constitution. The agreement between King John and his barons in 1215 famously established that no-one was above the law, not even the monarch, and set in motion the evolution of parliamentary democracy as we know it today. Now, countries around the world including the US and many European and Commonwealth nations can trace their political institutions back to this momentous document.

So, the 800th anniversary of such an important event in our history sounds like a good excuse for a holiday, right? Eleanor Laing certainly thinks so. Presenting her bill to the House, she said that Magna Carta Day was necessary “so that the British people can celebrate today’s freedoms”. Party time!

Unfortunately, Mrs Laing isn’t actually suggesting we create a brand new holiday: she simply wants to move the existing first bank holiday in May to June 15th. “I appreciate, of course, how difficult it is for businesses, service providers and schools to deal with the consequences of a day’s holiday,” she said, neglecting to mention how easy employees and students generally find it to deal with those consequences.

And there are also signs that Mrs Laing’s desire to let us all celebrate our constitutional heritage together springs from ulterior motives. Her speech to the Commons was peppered with references to the nanny state as she tried to link the Magna Carta to a modern, libertarian politics. “Now it is not the monarch who tries to interfere in the lives of our people; it is the state,” she said.

What’s more, can it be a coincidence that the bank holiday Mrs Laing wants to move is the first one in May, traditionally associated around the world with the labour movement? Commenters on sites like The Huffington Post were quick to suspect a Tory conspiracy.

Whatever her real motives, however, Mrs Laing’s proposals are unlikely to succeed. Ten Minute Rule Bills very rarely become law, because they are such a low priority for the government. It’s more likely that the bill is a simple attempt to gain publicity for the work of the Magna Carta Trust, which is looking at various ways to mark the 2015 anniversary.

Earlier this year, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced its own plans to look at moving the May bank holiday. Suggestions for other ‘new’ (i.e. moved) bank holidays have included St George’s Day for England and St David’s Day for Wales.

Of course, most of us don’t really care about the reasons for specific bank holidays. We just want more of them, to bring us in line with other European countries. And the introduction of extra holidays into the national calendar is something that sadly seems to be absent from the current political agenda.


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