It was about the point that we stepped out of the Cathedral precinct, turning right onto Sun Street, when I turned to look at Cllr George Metcalf. On his face was an enormous grin, and his eyes beamed from behind his spectacles. “Isn’t this fun?” he said, as onlookers, many bewildered, tried to make sense of what they were seeing.
That would best have been described as grown men and women walking in procession through the streets of Canterbury. Some wore wigs and buckles, we wore gowns, while others dressed as peasants from the middle ages (no Labour Party jokes). Some might say it was difficult to spot who looked the most ridiculous, but I didn’t mind. Because I was familiar with George’s delight. It was the same kind as my own.
I first met George, who represents Blean, at the first appointment I had as a councillor. It was a tour of the council offices, only I hadn’t got the message that it had been postponed. I felt a little awkward waiting in the Democratic Services Office. But then this chap turned up, having arrived by motorcycle, who talked in glowing terms about, well, everything he’d seen and everyone he’d met between the front desk and the DSO on the first floor. It was George. The enthusiasm he had for the parade was the same enthusiasm he has for everything.
For me this was a long way from WAMP and the Mallandain Room. This was the cathedral service to mark the signing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago. Outside we had been treated to a military band and the graciousness of tourists and locals. Inside we had another treat, the cathedral itself, its choir and the Dean, who could teach a politician or two about what it means to make your point with elegance and no shortage of joy.
The whole thing might have looked odd, although I suspect most of those watching appreciated the ceremony of it. Behind it though was more than the quaint story of a piece of paper. Spoil sports of the Magna Carta celebrations might say that it was torn up weeks after it was signed. But it was a start, and over time became a Bill of Rights, a declaration of independence, a constitution.
Much of that is what we still have now, and what plenty of people on our both sides of the Human Rights Act debate wish to protect. That includes those of us who believe those same rights existed before the EU said so in 1998.
None of which really crossed our minds as we paraded, and smiled at tourists on the High Street.