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Remembering their choices

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At the Battle of Ethandun in May 878, the warriors and farmers of Wessex did not run from the Viking invasion. Though they were outnumbered, they stood up to the Vikings. With Alfred's leadership they defeated them and invited the Vikings to share new ground rules for life.

The ground rules were a shared Christian culture of honesty, promise-keeping and forgiveness; a common law; and respect for property, education and the integrity of every individual.

Imperfectly observed, of course! But then, none of us is perfect.

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On May 14th 1264, Simon de Montfort rode into the Battle of Lewes with a broken leg. Alongside him were the bachelor knights of England and a host of Londoners. They were, in their imperfect way, trying to defend the reforms of Oxford and Westminster, which included -

Incorruptible sheriffs; an end to costly foreign adventures; a council to meet as a "Parliament" to approve or disapprove taxes and discuss affairs of the realm; and reforms to help tenants with grievances against their lords.

Many of these reforms are worth fighting for today.

They could have run from the armies of Henry III and Prince Edward. They chose to face them.

They managed, brilliantly, to capture the king and the prince. In a year, Montfort and the bachelor knights would have to face and make an even greater sacrifice, but by then they had, imperfectly, put Parliament on the map.

Today Parliament is in disgrace over an expense scandal that suggests that MPs care more about their perks than the people they represent. The House of Commons is the people's house, and the people have a choice to make.

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