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Ex DG: "How to Reinvent Democracy"

Former BBC Director General & Current Football Associate Chairman Greg Dyke on how to fix UK politics

In the first part of this article Greg diagnosed UK politics' failings; now he prescribes some solutions:


Compared with 50 years ago we are a better educated nation, we are less deferential, people have a higher sense of self-esteem and they want more influence over their own lives. In that same 50 years, when the world has changed beyond recognition, our political system, our political institutions and our political parties haven’t changed at anywhere near the same pace. In short our society no longer fits a democratic model designed in the 18th century.


So the urgent question we need to ask is how do we re-invent democracy in Britain for the 21st century, for the internet age, for an era when deference is dead, an era when people want more power and influence over their own lives not less?


What's to be done? I came up with a few ideas when I was asked by the Radio Four PM programme to stand in their election to be the speaker of the House of Commons a few years back. I suggested that we could do two things overnight to change parliament:

  • Firstly we should end all the pathetic jeering and shouting that goes on and discipline any MP who behaves like a spoilt child rather than an adult.
  • Secondly we should scrap all the pomp and ceremony that engulfs parliament – all those ridiculous men in tights walking backwards through Westminster and all that arcane language.


But those changes would only be cosmetic and we need more profound change, which is why we need to set up a commission to investigate the whole of our political system. Its remit should be to be radical – so it shouldn't be dominated by professional politicians – and its recommendations should then be decided on by the people, not the politicians. In the end turkeys don't vote for Christmas.


The sort of thing I’d like to see the commission recommend include:

  • Moving our centre of democracy out of Westminster to somewhere like Milton Keynes, Manchester or York and turning the current Houses of Parliament into the museum it already resembles.
  • Reducing the number of MPs by half, giving them a fixed salary and fixed expenses and stopping them employing their families. We are all supposed to practise equal opportunity policies – it's time they had to as well.
  • Limiting MPs to standing for three terms only; so overnight we would no longer have cradle to grave politicians – the people who decided they wanted to be MPs at university and never got a proper job. Arguably the leaders of all three political parties today fit into this mould – none of them have ever had a proper job. It is time parliament represented the people, not just the political classes.
  • Ending much of the patronage wielded by the Prime Minister and the Government of the day, as only then will the legislature do its proper job of scrutinising the executive rather than being disproportionately made up of people trying to curry favour with it and climb the greasy pole.
  • Creating a fully elected second chamber whose members would have limited terms of office and no whipping system so that scrutiny can be effective.
  • Devolving power downwards – we should ask of almost every decision made by Central Government: Does this need to be made here or should it rightfully be made 'down there'?


But by far the most important of all is that we need a proper system of proportional representation (PR) so that we can all influence the result in elections.


In a world when the way you vote is less likely to be dependent on class allegiance or the way your parents voted, and where people no longer vote just Labour or Tory as they did in 1951, it’s only right that a whole range of differing views are reflected in government, rather than just the views of a shrinking minority in one particular party.


Now of course today we do have a majority government. Add together the Liberal and Tory votes in the last election and you get to 60% of the total vote. The problem is in Britain we have no tradition of (or understanding of) coalitions so the electorate and, in particular, the media are still blaming both parties for not carrying out what they promised in their election manifestos whereas in fact both had to make compromises. The Liberal Democrats are suffering more because of this than the Tories, largely because of the chaos over tuition fees.


There's a whole generation who think they were betrayed by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats and, in truth, they are probably right. If the Liberal Democrats had understood how important their commitment not to increase tuition fees had been amongst thousands of younger voters, I’m sure it would have been included in the coalition agreement. But they didn’t and it has been very damaging to them.


However I suspect we will have more coalition governments because the fall in votes for the main political parties – including the Liberal Democrats – will continue. I genuinely believe two party or even three party politics in Britain is coming to an end and at some stage we will get a PR system which means coalition government will become the norm, as it is in many parts of Europe. How ridiculous will it be if UKlP win 10% of the vote in the next General Election and don’t win a single seat in our parliament? I have no sympathy with UKIP at all but democracy requires us to reflect the views of the voters, not just to hang onto an outdated two or three party system because that suits the biggest parties.


We are at a very early stage in the development of coalitions in Britain and, as a result, we should have expected the disillusionment with the current coalition. However I doubt whether there will be a return to the old ways. Just as the Berlin Wall did come down, so will the decline in voting for the traditional parties change our democracy.


Greg Dyke


Do you agree with Greg's analysis? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.


Greg is perhaps best known for having been a rather controversial Director General of the BBC and leaving in troubled circumstances following the death of Dr David Kelly; his illustrious career includes also successes at London Weekened Television, TV-am and as first chairman of Channel 5. He is now chairman of the Football Association and in much demand as an after dinner speaker.

Greg Dyke

About the Writer

Greg is perhaps best known for having been a rather controversial Director General of the BBC and leaving in troubled circumstances following the death of Dr David Kelly; his illustrious career includes also successes at London Weekend Television, TV-am and as first chairman of Channel 5. He is now chairman of the Football Association and in much demand as an after dinner speaker.


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