“All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy” – Speech by Governor of New York, Alfred Emanuel Smith in Albany 27th June 1933
The day was full of little incidents – I gave a live interview to French television, seen by my local MEP, James Elles who was in Strasbourg at the time – I bumped into a fellow Buckinghamshire Conservatives Supper Club member in the middle of Hyde Park who was also against the war – Little Miss Dynamite performed her music on stage. Tony Benn and the Reverend Jesse Jackson made passionate speeches against the war. All in all this was a momentous day. One hundred million people converged on six hundred cities in sixty countries to show their feelings. This was a protest by the World. Did it matter? Would it matter?
One month later on March 15th 2003 I was in more familiar surroundings at the Conservative Party Spring Forum in Harrogate. War with Iraq was imminent and a special slot had been given to the Leader of the Party – Iain Duncan Smith MP to speak about it. He supported the government. My heart sank. After he had spoken there were a few minutes allocated for speeches from the members of the Party. With trepidation I put my name in to speak. After the first two or three contributions supporting Iain Duncan Smith I was called to speak.
I started with a blatant attempt to get the sympathy of the audience by explaining how nervous I was speaking against the views of the Party Leader. I went on:
“There are two major policy changes that distinguish this proposed war from others. They are the policies of pre-emptive action and/or regime change. Both are highly dangerous to world stability.
The question that has to be answered is this: If Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and we believe that he is prepared to use them, then under what circumstances would he most likely use them bearing in mind that the policy of containment has had twelve years of success?
I suggest the most likely circumstances in which he would use them would be if he is attacked or trapped in Baghdad. If this were to happen the war would have triggered off the very action that it is supposed to prevent.
On the other hand if he does not have weapons of mass destruction or if he is not prepared to use them, then thousands of innocent men, women and children will lose their lives for the mistaken beliefs of our Prime Minister and President Bush, and when the bombs fall who here believes that the Iraqi people will say “That’s alright, these bombs are not meant for us they are meant for Saddam Hussein”.
The speech went down well and several Conservative MPs, two of whom were in the Whip’s office, congratulated me. Independently and separately both told me that over forty per cent of the Parliamentary Party opposed the war.
On Tuesday March 18th in the House of Commons a cross party amendment insisting the case for war had not yet been made was defeated by 396 votes to 217. A majority of Conservative MPs voted with the government to defeat the amendment.
On 19th March we went to war with Iraq.
In August 2003 the Prime Minister Tony Blair MP addressed both Houses of Congress in the United States. By now no weapons of mass destruction had been found and Prime Minister Blair was changing his story as to why we went to war. He said: “Can we be sure that terrorism and WMD will join together? Let us say one thing. If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that, at its least, is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering. That is something I am confident history will forgive."
As the Prime Minister was basking in the applause and praise, on a scale which only America is capable of providing, the body of Dr. David Kelly (the Government expert on WMD) was lying in an Oxfordshire wood, propped up against a tree, dead.
How could all this happen? I had thought that in a democracy the people were sovereign and in a representative democracy Parliament represented the people. At the time we went to war the opinion polls showed a slight majority of the people in favour of war. How could Parliament and the people get it so wrong? Could the decision be changed? Could we withdraw from Iraq now the public mood was changing? The more that I thought about democracy the more questions I began to ask myself. Do we have it? Have we had it? Is it an illusion? Perhaps I must go back to basics to understand it. As I am not an academic I was looking for a practical guide to democracy – a history of how we got to where we are, to see what lessons we can learn from the past. How do freedom of speech, liberty, justice, democracy, going to war, the Royal prerogative, the separation of powers, the judiciary, the executive, Parliament, the role of the State, all intertwine into a free society?
Many great minds have focused on the subject of democracy and I quote extensively from them, but it seems to me that the basic elements, which make up the practice of democracy and their development, have not been comprehensively dealt with. This is my view of how democracy has developed, where we are now and where we could go in the future.
There are many books on the ideas around democracy, but I cannot find a single book which is its history in the United Kingdom, from the start. Without understanding this history, I feel many of the arguments about the principles of democracy which are expounded are shallowly grounded, indeed they have no context.
Having spent much of the past six years looking into the history of democracy in the United Kingdom, I have drawn a number of conclusions about democracy’s nature which I have outlined, which in turn I have used as a reference point when exploring the significance of the events as they happened.
Why is democracy so important? Essentially it is about the legitimate control of power; who has the power, how it is obtained, how it is exercised, and how it is lost. Democracy allows power to be transferred between people who would not willingly choose to give it up, without recourse to bloody revolution. Differences are talked over, not fought over; open debate, not violence, is the means of determining policy.
How is democracy used? It is inherent in a democracy that the power to make decisions should not be reserved to the few in isolation but that the decision makers must be responsive to the views and attitudes of all citizens, and must in a real sense be accountable to them.
In a crude sense democracy is a tool for decision making. The decisions may be taken directly by the people, or indirectly. In a representative democracy the people choose the decision-makers. If they get it wrong or make decisions, which offend the majority of the people they can be ejected. Because they know they can be ejected the very threat of ejection has to be considered when making their decisions. Occasionally the people are themselves the decision-makers in a referendum, but this is rarely used although with the development of technology and the use of the Internet we may see more of this in the future.
The former MP Tony Benn asks the following questions of those in power:
“What power do you have?”
“Who gave it to you?”
“In whose interests do you exercise it?”
“How can we get rid of you?”
“Do we have it because it gives people a sense of involvement and control over their lives, and therefore contributes to political stability? Do we have it because individuals have the right to rule themselves, even if they use that right in ridiculous ways? Or do we have it because democracy is actually an excellent vehicle for making intelligent decisions and uncovering the truth?” 
Surowiecki went on to illustrate the wisdom of the crowds:
“Most political decisions are not simply decisions about how to do something. They are decisions about what to do, decisions that involve values, trade-offs, and choices about what kind of society people should live in. There is no reason to think that experts are better at making those decisions than the average voter. Thomas Jefferson, for one, thought it likely they might be worse. “State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor”, he wrote. “The former will decide it as well and often better than the latter because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.” 
Why do people vote? Is it:
to judge the powerful,
to say thank you,
to express fear,
to demonstrate idealism,
to obtain personal benefit,
to confirm your political identity,
to show you belong to a political tribe,
to show you are an adult,
to express shear cussedness?
It may be some or none of these things, but in voting we are expressing a view and collectively we create the wisdom of the crowds in determining our future, but only if those votes count.
The purpose of this book is to set out the historical development of democracy in the United Kingdom, to judge how democratic our political institutions are today and to show how democracy could develop in the future. In order to do this I have created a benchmark against which progress can be measured. This is a challenge in its own right.
There are many differing views as to what “democracy” means and I set out in the Introduction the wide and varied interpretation of the meaning of the word, but for the purpose of tracing the development of democracy I have chosen a definition based on measurable data.
The main difference in definitions is between those that see democracy as a practical, specific means of measurement with basic elements, which can be tested, and those that see it as a theoretical concept. When people talk about concepts it is difficult if not impossible to get agreement for concepts can be interpreted in different ways. Most important issues are contentious, but that does not mean we should give up on them and academics certainly have not done so. The conceptual view deals with society, rights, fairness, class and liberties, all of which have wide meaning. Endless argument ensues about them. Academics and politicians love this conceptual approach much more than others do. I wish to avoid endless argument so have tried to stick as closely as possible to the original Greek definition of “rule by the people” and in doing so treating the word “democracy” as a fact – something that the “man in the street” can understand and recognise.
Is it right that the House of Lords consists of mainly appointed people with a few hereditary peers?