MPs hint that representatives with small electoral mandates lack legitimacy

MPs appear to have questioned the democratic legitimacy of elected representatives who have a small electoral mandate.

The Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee has released a report following its scrutiny of the actions of Ian Johnston, Gwent’s Police and Crime Commissioner.  Johnston was accused of bullying former Chief Constable, Carmel Napier, into retiring in June.  The committee swung into action to give the illusion of control and hauled Johnston and Napier into Westminster to investigate the process of removing a chief constable and if Johnston had exceeded his authority.

Clearly there was no love lost in the battle of egos and after the session, Johnston had some things to say about his interrogators.  This did not go unnoticed by the parliamentarians and they made that blindingly obvious in paragraph 9 of their subsequent report which reads:

We were disappointed that, shortly after we took evidence from Mr Johnston, he took to Twitter to criticise a member of the Committee for asking questions that he believed had been prompted by Gwent MPs, describing the proceedings as “sad really”. Mr Johnson even described Mr Ruane as a “plant of Gwent MPs”. This disdainful attitude towards scrutiny by Parliament, as well as an indication of a clear over-sensitivity to criticism, from a politician elected by less that 8% of the electorate, who had managed to side-step the statutory arrangements for local scrutiny of his decision to sack the Chief Constable, is further evidence, if any were needed, that the checks and balances on police and crime commissioners are too weak.

It was in their arrogant fit of pique and effort to be dismissive of Johnston that the MPs opened a Pandora’s Box they might one day regret delving into.  Until now only bloggers and a couple of journalists have raised the legitimacy question of MPs – and governments – being elected by a minority of voters.  But now, MPs who have relied upon the accepted practice that the person in an election with the highest number of votes is the winner and has democratic legitimacy, have raised questions about power being held by people with small electoral mandates.

The committee’s report suggests that the principle underpinning our complaint is accepted, so now it’s just a question of figures.

So what size of mandate confers legitimate entitlement to represent a constituency?  Clearly 8% is not sufficiently impressive for the members of the Home Affairs select committee.  No doubt they consider their own mandates as conferring sufficient legitmacy to warrant their place on the ego trip aboard the rather luxurious gravy train.  So let’s see what the figures are…

Home Affairs Select Committee
(approx % of eligible voters in their constituencies who voted for them in 2010)

Keith Vaz 35.5%
Nicola Blackwood 27.6%
James Clappison 36.2%
Michael Ellis 21.3%
Lorraine Fullbrook 30.8%
Dr Julian Huppert 25.4%
Steve McCabe 23.9%
Bridget Phillipson 27.8%
Mark Reckless 31.9%
Chris Ruane 26.9%
David Winnick 20.5%

On average the committee members have squirmed into Parliament with the support of just 27.9% of eligible voters in their constituencies… some of them with barely one vote for every five available.  It’s hardly a thumping endorsement.  It is a questionable mandate.

The committee’s comment in the report is an important development.  Democracy in this country exists in name only.  The illusion of a mandate is what gives these people the opportunity to inflict their whims on the rest of us.  Now they have opened the door to the idea of a small electoral mandate being of questionable legitimacy, the concept of ‘None of the Above’ can no longer be dismissed so readily and not voting really does have the potential to undermine the political class.

5 Responses to “MPs hint that representatives with small electoral mandates lack legitimacy”

  1. 1 Adam West 28/08/2013 at 2:24 am

    When the report summarised Johnston’s actions as saying he “… had managed to side-step the statutory arrangements for local scrutiny of his decision to sack the Chief Constable” – that’s not accurate. What Johnston did was not contrary to the law at all. As Carmel Napier chose to retire Johnston was not obliged to continue the process set out in the legislation.

    Napier pointed out when she appeared in front of the committee that once a commissioner has decided a chief is to go the chief has to go – whether it is at the start of the process set out in the legislation or at the end of the process – the commissioner is the only person who has a say in the decision. Everything else that Napier could have insisted upon by not retiring immediately seems to be designed to restrain commissioners by some kind of pressure of publicity. The six week process gives time for a commissioner to change their mind or have their mind changed but if they invoke the process they’ve already made up their mind. Otherwise what’s the point of it?

    A transcript of Johnston and Napier’s appearance before the committee is available here and is somewhat dreary. Sad to see the committee end by playing the diversity card with respect to how few chiefs are women.

    Johnston was confident in his position and they couldn’t touch him on that and nor did he show them much deference. The latter will be what has irked them.

    The tone of the report you linked to is one that would fit well with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil – there are rules and they must be followed, even when they don’t have to be.

  2. 2 Pogle's Woodsman 28/08/2013 at 12:45 pm

    Unfortunately the ‘fix’ that Parliament would have in mind would be to make voting compulsory. (There is also a movement smaller in number among that particular grouping who would make only a ‘positive’ vote compulsory, that the voter even be denuded the right to enter ‘none of the above’ or a spoiled or blank ballot paper. That they will be compelled to add their vote only to an extablished candidate).

    The lack of self-awareness among some of them is simply staggering. Their default answer to a system which lends them inconveniently tiny levels of electoral legitimacy would be to compel the electorate to endorse them, so therefore the resultant enforced artificial legitimacy would be just good enough for them.

    Too preposterous a madness even for Lewis Carroll, Jonathan Swift or Cervantes I would suspect.

  3. 3 meltemian 28/08/2013 at 1:00 pm

    You’re back! Hooray!
    Was busy yesterday so I didn’t spot your return.
    Now I’ll read the post.

  4. 4 Adam West 28/08/2013 at 2:41 pm

    Several of the MPs received fewer votes in 2010 than Johnston did:

    Michael Ellis 13,735
    Dr Julian Huppert 19,621
    Steve McCabe 17,950
    Bridget Phillipson 19,137
    Chris Ruane 15,017
    David Winnick 13,385

    Ian Johnston first round: 23,531 second round: 6,217 total: 29,748

    Despite the low turnout Johnston could claim to be representing the interests of far more people than a bog standard MP – around 420k were eligible to vote in the election.

    Does this have positive implications for the Harrogate Agenda? For those MPs above with 15 thousand voters there could be 50 thousand who didn’t vote for them. The regular gaining of popular consent that THA would involve is a way to govern on a majority as you go basis as each issue is put to the electorate rather than a vaguely written contract that is only renewed every five years.

  5. 5 Furor Teutonicus 29/08/2013 at 9:30 am

    XX Home Affairs Select Committee
    (approx % of eligible voters in their constituencies who voted for them in 2010)XX

    That is bad enough. But what was the turn out?

    I am still of the opinion, that a turn out of less than 51% nullifies the vote.

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