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.