Posts Tagged 'Government Legitimacy'

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.

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The political class is frit

Writing in the New Statesman’s blog, The Staggers, on Tuesday George Eaton made the following observation about what would happen if the current polling percentages were repeated at a General Election:

The Conservatives can have no complaints about the outcome delivered by an electoral system they have consistently defended and Labour governed for a full term after winning on just 35 per cent of the vote in 2005 (it bagged 55 per cent of the seats). But party figures have told me that they fear Labour could face a “crisis of legitimacy” if it wins an outsized majority on a thin slice of the vote. A share of 34 per cent would be the lowest winning percentage of the vote since 1832.

The language is interesting.  Set aside for a moment the idea of such a large majority for Labour if it only secures 34% of the votes cast at the General Election on a turnout of around 65%.  The real crisis of legitimacy that would finally emerge as a talking point following such an election ‘victory’ is that there would be a Labour government, imposing its will on the entire country without check, balance or accountability to voters, that was voted for by only 22% of registered voters.

There is not just fear within the political class about the impression that would be made by a large Labour majority on a very small percentage of the vote.  There is fear people will wake up and declare it to be unacceptable that with approaching 40% of voters rejecting all the parties, any of them can claim to represent the people.  The illusion of legitimacy for the political class will be crumbling.

We can expect to see another push for Proportional Representation as part of an electoral reform package.  Perhaps even the first moves to make voting compulsory.  Not just because the distribution of votes would make party representation in the House in terms of seats ‘fair’, but because it would allow for the appearance of legitimacy as the political class will seek to focus attention away from turnout and purely on to share of the vote – while increasing numbers of Britons refuse to support any of them.

How do you solve a problem like Dave?

dcamIt was interesting today to speak to three people who generously supported my Borough Council election campaign back in 2007.

These were Tory stalwarts, always willing to leaflet, canvass, buy raffle tickets and support events.  When I resigned from the Council and quit the Conservatives they were still there, plugging away, doing their bit to further what they believed to be conservatism.  I lost touch with them when I withdrew from party politics, but hadn’t forgotten them.

With the county council elections coming up, I asked them how the campaigning was going.  I admit to being shocked to find that they had all left the Conservatives two years ago.  There are people in every party that one can look at and think, ‘their heart’s not in it, they’ll pack it in before long’.  But these three were not people one could ever have imagined as capable of being so disaffected as to walk away.  Enough, it turns out, was enough.  Everyone has different motives for their actions, so naturally an enquiry was made about why they had all quit (they are all unrelated but long standing friends of each other).  The answer in each case was… David Cameron.

It transpires true blue, ‘instinctive eurosceptic’ Dave has managed to alienate members so much that these hardcore, grassroots supporters who are the engine room of election campaigns, had turned their back on the party.  They cited Cameron’s hypocrisy over EU membership, his refusal to cut spending so only the essentials are funded,  and his indecent haste to jettison conservative principles in favour of Lib Dem and consensus fudges that suit no one but the establishment.   And, they were adamant, they are not going back.  They have come around to sharing my view that Cameron isn’t conservative and what is on offer is materially no different from that advanced by the Lib Dems and Labour.

If this is indicative of the sentiments of conservatives who have left the Conservative party in their droves in recent years, it is hard to see the party continuing to function as an electoral force within a few years.  Nominal members who don’t campaign are nowhere near as important as those who gave their time and money to support candidates – and it is these who appear to be walking away.

Thanks to Cameron’s arrogance and the existance of a vacuum where his conviction and principle is supposed reside, the Tories are in serious decline.  The party is swiftly becoming representative only of the muddled views of its small cabal of power brokers and it is losing the very people who it relies upon at election time to secure support and get out the vote.

The problem the Conservatives have is that there are too few conservatives left in the parliamentary party.  So fixing a problem like Dave looks to be an impossible task.  If he is replaced in an effort to rejuvinate the party’s electoral fortunes, it will only be another stuffed suit taking the helm with the same immunity to the notion of representative politics, the same craven complicity to the global governance agenda, the same anti democratic pro-EU position, and the same reluctance to tackle the admittedly herculean task of reforming the economy and reducing the size and scope of government.

Voters have increasingly seen this and stay away from the ballot box in increasing numbers.  But now Dave and the other rent seekers are finding their legitimacy is being questioned by their own party members.  The foundations are crumbling.  But until there is a fundamental reform of the way government is controlled and run in this country – as per the demands promoted by the carefully developing Harrogate Agenda campaign – the elite will continue to pass power between themselves and become ever more distant from the real world outside the establishment bubble centred on Westminster.

The Only Way is Harrogate.


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