LibLink: Olly Grender – Who Da Man ……….. Date

Over on her New Statesman blog, Olly Grender, former Lib Dem Communications Director, tackles the tricky topic of mandates. It has become a familiar refrain that the current government has no mandate to implement this or that reform, despite the fact that it is one of the few in recent history which is made up of parties which received more than 50% of the (combined) vote at the last election.

Here’s Olly’s take on the subject:

When I hear the regular accusation about lack of a mandate, I have some sympathy. No, really — I do. But that begs several questions. How is it defined? Is a written constitution the only way of defining it? Until a Government is elected with over fifty per cent of the vote, does it lack a mandate? Is a simple Parliamentary majority sufficient? Or do we need a better voting system to reflect peoples’ wishes more accurately?

In Tony Blair’s autobiography he struggled with definitions of mandate following the 2005 general election:

“I couldn’t get the argument heard ……. It found insufficient echo among other Labour speakers and very little within the media. The result was a campaign and mandate that meant different things to different people. I was completely certain: the manifesto and the mandate was one for New Labour, but the absence of serious policy discussion meant there was no sense of that being so.”

For the last few weeks, I have tweeted asking for definitions of mandate. Replies have come back saying predominantly “not what this government is doing”, or “the scale of reform and the pace of change do not have any support’. But equally, I would argue that what is clear is that there was absolutely no mandate for keeping Labour in power.

You can read the whole piece, and contribute to the discussion, here.

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6 Comments

  • Depressed Ex 2nd Mar '11 - 4:32pm

    If you’re talking about having a mandate to govern in general terms, it’s quite difficult for a two-party coalition to claim that, because no one voted for a Con-Lib Dem coalition, any more than they voted for a Con-Lab coalition or a Rainbow Coalition of non-Tories. I suppose any of those combinations could claim to have a mandate to govern, but it wouldn’t mean very much.

    If you’re talking about mandates to carry out specific policies, then obviously that can only apply if both parties were advocating those policies during the election campaign (and in a narrow sense if the policies were in both parties’ manifestos). There aren’t many policies that’s true of. It would be ridiculous for the government to claim it had a mandate to treble university fees, for example!

  • Agreed. I think Olly’s take on this is a little disingenuous – I don’t think those complaining about the lack of a mandate are complaining specifically about the flaws in our voting system or the legitimacy of the government in light of the specific election result that we got, but are complaining about the government’s pursuit of policies that either (a) one of the coalition parties campaigned vehemently against before the election, or which (b) were not mentioned anywhere in their campaigns at all. Examples of this are numerous, as we all know.

  • Hmmm, interesting article – discussed in a thesis by a friend of mine. – The argument centers around is that though he like me voted Labour – he recognizes the election result and that David Cameron has the full right to be Prime Minister – the questions relate to the Liberal Democrats, who not just once have insisted that they didnt win the election – and that they have no mandate for anything – the problem and annoying thing to me and most of the public is that it is used when the party tries to get out of nigh on everything they have promised to the public – The description ‘taking office’ can be applied quite literally here – the issue is that if the Lib Dems dont have the mandate to do what they promised – as the insistence from the top comes – the question comes what mandate do they have to be in government whatsoever?

  • Depressed Ex
    “It would be ridiculous for the government to claim it had a mandate to treble university fees, for example!”

    I’m not really sure what “mandate” really means. However, bearing in mind both Conservative and Labour Parties supported this and they secured well over 50% of the vote in the General Election, I would have thought it could very well be argued that there was a mandate for this.

  • P Bird
    “he recognizes the election result and that David Cameron has the full right to be Prime Minister”

    Doesn’t really surprise me that Labour supporters should think that, but it’s wrong, surely? (Although it really depends on what the phrase “full right” means).

    The Coalition Government has the “mandate” to be the government because it commands a majority in the House of Commons, and for no other reason.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Mar '11 - 12:07pm

    I disagree fundamentally with the idea of a “mandate”. It’s an idea that originates in Leninist politics, where policy was made by The Party, and the legislature was just a rubber stamp for it – as the USSR was run, and China is run now.

    The Liberal concept of democracy is that we have an assembly of representatives who mnake poliyc through open debate, discussion and negotiation. The assembly must be elected in a way so those voting choose as representatives people they can trust to think and act as they would were they there in the assembly.

    That is why true proportional representation is such a key aspect of Liberalism, but also important are things like reforming the way elections are financed so the power of money cannot twist them and result in the most wealthy being elected because they can outpay the others in election expenses.

    When it comes to talking about things ike this, one learns how Leninist the Labour Party still is underneath. It may have dropped the people-centred policies (but then so has every other Leninist party once it got power), ut it still thinks of elections as just a way of seizing power for The Party with The Party being the real place where politics is done, and the assembly just a show-pice. That is EXACTLY how Tony Blair ran things, for example, he could barely disguise his contempt for Parliament.

    On the current situation in the UK Parliament, yes, it is about negotiation, but the LibDems are severely weakend in that by the distortional effect of our FPTP electoral system. It is also the case that the most right-wing eleemnts of the Liberal Democrats can find things in common with the economic right of the Conservative Party so these tend to be what emerges as the “compromise”. However, I think the LibDems have also been damaged by the extremely weak, shallow and easily led person we have as our leader. I warned again and again and again in these columns for members not to vote for him in the leadership election. He only got in with a tiny majority. How many of those who voted for him will now agree it was a mistake? Please thnk about it, and making a public declaration of that, as it is the only way our party will be saved and the true Liberalism we so cherish can be re-established as what we are about.

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