British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947)

Our last Prime Minister (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Norman Geras has a go at Deborah Orr, for saying that the Government has a thin democratic mandate. He’s right. Accusations about legitimacy are an outgrowth of the majoritarian mindset our politics creates – the idea that Strong Governments win outright and then do what the hell they like for five years.

The Government is in control because it controls (sort of) the democratically-elected House of Commons. Once you get past that simple truth to wider legitimacy, it’s a knife that cuts both ways. You can say the Government has a slender mandate, like Orr does. It’s equally plausible to say that it’s the most democratic government of the modern era.

After all, the Government is a coalition, and therefore comprises parties that were voted for by nearly two thirds of the population (36.1% voted Conservative, 23% Liberal Democrat). Only one other British Government in the modern era has secured more than 50% of the votes – Baldwin’s Conservative government of 1931-5, which gathered 55%

It’s over sixty years since any Government came close to 50% (Attlee 1945 nearly got there), so a Government with well over 50% must be really democratic.

Now, I could argue this point the other way round (and anti-AV types did) saying that because no-one votes for a coalition the Government actually has 0% of the vote and is the least legitimate power to rule since Empress Matilda.

But it doesn’t matter, and that’s the point. The Government is democratically elected because it holds office according to the laws of the land – and whether you like the Government, or the laws for that matter, that’s the only true statement about legitimacy.

Make the case that no Government is legitimate (other than Stanley Baldwin’s), or that they all are. This Government’s “shaky democratic mandate”, like “unelected Prime Minister Gordon Brown” is just name-calling. Worse, by reinforcing the presidential elective-dictatorship mindset of British politics, it doesn’t even push the case for what we really need – democratic reform.

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Written by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.

This article has 1 comments

  1. Paul Harper

    Thank you for this link to my blog as an example of an anti-AV position.

    Having made the same point as me, you then went on to say “But it doesn’t matter, and that’s the point. The Government is democratically elected because it holds office according to the laws of the land”.

    Which is, of course, completely correct, and exactly why the laws of the land shouldn’t have been changed to make it more likely that zero-mandate governments get into power.

    I am delighted that AV failed miserably at the ballot box. Common sense prevailed in the end and the blatant and undemocratic power-grab by the Liberals was rejected.