Does the government really have a “mandate”?

Hello, curious people of the internet! Today I want to talk about the way politicians,
whenever they win an election, start talking about a strange word. “I have a very clear mandate from the British
people… We have a mandate… mandate… mandate… mandate… mandate.” Mandates! No not one of these. Or this sophisticated, long-lasting and very
sexy perfume. And not even this magazine with its quite
beautiful cover designs. No, what the politicians are talking about
is their right to bring in the changes they put in their election manifesto. Winning an election, so the never-quite-spelt-out
theory goes, means the elected government represents the people of Great Britain. Therefore if you’re opposing their plans,
be they little things like £12 billion savings to welfare, shrinking the civil service, or
scrapping the Human Rights Act… Or more exciting things like the extractive
industries transparency initiative; an update the 1977 ‘Rooker-Wise’ amendment; both superfast
and ultrafast broadband; and a network of “catapult centres”; whatever their plans, if
you oppose them you’re the opposing the will of the people. But how high exactly is the government’s
we-represent-the-people score? The country has a total population of 64.6
million. How many of these people can the winning party claim to represent? Let’s break it down based on the 2015 UK
election when the government won a majority. Well first take away 18 million excluded from
voting because they’re under 18, not registered, citizens from the wrong place, one of her
majesty’s lords or residing at her majesty’s pleasure. Take away another 16 million who didn’t
vote on the day. Take away another 19 million who voted for
other parties And in total 11.3m people voted for the winning
party, or just 17.5% of the people. Just 17.5%. In other words when it comes to the people
– okay thank you… When it comes to the people- Okay, thank you. When it comes to the people you only need the support of 17.5% of them to give you a moral right to implement your plans. Now, if you only look at those who can vote,
this score goes up to 25%, and if you take out those who don’t vote, the we-represent-the-people
score goes up to a 37%. Helpfully, under the wonderful first-past-the-post
voting system, 37% of the vote translates to 51% of the seats – this is how they get
to talk about their majority – and under the more wonderful winner-takes-all-screw-the-rest
system 51% of the seats translates to 100% of the power. Of course, this isn’t a one off-thing: governments
never score that highly, either in the UK or across the world, and when they do it’s
not normally a place you want to live. However politicians tend to forget that a
‘majority’ in politics is not the majority they like to think it is. So, whether it’s ignoring those protesting
their manifesto plans – let alone those plans not in the manifesto; setting rules for other
politicians like those who run unions; or just generally going on about their mandate
like it’s divine right to do whatever they want; it would be useful if politicians remembered the difference between their imagined we-represent-the-people score and the reality.

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