Do the Tories have a mandate for their policies? Erm…


8:32 am - June 22nd 2015

by Sunny Hundal    


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Seamus Milne says:

Opposition to all this [austerity] has barely begun. But there’s no democratic reason for people to accept it. The Tories were elected by fewer than 37% of voters. Only 24% of those eligible backed the Conservatives – and that’s not counting the unregistered.

I know some people will not want to hear this but this is a ridiculous argument.

I’m saying this because I’m also opposed to Tory austerity: we have to find a better argument than ‘the Tories have no mandate‘ because it sounds ridiculous to anyone outside the hard left.

1) The Tories went into an election offering even more cuts. They did way better than the party that warned against having that level of cuts. This means we have to find a different way of selling our argument, not repeating it endlessly in the hope that by some miracle people will rise up against austerity.

2) Voters, by definition, are the people who vote. Of the people who voted the Tories did the best and that DOES give them legitimacy. That is how people see it and by pretending the election was a fraud makes lefties look silly.

Also, if we are indeed focusing on election turnout, it may NOT be a good idea to have anti-austerity protests headlined by a celebrity who urged people not to register or vote*. It makes us look really confused.

I’m not saying all this to make people depressed, though it will undoubtedly will do that to some. I’m saying this because I hate this line of argument as it doesn’t have currency outside the hard left, and because the Left really has to start being consistent on registration and voting.

—–
* the fact that Russell Brand changed his mind at the last minute doesn’t absolve him, I’m afraid.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Dave Roberts.

Seamus Milne is no authority on anything. He still hankers after the ” positive ” aspects of the Soviet Union. This topic is being debated on Left Futures at the moment and I have no doubt that the subject will featured prominently in The Guardian and across the left for some time.

The reality is that large swathes of the country including Labour voters are not against some austerity particularly in welfare spending. The fact that a number of people turned out to march through London last weekend is no indication of widespread discontent with or opposition to what millions of people voted for a few weeks ago.

All the talk of ” fightbacks” ” there is another way ” etc are simply attempts by the far left, the SWP, to recover lost ground in the wake of the Respect fiasco and the Comrade Delta rape scandal.

Since 1945, not one government has ever won more than 50% of the vote. Going by the logic today’s left is using, Labour had “no mandate” to establish the welfare state post-1945 because more people voted for other parties. The highest percent of the total electorate was about 40% than the Tories won in the mid 50s, if I recall correctly.

In a multi party democracy, it’s rare for one party to get an absolute majority of the vote, and I’m not aware of any cases from other countries where it’s happened with all of the possible electorate. This majoritarian argument the left is using is a very simplistic view of democracy. Very rarely does democracy work in the way the left apparently now wants it to.

The parties that rejected any austerity at all got less than 10% of the vote, half of that from the SNP. The right-wing parties – the Tories, UKIP and Northern Ireland unionists – got 50.5% of the vote, or 58.4% including the Liberal Democrats (which is somewhat fair as most of their centre-left-wing base has gone, leaving a centrist remainder).

I agree that, like it or not, the Tories were elected under the rules of our electoral system and so can be said to have a mandate for their policies. It’s also fair to say that they won the argument in the eyes of the public that austerity policies were necessary.

But of course that does not mean that such policies are actually sensible or necessary. Nor does it mean that those who argued against the Tories’ economic policies before the election should simply concede the argument and move on, although we should certainly find ways of framing the argument in a way that might gain more traction with the public. Apart from the basic point that the anti-austerity message is actually the sensible and mainstream economic one, at some point in the next five years the effect of these policies will become apparent and critics of austerity are likely to be vindicated, those who flip-flop their opinions to match the prevailing public mood are not going to make very credible critics if that happens.

And it’s all very well criticising the involvement of Russell Brand and his anti-voting message, but if you want the anti-austerity movement to embrace the political mainstream and not fringe figures such as Brand then it has to work both ways – the political mainstream has to reach out to the kind of people who were protesting on Saturday. As far as I know the only Labour leadership contender who attended the protests, or even voiced any support for the cause, was Jeremy Corbyn. Labour has little credibility amongst many of those people, it needs to persuade them that voting Labour will actually make a difference.

Well said.

The welfare system is broken. It serves no-one well, either claimaints or the taxpaying masses. Anyone can see this. Therefore it needs reform.

The Tories have outlined one type of reform which seems to be to cut unilaterally and hope that employment stays high (by giving the tax cuts back to employers). This is based on two types of optimism 1) the economy keeps growing and 2) employers spend the money they saved by adding to their headcount. Mileage varies dependent upon how optimistic you are that governments really know what they’re doing when working with the economy.

But what’s the other, more progressive type of reform? A better march on Saturday would have been tens of thousands marching through London demanding a living wage for all in the UK, not absurdly questioning the legitimacy of democratically elected government.

5. Richard Gadsden

“Since 1945, not one government has ever won more than 50% of the vote.” Um, the 2010-2015 coalition had 59%.

The 76% argument really annoys me. It’s incredibly disingenuous to say 76% didn’t vote Tory when a huge part of that number didn’t vote AT ALL. You can’t lay claim to the assent or dissent or people who didn’t even vote.

On another note, I can’t help but detect a hint of hypocrisy in the #EndAusterityNow protests in that I can’t imagine the protesters being okay with it if the tables were turned. Imagine Labour won the election. Would these protesters be okay with Conservatives marching around shouting “End Socialism Now!” and pointing out that Labour won based on an unfair voting system? No, I imagine they’d say “we won fair and square, shut up and put up.”

ed millibands selfish greed for power let cameron and his cronies in,the labour party stay at home supporters handed alot of marginal seats to the torys,and last,if the labour party do not think that the majority of those 4.5 million who voted for ukip was not ex labour supporters then they are still in total denial.that is my take on how labour lost the 2015 election and i would be happy if the labour party employed as an adviser on how to win the election in 2020.

Thank you! Finally some sense. On the guardian message boards every time the govt. comes up this fact gets trotted out by people and critics of the FPTP who were missing pre-election, miraculously appeared asking for PR. Ed Miliband’s strategy was 35% and Syrzia in Greece won by a similar margin without any outcry from the left on either issue. Denying the government’s legitimacy isn’t going to reduce it’s power or further your cause. And factoring in non voters as automatically non-Tory is absurd. Who non voters would vote for is purely speculative, though it’s much more probable their preferences would be similar to the country as a whole.

Thank you! Finally some sense. On the guardian message boards every time the govt. comes up this fact gets trotted out by people and critics of the FPTP who were missing pre-election, miraculously appeared asking for PR. Ed Miliband’s strategy was 35% and Syrzia in Greece won by a similar margin without any outcry from the left on either issue. Denying the government’s legitimacy isn’t going to reduce it’s power or further your cause. And factoring in non voters as automatically non-Tory is absurd. Who non voters would vote for is purely speculative, though it’s much more probable their preferences would be similar to the country as a whole.

The argument that the Government has no legitimacy might have less traction if the Tories weren’t planning to introduce restrictions on strikes on the grounds that low turnout means there isn’t a proper mandate.

After all why do you need 40% of the electorate to back you to justify a strike but only a 36% vote share to run the entire country?

11. Strategist

It suits too many in the Labour & Tory parties to draw attention away from the fact that it is first past the post in single member seats that is the anachronism.
Of course an elective dictatorship based on 36% of the vote is a democratic absurdity.
Sunny, you should spend more of your time campaigning for Labour to embrace PR and electoral reform.

Mandate is irrelevant. The reason to oppose austerity is patriotism. It’s not in the national interest.

13. douglas clark

I am quite interested in the reasons that Labour lost in South Britain. It seemed to me that Cameron managed to frighten Milliband into a position from which there was no recovery possible. Milliband, let us not forget, said:

that he was “not going to have a Labour government if it means deals or coalitions with the SNP”.

Given that Scotland was already lost, he would have been far better telling Cameron, and the English electorate, that he would consider working with the SNP, if he was incapable of achieving a majority on his own.

Milliband played into Camerons agenda by essentially conceding the media campaign – Salmond as a thief pick-pocketing English wallets – as if it were true.

He would have least have looked a bit statesmanlike, rather than abject, in the sense that he had lost the agenda and with it, his (slight) prospects of shared power.

Anyway, I think Labour have more to fear from EVEL than anything else right now.

Thoughts?


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