Lessons from the process of government formation after the 2010 general election - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Graham Clowes

  I am submitting this comment in my personal capacity as a voter. I am only answering one question as follows:

9.   What are the implications, if any, of the fact that these proposals lack a popular mandate?

  Not one voter actually voted for this Government. The coalition's programme has not been voted upon by the electorate and consequently the current Government cannot be said to have any mandate to pursue the programme they are following. This may not have been so bad had the coalition programme simply drawn from each of the participants manifestos, and to a certain extent this is what happened. However, the actual programme which has been pursued subsequently has consisted of initiatives which were neither in the party manifestos or indeed the coalition's published programme.

  The result is that, at a time when the public has little confidence or respect for the political process (due in part to the expenses scandal), the current Government are bringing the system further into disrepute by pursuing a programme for which they have no mandate.

  A government in Asia or Africa, who received no votes and pursued an agenda which had no mandate via the ballot box would be branded as a dictatorship or a banana republic. We would suggest they were undemocratic, but this is the situation we find ourselves in currently. The implication is that the system is being abused and is not delivering the choice of the British people. The outcome is that confidence in the British electoral system diminishes, further eroding the trust the British people have in the establishment.

  I do however understand why a coalition has emerged, and appreciate that it is not viable or practical to call a re-run of an election simply because one party has failed to achieve a majority of seats. However, where a coalition emerges I believe that a standard five year term is too long. I understand that systems exist whereby a Government can be dissolved before the end of a five year term—but this is reserved for extreme situations and not within the control of the electorate. The five year term for a programme which does not have a mandate from, and potentially the confidence of, the electorate serves to undermine the integrity of the system.

  The nature of any coalition government programme inevitably must be a compromise. It has to be created after an election so will not carry a mandate from the electorate. Therefore, there should be a shorter term—maybe two years. This will enable the coalition to set out its programme and begin work—it will also enable the electorate to pass its judgement on that programme. If the programme is appropriate the coalition would be re-elected, and if so a five year term would be appropriate. This would however require that the coalition proposes a joint programme and stands for election that basis. It may be that the partners in a coalition arrangement may wish to stand separately at the two year point—but if that was the case them one could argue that the coalition was not sustainable in the first place. This early election requirement would also ensure that the policies pursued by any coalition would not be too extreme.

13 September 2010

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