Snippets of An Ordinary Life – 3 – Democratic Mandate Absurdity
In May 2003 I stood for election in the Northampton Borough Council election which was an occasion that really opened my eyes to the vagaries and in some ways the absurdity of the democratic electoral system.
I was asked to stand for election in the Ward when I lived six weeks before the election by the then leader of the Conservative Group on the Borough Council.
I should say at this time that Labour had a very healthy majority of the 45 members of the Council and had been the controlling party for a number of years with the Liberal Democrats as the official opposition and the Conservatives in third place having eight seats.
The question I asked myself having agreed to stand was a simple one.
“What do you do and how do you do go about fighting an election”?
You may have guessed that this was the first time I had ever actively taken part in the democratic system as a candidate in other words I hadn’t a clue and in fact I had never been inside the Council offices and had no idea who the other candidates were which was in due course to lead to a funny situation.
The one thing that helped alleviate the problem was that the Billing Ward was one that returned two Councillors – both incumbents being Labour – and my running mate had fought a number of elections in the past without it has to be said any success.
So for six weeks – with no hope of winning – we wrote and printed off six different leaflets extolling our own virtues and condemning the oppositions before personally delivering them to all 3000 homes in the Ward.
Anyway Election Day arrived on Thursday 8th May when the absurdity of politics became a reality to me.
The polling stations closed at 10pm and shortly after the count started so there I was stood in the local sports centre and being perhaps the most relaxed candidate there because I had been led to believe I had no chance of winning so I thought I’d enjoy the drama of it all.
It also helped that I knew only two of the Conservative Candidates and in fact discovered that I knew more of the opposition candidates.
However as history will record things turned out somewhat unexpectedly and with a grand total of 832 votes I found I had a majority over the next place candidate of 231 and was therefore duly elected to be a Councillor for the Billing Ward in Northampton.
I should say this was the result of a 28.29% turnout of the electorate which amounted to some 3335 individual voters
Which brings me to the absurdity of UK democratic elections and I’ll start with the age old argument from those who win in a first past the post system that they have a “mandate” from the electorate.
Over the past two years it has been the constant refrain of those who campaigned to Leave the European Union that they have a “mandate” and “it is the will of the people.”
It is as invalid an argument today as it was in 2003.
The Leader of the NBC Conservatives, Phillip Larratt used the phrase immediately after the result was announced when congratulating me on winning.
My immediate thought was that “more people voted not to elect me than to elect me”.
One memorable exchange that night was between me and my wife Liz who on hearing I had won said,
“What does that mean and what happens next”?
To which I replied,
“Buggered if I know”
To put all of this into context the Conservatives became the largest party with 19 seats closely followed by the Liberal Democrats with 17 seats and Labour trailing in with 9 seats.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the Conservative Leader and senior members of the party in Northampton had an absolute dislike bordering on pathological hatred of the Liberal Democrats but worst still they hated each other even more which was to be revealed over the next four years.
And I venture to suggest may in due course be the subject of another if not more “Snippets of An Ordinary Life”
Perhaps I’m wrong but surely Common Sense should tell us that no politicians whether local or national ever have a mandate in which they have secured in over 50% of the whole of the electorate.
Which brings me back to the Brexiteers.
The referendum vote may have been 51.89% to 48.11% of the 33,551,983 whose votes were considered valid (23,359 being invalid or blank votes) in favour of leaving but it was based on a 72.21% turnout of the 46,500,001 who were registered and entitled to vote.
And yes I know that those who didn’t vote “don’t count” and that nobody know how they would have voted had they done so but nevertheless my argument – as far as I am concerned – still stands that it is not only wrong but idiotic for the Government to say they have a “mandate” when they don’t even have a true mandate in Parliament in terms of votes.
Perhaps proportional representation or a hybrid system such as that used in New Zealand or even compulsory voting with an added candidate “none of the above” on the ballot paper is the answer.
Then we will see who has a mandate.
As for me I was always conscious that I may have won the first past the post race but as for having a “mandate”…. In three successful elections I never achieved it and guess even if I had gone on never would.
What happened over the next four years (2003 – 2007) alternated between the extremes of being absurd, ridiculous and both political and personal down right viciousness
But that’s another story to be told.