The pathetic turnout at Thursday’s elections has led many to say that the new Police and Crime Commissioners have no electoral mandate; that the tiny percentage of votes they have received cannot possible give them the authority to do the job.
If we think about it, that view must rest on the assumption that there is a percentage of votes that is acceptable, that creates a mandate. If the percentage were, say, 50% of the total electorate (the concern is not about the proportion of votes cast but the proportion of all possible votes) we would have very few elections delivering a winner. Perhaps we should lower the bar to 40% or 30% of the electorate, perhaps even lower. Where do we draw the line? Is 30% of the electorate sufficient but 29.9% not, 25% acceptable but 24% not? And so on.
I think it’s impossible to draw a line therefore, implausible though it may sound, it would be proper for a candidate who received a single vote, with other candidates receiving no votes, to claim a mandate.
I think we have to look at it another way. Everybody could have voted so, unless unfortunate circumstances intervened, they made a conscious choice not to vote. In so doing they knew that a candidate they did not like could win, but they chose not to act to prevent that happening. They acquiesced in the result that would be delivered by those who did vote. In this way the winner has received the tacit approval of all those who did not vote.
Some have said they didn’t know enough about the candidates, some that they didn’t want a politician in charge of policing and some that they didn’t want the new PCC system at all.
To the first I would say (perhaps rather abruptly), find out; to the second, vote for an independent candidate (pretty much an option everywhere) and to the third, get used to democracy – our democratically elected government decided to implement this policy. If you don’t like it, use your vote at the general election.
The key issue, that many forget or ignore, is that the act of not voting is in itself a democratic act. On Thursday the whole electorate exercised their democratic rights – by either voting or not – and thereby granted the election winners a mandate every bit as powerful as if they had received everybody’s vote.
p.s. I am quite surprised that I reached this conclusion, which seems counter-intuitive, and would be very pleased to hear genuine rationales for setting a “minimum standard”.