One of those leading the ‘no-mandate’ charge was the former Labour MP Charles Clarke. He lost his own seat in 2010, but in the last election that he won, in 2005, he received 38% of the vote on a 65% turnout in his constituency. So, rather less that 25% of those eligible to vote gave him their support. I’m assuming that he never doubted for one moment that he had one of these mandate thingies, so the cut-off point for having one must be, in his view, somewhere between 7.5% and 25% of those eligible to vote; it clearly does not require majority support.
Or perhaps it’s the level of turnout which invalidates any mandate – 65% is obviously a much better turnout that 15%. But local council elections often drop to around 30%, and that doesn’t seem to invalidate the mandate held by local councillors. So on turnout, again, the cut-off must fall somewhere between 15% and 30% - no majority seems to be required here either.
Of course, I don’t really expect anyone to give an answer to the question of where the line falls, because the claim of not having a mandate isn’t a serious one; it’s just one of those political sound bites which politicians love. Under what passes for democracy in these islands, the only requirement is to get more votes than the other fellow. Those who don’t vote in an election can no more be assumed to be supporters of the losing side than can those who fail to vote in a referendum, however much some people might try and argue the contrary.
That’s not so say that the low level of turnout isn’t an issue which should just be ignored. There are serious questions to be answered. I’m far from convinced that it’s all the government’s fault for not publicising the elections more, or the candidates’ fault for being so uninspiring, or the electors’ fault for not bothering to read such information as was available, or even the media’s fault for not giving the elections much attention.
What about the rather radical possibility that most of us might just possibly have been perspicacious enough to have decided that the whole thing was a waste of time, and that little would change whoever was elected?