Monday, 10 June 2019

Electoral arithmetic

Last week, the leader of Nigel Farage plc demanded that his ‘party’ be given a role in future negotiations over Brexit, whilst also demanding that the UK leave the EU without conducting any such further negotiations.  His basis for issuing this demand was that his ‘party’ won 40% of the seats in a parliament which has no responsibility for the issue in question after receiving 32% of the vote.  In his mind, this is an overwhelming democratic mandate which should oblige the government to accede, because his ‘party’ stood on a clear platform stating that it should be allowed a seat at the non-existent table where no negotiations would take place, and 32% of the electorate supported that demand.  It slightly overlooks the fact that, whether the other 68% voted for parties supporting different varieties of Brexit or not, they unquestionably did not vote for the only party arguing for that policy.
This is, of course, the same man who argues that in a referendum where 52% voted for Brexit and 48% against, the 48% can be ignored because they lost.  52% beats 48%, but at the same time 32% apparently trumps 68%.  The requirements of democracy (or even majoritarianism which is what we have) only apply to other people. 
There is, though, one part of his little missive with which I half agree, and that’s the bit where he claims that his ‘party’ has the “most recent and winning democratic mandate on Brexit”.  I say ‘half agree’ because 32% of those voting isn’t much of a winning mandate for anything; but in principle, he’s right about the result being the ‘most recent’ indication of feelings about Brexit.  And, perhaps unwittingly, he’s conceded a great deal there, because it’s an admission that a mandate won in one vote only applies up until another mandate is won in another vote, and that the ‘mandate’ can change over time.  I’m not sure that a letter hand-delivered to number 10, which he probably only ever thought of as a stunt giving him another excuse to play the betrayal card, was intended to be quite so revealing about the nature of democracy.

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