Monday, 25 November 2013

Having a mandate

There is a maxim that if you tell an untruth long enough people will eventually believe it.
This has become a key part of political process world over…the current manifestation "We have a mandate….." lies outside the Westminster tradition.
A long-deceased friend and political commentator observed to me thirty years ago that in the Westminster system governments are elected  to govern  not limited to the  implementation of  particular policies for which they have a mandate.
You really only have to to give this a moment's thought. At election time the parties present a raft of policies.
The dilemma for the voter is that while agreeing with some they probably don't agree to all of the raft. Given the fact that voters at the ballot box are not asked which policies they approve of…rather which party and/or candidate they support.
There is a more serious reason why we need to resist the temptation to limit governments to "mandate" style policies. Circumstances change, and it is important that the government be allowed to govern and not to wait until they next go to the poll.
A fine example of this is the way PM John Howard responded to the Port Arthur massacre. He clearly had no mandate to clamp down on gun laws; as far as I know it wasn't even mentioned as part of a potential policy raft in any previous election
Yet Howard, in what is arguably his finest moment, used the opportunity. He governed!
At various times in the past, too, troops have been deployed…without any previous election mandate. Clearly it would be a nonsense to wait until a "mandate" was received via the election box

What is interesting about both of these types of decision is that it is clear that there has not been unanimous support . No clear mandate.  That was not required , what was required was leadership and government.
Indeed the argument for "the mandate" is an insecurity. Governments are not  and cannot be limited to mandates for a few policies that happen to have been discussed.

Mr Abbott does not need a mandate to repeal the Carbon Tax laws. He needs to govern.  It could be argued that all those who did not vote for the Coalition must be close to 50% …did not give a mandate for Carbon price repeal. But that doesn't alter the fact that the Government changed.
Most serious commentators would seem to suggest the real political dynamic was a perception (that the Coalition were successful in promoting) that Labor was incompetent…little to do with the policy competition.
My argument is that a government is required to govern. Not to carry out the whim of the ballot box, and that indeed what the ballot box reveals about particular policy is debatable any way.
So let's stop talking about mandates. And get on with governing

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