Majority rule

Lord Tyler

Last night’s debate in the Lords may – for once – fully justify the plaudits we get from the fan club for “wise, eloquent and dispassionate” discussion, contrasting with the hurly-burly at the Commons end of the building.

The subject?  “Constitutional Implications of Coalition Government” may not sound that enticing (please stifle that yawn!), but I invite you to take a closer look.    For example, there were very thoughtful exchanges on the legitimacy of the increasingly multi-party nature of the Commons in recent decades.  The Committee Report we were debating summed this up neatly:  “trends in voting behaviour, with fewer votes for the two largest parties and an increasing number of MPs representing smaller parties, make it increasingly possible that hung parliaments will recur.”  Former Cabinet Secretary Lord (Gus) O’Donnell reinforced the point.  

I observed that “this is the first peacetime majority Government since 1931.  That is to say it is a Government whose MP supporters were elected by more than 50% of those who voted.”  However, constitutional guru (Professor) Lord Norton of Louth took a different view: “The basic problem is that of a democratic deficit. Coalitions formed as the result of post-election bargaining lack the seal of electoral approval. Some argue that if party A gets 35% of the vote and party B gets 20%, then a coalition of the two parties enjoys the support of 55% of the electorate. It does not. It enjoys the definitive support of not one elector because nobody was given the opportunity to vote for A plus B.”   

He was gently taken to task by the Minister Lord (William) Wallace – himself formerly a distinguished academic – who commented that there is a “difference between the Burkean view of parliamentary democracy and the populist view of popular democracy in which a general election is in effect a referendum to choose among the manifestos of the parties. I am for a parliamentary democracy; and in the British constitution as conventionally understood, it is Parliament that chooses the Government, and the Government rest on maintaining a majority in Parliament.

This may seem very remote from the day-to-day reality of people’s lives.   But it does matter if, as Lord (Bernard) Donoughue clearly wished, politicians ignore what the public vote for and simply revert to single party government, even if it has the support of less than a third of the voters.

It is surely the job of Parliament to give life to what voters have instructed when there is an inconclusive result, by agreeing a government which can garner the support of a majority of the people’s representatives.  That plainly occurred after the last election, and there is no reason to think it could and should not do so again.

8 comments for “Majority rule

  1. maude elwes
    14/05/2014 at 12:42 pm


    I’m inclined to agree, wholly, with Lord Norton on this issue. At least in this matter he appears in touch. He can often be smarter than the average peer, although, sadly, not always.

    The problem with a coalition is, not one voter gets what he put his cross to. Just look at the mess we have now.

    Those who voted for the LibDems got stuck with having to swallow their party forcefully selling policies they despise in order to hold up an unelectable mandate in the house of ‘we don’t care what you want’ in order for them to keep face and not have to run another general election. Or, more aptly, give in to a referendum on all important issues of social welfare, university fees and so on.

    Those who voted Conservative have had to suck up to their party taking up what they see as a left wing cudgel they all deeply despise. Political correctness, gay marriage, immigration at a level they find abhorrent and a pretense at wanting to renegotiate the EU. They watch as the crew they stood by then turn and weakly blame the fact ‘they’ settled for coalition just to be in power at any cost. A coalition has no mandate so no one accepts its rule.

    Instead of that, why not have a party who stands for what people want, across the board. A small adjustment and you would have an overwhelming mandate from the people of this country. But, you know why you cant do that, don’t you? Because very few, if any of you, are in touch with our country majority. You have frightened yourself so blindly by absorbing PC, that you are afraid to be part of those who speak out against an issue for fear some lobbyist freak is going to hang you out to dry if you dare.

    We cannot be led by those who don’t know what they believe in or why they believe in something. They cannot debate or convince as they have no idea what it is they are backing in reality. And that is why Nigel is leading the people the way the pied piper did and there is nothing you can do about it, because, you have no empathy with your fellow man and he does. Or, pretends to. He is offering them what they think they want, because he knows and accepts what that is. The people haven’t yet hooked into his strategy of demise for the working man that he intends once he has conned them into believing he will put it all right. Like the way they clung to the Blair creature, they are clinging to him as the saviour of their community.

    He cleverly has taken a tip straight out of your, Yes Minister, book and is playing you at your own game. What goes around comes around. Or, another word for it is, Karma.

    Try taking the truth to the next general election and see how that works. Can’t be worse than what we have.

    Every one of you knows what the people want on the whole, yet you refuse to look at it and see if there is any common ground. As, by doing that, you automatically remove yourself from being electable. And those in the Lords, who don’t have to worry about elections, can simply look inwards and turn a blind eye ad infinitum, as there is no retribution regardless of how far out you’ve become to the man in the street. That dirty power freak you all hate, the man in the street. The Pleb. That low life who doesn’t want to live in the skewed imperceptible nirvana you concocted along with the political extremists within your own fold. The ones sitting next to you whom you fear to address when they steal, rape, grope and sell us and our country down the river the way they have.

    • Richard Gadsden
      14/05/2014 at 4:59 pm

      “Instead of that, why not have a party who stands for what people want, across the board. A small adjustment and you would have an overwhelming mandate from the people of this country. But, you know why you cant do that, don’t you?”

      Because the people want different things, and there is no manifesto that could command majority support from the people of the UK.

      The rest of your comment is just a rant, but there’s a real point there.

      The next time that a party puts forward a manifesto at a general election and gets the support of a majority of a democratic electorate in the UK will be the first.

      We have never had a majority mandate in the UK. All our governments have, by that standard, been illegitimate.

      If that is your standard, then Britain should never have been governed in the first place.

      • maude elwes
        16/05/2014 at 7:10 am

        @ Richard Gadsden:

        Mmm… now your post is certainly interesting. It would enlighten if you took the time to elaborate.

        Are you saying, when we’re advised it is a ‘landslide of some kind, it’s rigged? The landslide is, like so many other fallacy directives, a scam? For example, ‘Labour landslide ends Tory rule’ or ‘Thatcher wins landslide victory’….. Or, perhaps you mean that somehow a ‘mandate’ is not what it’s cracked up to be?


  2. Honoris Causa
    14/05/2014 at 1:50 pm

    why Nigel is leading the people the way the pied piper did and there is nothing you can do about it,

    Fortunately I was acquainted with a rat hypnotist in my days as a bee breeder, and I often wondered whether my call actually caused flying swarms to come to me. I checked up with a different species entirely, and found that a Taiwanese hypnotist was capable of doing exactly what Maude suggests. She visited me in the West country and we went round a number of towns at which the rats presented guards of honor immediately on her arrival. ALL , but ALL of them came out of the drains to greet her.

    The constitutional committee of Baroness Jay and Lord Irvine,
    which I attended in November, seemed to be discussing some fairly “what if” subjects.

    I thought the prcedure adopted, capably assisted by Gordon Brown, before he departed, and Angela Merkel, was very well negotiated. The German example is a good one, and we may need to follow their example again.

    It’ll have nothing to do with rats or bees though. Curiously there are “king rats” in the wild as there are “queen” bees.

    • maude elwes
      16/05/2014 at 7:45 am



      You are indeed a very bright and observant boy. No rats or bees on you I see.

      Nevertheless, Nigel has you all by the big toe…. Hasn’t he? He is, for all intents and purposes, The Pied Piper, as the hoards are coming out to vote. Which proves my point, that a small adjustment toward common ground would solve the problem of stalemate. Or, is that too difficult to digest?

  3. Lord Norton
    15/05/2014 at 8:23 am

    Lord Wallace was merely making a distinction that I drew, somewhat more succinctly, in my speech. The fact that a government has to command a majority in the House of Commons applies not just here but in other Westminster systems. Had Lord Wallace actually made a point that challenged what I said, I would have intervened. How you construct that majority is another matter. It does not require a formal coalition, as our history (and indeed that of other Westminster parliaments) shows.

  4. P.R. Renganath
    25/05/2014 at 4:47 pm

    Am from India which has been plagued by coalition governments for the past quarter of a century. I was just wondering – if parliamentary expediency conjures up a coalition, post-election, of party A (against which 65% of the electorate had voted) and party B (against which 80% had), can the bedfellows be said to enjoy the vote of 55% of the electorate?

    • Lord Blagger
      27/05/2014 at 11:11 am

      The fact that a government has to command a majority in the House of Commons applies not just here but in other Westminster systems.


      That’s the problem with the system. It’s broken.

      Now if the electorate get the say on issues, it doesn’t matter. Goverments put to the electorate the bills they want passed, and the electorate says yes or no.

      That saves 100 million a year. Referenda by proxy and the abolition of the biggest quango going, the Lords. If you aren’t elected, you aren’t democratic.

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