Cameron's ‘Mandate’: Democracy, Legitimacy and Conservative Leadership
Posted: 5 Aug 2009
Date Written: 2007
In December 2005, the British Conservative Party elected a new leader, David Cameron. As Cameron's leadership comes increasingly under the spotlight, he may be required to justify unpopular decisions and policy directions without necessarily being able to demonstrate the ultimate prospect of electoral success. Accordingly, the nature and extent of his victory in the 2005 leadership election is likely to be one of his chief arguments. In this article, we seek to evaluate that argument and contend that, in common with his predecessors, Cameron's ‘mandate’ at the outset of his leadership is of limited extent and significance; that his legitimacy is ultimately conditional on his performance as leader and that, again in common with his predecessors, it will be for Conservative MPs (or Cameron himself) to decide when that legitimacy is no longer sufficient to sustain him in office. The main reason for this is that, despite the apparent ‘democratisation’ of Conservative leadership selection over time, the Party's MPs remain the ultimate source of legitimacy for an incumbent leader, because they-and they alone-decide when that legitimacy should be withdrawn. In this context, it is interesting, and perhaps significant, to note that Cameron narrowly failed to secure the support, expressed in actual votes, of a majority of Conservative MPs before becoming leader. This, in turn, would suggest that his perceived legitimacy as leader may yet prove fragile should he propose substantive policy changes that the Party's MPs are unwilling to endorse.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation