The concept of the "mandate" can be defined as the right to govern. The "electoral mandate" can be defined as the right to carry out a particular political programme as approved by the electorate.

Legally and constitutionally, however, there is no limit to a government's mandate, providing it can sustain a majority of votes in the House of Commons. A government is elected to govern and is not obliged to carry out or not carry out any specific policies. For example

> the Labour government stated in its 2001 manifesto that it would not introduce top-up fees for higher education, but later did so

> there was no mention of Iraq or a war - but the government nevertheless went ahead with such a war.

The concept of the mandate can be useful to governments:

> Parties campaign on a set of policies usually contained in an election manifesto and promoted during speeches, election broadcasts, etc. If they win the election, they argue that this gives them the political as well as the legal right to implement those policies - even though few people will have actually read the small print of a manifesto. The introduction of the poll tax was a classic example of this scenario.

> New political circumstances can be used to justify introducing a new policy or not implementing a promised policy.


> It can be argued that a controversial policy not contained in a manifesto does not have the approval of the electorate.

> It can be argued that a government elected with less than 50% of the total vote does not have a mandate for fundamental change.

> A government with low opinion poll ratings, perhaps suffering by-election defeats, perhaps also at the end of a five year term, may no longer be able to claim whatever mandate it originally had.

Some governments will seek to sustain their mandate by extensive consultation with interest and pressure groups to ensure that their policies have a broad measure of support. Others may simply argue that, as they have a majority of seats in the Commons, that in itself is sufficient mandate.

Legally, a government's mandate lasts as long as it can command a majority of votes in the Commons.