Monthly Archives: November 2013

Why NOTA is achievable

Great social leaps forward generally occur in spite of government – not because of it.

Progressive social changes like votes for women and the birth of the NHS were borne of people coming together and fighting for a cause. Much as political parties of all stripes love to take credit for such things, the truth is that such leaps forward invariably occur in the form of inevitable government concessions that become necessary in order to keep the peace. So could it be with NOTA.

NOTA is a democratic pre-requisite. When you vote in an election, you effectively give consent to being represented by whoever wins. But  consent is immaterial if it is not possible to withhold consent.  NOTA represents the democratic right to withhold consent and exercise ones right to vote simultaneously.

When understood this way, as a democratic necessity, it is impossible to argue against NOTA without appearing anti-democratic. Even if they are, the political class can never be seen to be that. Ergo, with enough vocal support behind it, NOTA ought to one day be achievable as an inevitable government concession.

Getting the necessary level of public support is also possible, in our view, because NOTA is straightforward, self-explanatory and in tune with the public mood. By contrast, debates about the merits and pitfalls of various voting systems and more complex reforms like RON (re-open nominations), for example, are not. They appear exclusive, dull, and inaccessible to many.

NOTA remains the achievable and potentially unifying electoral reform from which all other reform could flow.

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‘Spoiling the Ballot = NOTA’ and Other Voting Myths

It is a common misconception that it is already possible to cast a vote for None of the Above in the UK by either not voting or spoiling the ballot paper.

Abstaining is simply not participating and can be dismissed as voter apathy with no further analysis.

Spoiling the ballot is not the same either as all spoilt ballots are lumped in with those spoilt in error. Any spoilt vote count is therefore meaningless and does not provide a measure of voter discontent.

An official NOTA option, by contrast, would.

Voting NOTA, if we could, would be a way of not just officially registering a vote of no confidence in all candidates, parties and policies put forward but also a way of demanding better choices.

Another common misconception is that if only more people would bother to vote, we’d get better parties, candidates and policies in government.

Unfortunately, when you really understand how our voting system works, it becomes clear that this is not the case.

The ‘First Past The Post’ voting system, combined with deeply entrenched voting habits in hundreds of traditionally safe Labour and Conservative seats, ensures that our electoral system is effectively a two horse race with only one or other of the big two able to form a government, either with an outright majority or in coalition with smaller parties who then have little or no influence over policy in practice.

In such a system, the third biggest party – currently the Liberal Democrats – exist solely to shoehorn one of the big two into power. For this reason, new parties and independents stand no chance of forming a government and very little chance of having any real influence over policy in our current system. Even with the best of intentions, they essentially just split the vote and facilitate the continuation of a two party system. This would be undemocratic even if those two parties were diametrically opposed – but they aren’t. Beyond the electioneering and hype, they are both parties of big business and little else, answerable to the same corporate and financial elites.

An official NOTA option would, by its very existence, level this playing field considerably. More discussion of the how and why can be found here:
https://nota-uk.org/2013/11/16/nota-for-real-logistics-ramifications/

NOTA for real: Logistics & Ramifications

In order for an official NOTA option on the ballot paper to be effective, in the event of it “winning”, a remedial process must be triggered and the election rebooted/rerun with new candidates and/or policies in place.

Logistics: If we had NOTA and it received a majority share of the vote — either nationally at a general election or in specific constituencies at either local or general elections — this should render the corresponding vote count null and void. In the case of specific constituencies choosing NOTA, this should trigger a by-election with new candidates and/or policies. By extension, at a national level, a win for NOTA should trigger a re-run of the whole election with new candidates and/or policies in place.

Clearly, the logistics of having a re-run election and/or by-elections straight after a general election are problematic. For this reason, it is our proposal that to make this process run smoothly with the least disruption, rather than have the by-elections / re-run election happen straight away, the next placed live candidate or party, although beaten by NOTA, should be allowed to take office temporarily while the logistics of the re-run/by-election are put in place, on the understanding that they will occur no less than 6 months and no more than 12 months after the initial election. Without this there would be instant re-runs/by-elections and political instability. This solves that problem.

This proposal could even be modified to take into account the vote share for NOTA and the runners up in different constituencies with a view to staggering by-elections across the year to avoid political instability. For example, a NOTA win by 100% or more of the next placed live candidate or party’s votes could trigger a 6 month delay before the by-election, a NOTA win by up to 100% could trigger a 12 month delay, and so on. In practice, this needn’t be any more or less  problematic than the hung parliament scenario of last time round. It would, however, be infinitely more democratic and representative of the will of the electorate.

Ramifications: This system is workable and could deliver real change to UK politics. In the event of a NOTA win, the six month to one year delay before the by-elections / re-run election would give the electorate, parties and election organisers time to prepare for the new election/s. It would also give the next placed live candidate or party (who, although not victorious, will still have pulled a significant share of the vote) an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of being in office ahead of the new election/s, at which they would be free to stand again.

Whether or not the other previously rejected candidates would be allowed to stand again would be an issue for the parties and Electoral Commission to decide. Either way, it would hardly be in the interests of the parties to put forward an unpopular rejected candidate twice.

The upshot would be that all political parties would be forced to have a contingency plan in place if their candidates were roundly rejected the first time round, a plan that would have to involve having more progressive candidates and policies to put forward if need be. Of course, they may well approach this in a public relations, style-over-content manner to begin with — in which case people would be free to reject them via NOTA again if not convinced.

It may take a while, but eventually the parties would learn that they have to start actually representing the electorate in order to be elected. The logical progression from that is that self-serving career politicians would be discouraged from standing in the first place and those of integrity and a genuine will to represent their community would be encouraged.

This is democracy in action — impossible without NOTA, in our view. When seen this way, it becomes clear that voting NOTA, if we could, would not just be a vote against the current system but a vote FOR a better one.

An open letter to the Electoral Reform Society

Dear ERS,

I enjoyed the ERS Democracy Dinner very much, well done to all for pulling it together. I was particularly pleased to find out that some senior Lib Dems, a lifelong peer, a renowned historian and pretty much everyone I spoke to, including many ERS members, support the idea, in principle, of having NOTA on the UK ballot paper.

Unfortunately, Katie Ghose confirmed at the end of the night that there is still a large disconnect between your organisation as a whole and ours as she informed me that ‘ERS is not sure about NOTA’ as it is apparently still perceived as ‘negative’.

In the text of our 38 Degrees petition, on our website and in our facebook group we are at pains to constantly re-iterate how and why having NOTA on the ballot paper is an inherently positive reform. It saddens me that the ERS as a whole, a natural ally of ours, still appears to cling to this ‘negative’ NOTA myth.

Just to be clear, I have nothing but respect for the work that you do – but there is an ‘elephant in the room’ here that never appears to be talked about. It certainly appeared to evade detection at the dinner…

For me, personally, the plain, verifiable fact of the matter is this: the system of government we have in the UK in 2013 is, categorically, NOT democracy. Not even close. For me, the unpalatable truth is that we have finally, after many years and decades of erosion, allowed a Corporatist plutocracy to take hold instead. (If you are in any doubt as to the appropriateness of my use of the word Corporatist, I would invite you to familiarise yourself with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that is being pushed through – potentially game over for democracy, some might say…)

Once one has acknowledged this reality, it is hard to see it as anything more than ‘pie in the sky’ to expect the mechanisms of an inherently anti-democratic system to deliver democratising reform.

What we at NOTA UK are proposing, by contrast, is a lasting, game changing reform to our electoral system that is actually, organically achievable. It is achievable because NOTA is a democratic pre-requisite that when properly understood cannot be argued against without appearing anti-democracy. Even if they are, the political class can never be seen to be that – or the all-important, status quo sustaining, illusion of democracy would evaporate forever. Ergo, with enough vocal support behind it, NOTA could, as with votes for women and the NHS, become an inevitable government concession.

Once in place, if implemented properly (so that a NOTA win has real ramifications for the election result i.e: a re-opening of nominations, by-elections, re-run elections etc. – unlike in all other countries that have it, where the next placed candidate takes office anyway – pointless!), the knock on effect would undoubtedly be huge (we even have a proposal to deal with the logistics of re-run elections that avoids political instability – see here: https://nota-uk.org/2013/11/16/nota-for-real-logistics-ramifications/ ). Once the potential for this scenario is in place, parties would have no choice but to engage with and represent NOTA voters concerns – but actually mean it, or face constant, permanent rejection at the ballot box. Self-serving and corrupt career politicians would, potentially, be discouraged from standing in the first place, while community spirited people of integrity ought to feel encouraged. From that point, changes to the voting system and wider reform of the kind the ERS advocates would become achievable.

Until then, I honestly can see no rational, logical basis on which any other reform can be achieved in the current, broken, Corporatist paradigm, that doesn’t just reinforce that paradigm and entrench it even further.

This is why NOTA is the logical starting point and why it ought to be the unifying reform that everyone is campaigning for with one voice. If we were, we would get it in place in no time – maybe not before 2015 but certainly in time for the following election. From there, the sky would be the limit.

The ERS has done great, important work for many years and long may it continue – please don’t think I’m being overly cynical or critical here! –  but there is currently a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the reality of the increasingly authoritarian and Corporatist world in which we live and the ideal of the not yet realised true democracy that ERS aspires to.

In my humble opinion, it is time for ERS and all progressive reformers to acknowledge the sick and dying ‘elephant in the room’ and embrace a sure fire way of putting it out of its misery once and for all so that we may set about replacing it with a healthy, functioning alternative instead. For all our sakes.

I formally invite Katie on behalf of the ERS to clarify its position on NOTA and explain the reasoning behind not wanting to throw your full support behind it, if indeed that is still the case.

Yours sincerely,
Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK

NOTA interviewed for BBC Radio 4

On 7th November, NOTA’s Jamie Stanley was briefly interviewed by BBC presenter Eddie Mair. In the wake of publicity surrounding political statements by comedian Russell Brand, Eddie’s afternoon programme PM has been running items about the state of British politics and Jamie was invited to participate.

Welcome to the NOTA UK blog

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