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: ). 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


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