Eileen Vagg at the Cabinet Office recently responded to our request for her to elaborate on the government’s position on NOTA. Here is my reply which contains all the points she raised in order, nothing omitted:
Thank you for your correspondence. Allow me to go through it point by point.
1: “The Government considers that, when participating in a ballot, the position should be that the elector makes a positive choice of a representative rather than a negative one. It does not agree, therefore, that the introduction of a provision such as the one you suggest would be a positive step.”
This is not an argument, it is a logical fallacy. Specifically it is a ‘circular argument’. Essentially this: “The government believes electors should make a positive choice, therefore it doesn’t believe NOTA is a positive step.” Aside from containing a baseless, unspoken assumption that NOTA is negative, this offers zero reasoning for your repeated claim that engaging in the positive abstention of voting NOTA is a negative act. If you offer no logical reasoning to back up such a claim, it simply cannot ever stand up to scrutiny. The fact that you would attempt to dismiss such an important issue using such a clumsy logical fallacy suggests to me that perhaps you actually do realise that our assertions about NOTA representing the ability to withhold consent, which is itself central to the concept of democracy, are correct and that it therefore would be an inherently positive, democratising step to include it on the ballot paper – but that you would rather not have to deal with such a massive, game changing issue so close to an election.
2: “The Government believes it should be for candidates and the political parties to actively engage the electorate so they can make a positive choice of representation.”
So do we. Why do you think having NOTA would prevent this? On the contrary, if the electorate had the option to reject all candidates and parties on offer, then clearly there would be even more incentive for them to try to engage the electorate. One more positive reason why we should have NOTA.
3: “Neither the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) nor the United Nations’ ‘Universal Declaration on Human Rights’ (UDHR) requires states to adopt a particular electoral system.”
We never said it did. What we said is that these internationally recognised documents basically state that in a true democracy, elections must allow for the consent of the electorate to be sought and won before a government can be formed. As stated previously, consent is immaterial if it is not possible to withhold consent. Abstaining is not the same as formally withholding consent, it 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 an accurate measure of voter discontent. The only way to formally withhold consent at an election is by having an official NOTA option on the ballot paper with formalised consequences for the result if the majority choose it. In other words, without NOTA, the truly representative democracy that both the ICCPR and the UDHR call for is not possible. Ergo, these documents could be shown to indicate that NOTA is, arguably, a legal requirement in any truly representative democracy.
3: “The secrecy of the ballot allows the free expression of the elector.”
Indeed, but this is not irrelevant. The issue is not one of secrecy, it is one of consent and the ability to meaningfully withhold it, currently denied us.
4: “Your suggestion that an election is re-run where more than 50% of electors choose a NOTA option would lead to difficulties, not least of which is a lack of representation for constituents.”
What difficulties? The only difficulty it would lead to is that it would make it much harder for the current political elite to dominate the UK political system ad infinitum. For the already completely unrepresented majority in the UK, that is not a difficulty, it is progress. The one difficulty you have cited already exists, clearly. If anything, having NOTA would ultimately lead to better representation of constituents due to the knock on effect of having it (alluded to in point 2 above).
5: “The suggestion that there could be a temporary representation followed by a further election would not be straightforward and would raise a number of issues.”
But presumably issues not significant enough to actually warrant listing them. The only issue I see it raising is that it would level the playing field and cause the current political elite to have less dominance, a good thing for true democracy. Without a proposal to deal with the logistics, a NOTA win would indeed ‘not be straightforward’. That is precisely why we have put forward just such a proposal to make it as straight forward as possible. I note that you have not acknowledged this proposal at all in your response.
6: “The Government has no plans to bring forward legislation to introduce such an option on the ballot paper, but will keep under review the ways in which the democratic process may be enhanced.”
Well, we’ve just outlined a way in which the democratic process in the UK may be significantly enhanced and you have rejected it totally on entirely spurious grounds. So presumably, ‘reviewing’ is as far as the government is prepared to go on this issue. Also known as ‘paying lip service’.
Thank you anyway for your reply. We at least now know the extent of your commitment to improving our democracy. We will continue to make the solid, indisputable case for NOTA out in the real world with a view to eventually making it an election issue that can no longer be dismissed and swept under the carpet as you have tried to do with your response.
Feel free to send further POLITE responses to Eileen Vagg at email@example.com