Monthly Archives: April 2015

An Open Letter to Russell Brand & Brian May

Dear Russell and Brian,

In the run up to this year’s UK general election, I have been closely following your respective approaches to getting people to engage with the pressing problems of our times.

On the surface of it, you both appear to be wanting the same thing: a fairer, more humane, compassionate and environmentally sustainable society with communities and ordinary people calling the shots as opposed to career politicians and corporate lackeys.

Russell, your message is much more nuanced than the simplified ‘don’t vote’ version of it regularly cited by the mainstream media. What you are basically saying is we need to disengage from the established political system as it is not fit for purpose and instead become politically active at the grass roots level.

Conversely, your message Brian is essentially get involved with the political system as it is by voting for decent candidates and policies in the hope that that will lead to the kind of changes you want to see.

As understandable and commendable as both these approaches are, the truth is that on their own neither of them can work in the long term.

I absolutely agree with you Russell that people need to look outside of the established political system and manage their own communities at a grass roots level. But that established political system will trundle on regardless, awarding thoroughly undeserving, corporately sponsored people disproportionate amounts of real power to ruin the lives of everybody else. So in conjunction with the grass roots engagement you espouse, we urgently need to radically reform the established political system into something that runs parallel to it and compliments those efforts – otherwise attempting to achieve real progress becomes a long, drawn out, stress and disease inducing battle with authority and bureaucracy. The New Era Estate campaign that you championed was inspiring and a perfect example of how and why people can win through when they organise and unite against injustice and corruption. But people shouldn’t have to go through all that just to get what is right. Not everybody has the gumption and fight in them that those people on that estate had. And for those that do, the stress levels involved with taking on the system undoubtedly take their toll in the long run. We need to create a society where it is not possible in the first place for people’s lives to be so utterly disregarded and ruined by a minority in pursuit of short term financial gain.

I also absolutely agree with you Brian that people should be able to influence decision making at a macro, societal level by engaging with the systems already in place. But, unfortunately, the established political system is absolutely a closed shop designed to ensure that no meaningful change of the guard can ever take place. I have written at length elsewhere about why this is the case. In a nutshell, no matter how many people vote and no matter who they vote for, the voting system in the UK guarantees that only one of two establishment parties can ever call the shots in government, even in the age of hung parliaments and coalitions. So Russell is 100% correct to say that engagement with that system in its current form is futile.

As stated, the problem is that this system trundles on regardless. Technically, even if considerably less than 50% of the population were to not vote at a general election, a government would still be able to claim a mandate as our system is not about vote share but seats: they will always be able to achieve a majority of seats in parliament and claim that that is sufficient mandate to govern. Yes, there would be an outcry and much hand wringing and calls for reform in that scenario. But technically there’d be nothing anyone could do about it. No amount of endorsing such a system by voting is going to change that paradigm. But, similarly, no amount of grass roots activism is going to prevent people of the political class from wielding disproportionate amounts of power over everybody else.

The solution to this problem, clearly, is to radically evolve the very systems by which governments are formed in the first place, in conjunction with grass roots activism, so that communities and ordinary people are truly represented at all levels of societal decision making. The million dollar question then is: “How on earth do we do that?”

There is a reason why I have devoted so much of my life over the past five years to campaigning for inclusion of an official None of the Above (NOTA) option on ballot papers – with formalised consequences for the result if the majority choose it – ahead of all other possible reforms and worthy causes. When you truly understand how the current electoral system works, it becomes clear that no meaningful reform of the kind that the Electoral Reform Society campaigns for (PR, right to recall, elected House of Lords etc.) can ever be achieved in the current paradigm. Because the only people that have the power to enact those changes have everything to lose and nothing to gain from doing so and there is currently no way of officially challenging their authority and forcing the issue.

By contrast, inclusion of NOTA on ballot papers is 100% achievable in the current paradigm as it can be clearly shown to be a democratic pre-requisite, impossible to argue against without arguing against democracy itself, once properly understood. This is because consent, central to the concept of democracy, is only truly measurable if it is possible to withhold consent. In the context of elections, consenting (voting) is a formal act. Therefore the withholding of consent must be formal also. Neither abstaining or ballot spoiling constitute the formal withholding of consent as both acts can be construed otherwise and neither affects the result in any way. The only way to formally withhold consent at an election is via a formal NOTA option on the ballot paper.

The powers that be can never be seen to be anti-democratic, even if they secretly are in practice. It stands to reason then, that with enough understanding among the general public of NOTA being 100% essential in any system claiming to be a democracy, it would become an inevitable government concession. This is essentially how votes for women and and the NHS were won. They weren’t benevolent gifts from on high, they were concessions to appease an increasingly politically aware populous. So could it be with NOTA.

Clearly, the fact that no reform other than NOTA is achievable at this time is not necessarily reason enough to champion it. But an understanding of how a post-NOTA inclusion political landscape would look is.

Introducing the possibility for the electorate to reject all candidates and parties on offer at an election would have a huge impact on the system as a whole. No party is going to want to be embarrassingly beaten at the polls by NOTA voters are they. So it follows that this potential would force them to put forward more ‘decent’ policies and candidates that would appeal to many more voters, potential NOTA voters included. So already, an organic levelling off and cleaning up of the political landscape will have occurred. The current two party oligarchy, while still favoured by the First Past The Post system, would for the first time be under threat as those parties will be just as vulnerable as any other to being visibly rejected by more people than not at the polls. In this new paradigm, the potential for further democratic reform would be greatly increased.

This is why NOTA is the ground zero of electoral reform upon which further democratic progress could be built. If we accept that the system cannot be ignored and must change, and if we accept that no other meaningful electoral reform is possible at this time, then we must also accept that campaigning for inclusion of NOTA, alongside grass roots activism, is the logical starting point for taking the power back.

To recap:

Russell, you are right to call for disengagement from the current political system and encourage grass roots, community engagement. But we need to reform that system as well, otherwise we will always be on the back foot, stronger in numbers but out-gunned where it matters. There is a way to do this. It’s called NOTA.

Brian, you are right to want to see increased engagement with the current political system making a real difference. But the sad truth is that it can’t, currently. They have it sewn up. Engagement with the current system is simply to endorse it and ensure its continuation. We need to change the game before we play it. There is a way to do this. It’s called NOTA.

Thanks to NOTA UK’s lobbying, the parliamentary Political & Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC) felt compelled to explicitly recommend in its final report, published in February, that the next government consult before May 2016 specifically on the issue of inclusion of a formal NOTA option on UK ballot papers for all future national elections. So we have an unprecedented window of opportunity to push for real and lasting democratic reform. This is a huge development. With that in mind, I have written an open letter to all party leaders asking them to state for the record where they stand on this issue. As yet, none have responded.

The three of us, you with your respective audiences and me with a clear, logically sound path to real electoral reform and a growing movement of people getting behind it, could genuinely make history. But all the while we are pulling in different directions, I’m afraid it will be business as usual for those holding the reigns of power for the foreseeable future.

Feel free to contact me via email ( stan(at) ), I’d be more than happy to discuss these issues with you.

Yours sincerely,
Jamie Stanley

The Case For NOTA: A Call To All Reformists

As the 2015 UK general election approaches, talk of electoral reform and interest in NOTA UK’s campaign to get a formal None Of The Above (NOTA) option added to UK ballot papers grows. As well as an increase in support, this is inevitably accompanied by plenty of resistance and a general misunderstanding of what we are trying to achieve and why.

So I’m writing this as a direct call to all those seeking to reform UK democracy and make it fit for purpose at this time. In particular, I am keen for the arguments put forward here to be heard and understood by the Electoral Reform Society, campaign group Common Decency and high profile, pro-democracy individuals such as TV presenter Rick Edwards, columnist Polly Toynbee and writer Armando Iannucci.

The most common misconception and argument against having NOTA on ballot papers is the incorrect belief that it is already possible to formally reject all candidates in our system so why bother having it. This is often, but not always, accompanied by an inaccurate evaluation of the efficacy of being able to do so in the first place.

Making use of a formal NOTA option would categorically NOT be the same as abstaining or ballot spoiling. Abstaining is dismissed as voter apathy with no further analysis and cannot affect the result in any way, even if the majority do it. The same is true of ballot spoiling as they are never counted as spoiled in protest, only ever as spoiled in error or ‘intention uncertain’, so again, even if the majority do this it has zero effect. (More on that here: )

Neither of these things make any difference because they are not recorded as a formal rejection, or the formal withholding of consent. Democracy is all about consent. When you vote you are consenting to be governed by whoever wins, even if your choice doesn’t win. But the giving of consent is only meaningful and measurable if it is possible to withhold consent. In the context of elections, consenting (voting) is a formal act. Therefore the withholding of consent MUST be formal also. Yet it is currently impossible to do this in the UK, for the reasons stated.

Utilising an official NOTA option, in stark contrast to pointless abstaining or ballot spoiling, would represent an unambiguous, formal withholding of consent and a rejection of all the candidates and/or the system as a whole. It is therefore meaningful. Crucially, as stated above, it is 100% essential to be able to do this in any true democracy.

If the majority were to choose NOTA, whether nationally or in specific constituencies, that would render the result null and void, triggering by-elections and/or a national re-run election as applicable. That is democracy in action. (We have a proposal to deal with the logistics of this, see here: )

The point, though, is that the very presence of this mechanism would force all parties to lift their game and appeal to more voters, potential NOTA voters included, or risk the embarrassment of having more people actively, formally reject them than vote for them. Not spread out over several parties and therefore obscured, but visibly, undeniably, all in one place.

Think about that for a second.

The knock on effect of this ought to be that parties would feel obliged to put forward more universally acceptable and ‘decent’ policies and candidates, giving disillusioned voters something to vote for in the first place.

THAT is the whole point of NOTA. It is a vital check and balance in any truly democratic system, currently missing from ours. And because it can be shown to be a democratic pre-requisite, it is achievable – as the powers that be can never be seen to be anti-democratic (even if they are in practice).

Without NOTA, literally nothing is going to change. Because no amount of getting more people to vote can make any difference in the current paradigm, for the simple reason that, no matter what, there are only two parties that can ever really call the shots in practice, even in the age of coalition governments, and neither of those parties have any incentive or reason to introduce reforms that are seen as desirable only and not 100% essential. (More on that here: )

When you really understand that the problem is not lack of engagement with the system but the system itself, it becomes clear that the solution is not to endorse the system further but to actively change it from the ground up. The way to do that is to campaign for the achievable reform of NOTA, in the first instance, as it is the ground zero of electoral reform upon which all other democratic reform could be built.

The efforts of all those calling for electoral and democratic reform are commendable. But very few are seeing this bigger picture and taking the systems thinking approach that we are. If all those people and groups were to get on board with us, then we really would be on our way to making the current, fundamentally undemocratic UK electoral system a thing of the past.

Crucially, thanks to NOTA UK’s lobbying, we have a unique window of opportunity between now and May 2016 to lobby the next government hard to make NOTA a reality. We have written an open letter to all party leaders to find out where they stand on the issue in light of this development. (See here:

Feel free to respond in the comments or by email ( stan(at) ). Bear in mind that I reserve the right to publish conversations if I feel doing so may further understanding of and/or support for our cause.

Jamie Stanley

Problem, Reaction, Solution: Why understandable efforts to boost voter turnout miss the point

UPDATE: To be clear, NOTA UK are NOT ‘telling people to not vote’ as has been claimed. We are saying do whatever makes sense to you on polling day. But if you care about improving democracy, then please take the time to fully understand the system you are participating in so that you may evaluate the potential impact, or lack of impact, that your vote, or non-vote, will have in your constituency.

While it is commendable that so many prominent figures are urging people to register to vote and encouraging them to use their vote at the 2015 election, it is incredibly frustrating for anyone who understands how the current electoral system actually works that the false idea that we can vote our way into a better paradigm is being peddled alongside this.

The ‘if more people vote things will change’ myth is easily debunked. The myth goes that because 15.9 million people didn’t vote at the last election and the party with the most votes got only 10.7 million, if those people were to vote this time a result other than a Tory or Labour majority government, or a coalition with one or other of those two parties calling the shots, would be possible.

To illustrate why this is a false belief, I will use the example of my own constituency of Horsham.

First though, I will briefly outline how our First Past The Post (FPTP) system gives an unfair advantage to Labour and the Tories from the off.

Designed for two party politics, and therefore totally inappropriate in a multi-party system, FPTP ensures a two horse race in the vast majority of constituencies every single time. Not always between Labour and the Tories, sometimes it is Labour and the Lib Dems, or Lib Dems and the Tories, or even a smaller party and one of the big three. But in most seats, one or other of the only two in the running will be Labour or the Tories as they are the most established parties with the strongest traditional support bases nationally.

To form a government it is necessary for a party or coalition of parties to win a majority of seats in parliament. But because FPTP decrees that the candidate with the most votes in each seat wins even if the majority of voters voted against them (spread out over several parties), the percentage of vote share for each party never corresponds to the percentage of seats they have won. Example: in 2010 the Tories got 36.1% of the votes nationally but 47.1% of seats in parliament while the Lib Dems got 23% of the vote share but only 8.8% of seats.

This BBC ‘majority builder’ game helpfully, but unintentionally, illustrates how weighted towards the two main parties our current electoral system is:

Now – in Horsham, a safe Tory seat, Frances Maude won in 2010 with around 29,000 votes. The 2nd placed Lib Dem candidate had around 18,000. Around 22,000 didn’t vote. On the surface of it, it seems that if those people had voted the result could have been affected, because mathematically, that is possible.

But look deeper and that notion starts to look increasingly implausible.

In order to have affected the result in any way, at least half of those non-voters would not only have had to have voted, but they would have ALL have had to have voted Lib Dem. It is extremely unlikely that that percentage of such a large group would all support the Lib Dems and no other parties if forced to choose. So they would also all have had to have decided to vote tactically just to keep the Tories out. That is a completely improbable outcome, given that 18,000 people already had voted Lib Dem, many of whom will probably have voted tactically also.

This situation is mirrored in over 300 seats around the country, most of which are rendered safe Tory or Labour seats (+ a comparative handful of safe Lib Dem, SNP & Plaid Cymru ones) by virtue of the FPTP voting system which, remember, renders the vast majority of seats a two horse race with all other parties completely redundant.

Think about it. It is simply not realistic to believe that just because getting more people to vote could mathematically cause an upset at an election that it actually will. It’s nowhere near as simple as that. It is wishful thinking to believe otherwise.

To believe that the problem with our ‘democracy’ can be solved by more people voting is to fundamentally misunderstand this problem. The problem is that our system ISN’T a democracy in the first place. The system is designed in such a way as to ensure two party hegemony at all times, even in the age of coalitions, as the voting system still ensures that the two main parties have way more seats than all their potential coalition partners put together, so one of them will always call the shots even in a coalition government.

For this reason, either Labour or the Tories are the only parties that can ever wield any real power in the UK as things stand, no other outcome is possible. That’s not my opinion, it is the stark reality that reveals itself when you really look into what’s going on and how this system works.

To think this paradigm can be changed by further legitimising and endorsing it is pure delusion. The paradigm needs to change first. The logical starting point for that is to get a functioning ‪#‎NoneOfTheAbove‬ option on ballot papers in the first instance and then use the newly levelled playing field to push for further reform. Seriously – how else is that going to happen?!

And to those who try to claim that coming at the problem from this angle is negative, I say this: is it positive or negative to delude oneself as to the true extent and nature of a problem? Is it positive or negative to have fully understood a problem and exhausted all other possibilities before settling on a workable and achievable solution?

Take as long as you need.

Jamie Stanley

GUEST BLOG: Is NOTA a Legal Requirement?

In an update to his guest blog from last year, NOTA UK’s Rohin Vadera further explores the question:

Is a ‘None of the Above’ option on ballot papers a legal requirement?

In September 2013, the Indian Supreme Court (SC) ruled that electronic voting machines (EVMs) must include a ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option for the upcoming national election. Its presence was intended to provide the option for a voter to effectively spoil their vote in private, otherwise impossible given the way voters cast their vote through an EVM.

In this case the NOTA option allowed voters to come to the polling section to register their desire to abstain from the voting process. But it did not function as a true NOTA option, which is a mechanism to formally reject all candidates on offer and initiate a re-run election if need be.

The full judgement is available here:

What is interesting from the NOTA UK point of view is that the SC based its judgement on sections from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the latter of which India has ratified (as has the UK). The ICCPR in particular is a covenant that the UK is legally bound to follow and its terms cannot be overturned by an act of parliament, as I understand it.

Part of the SC judgement is laid out below:

49) However correspondingly, we should also appreciate that the election is a mechanism, which ultimately represents the will of the people. The essence of the electoral system should be to ensure freedom of voters to exercise their free choice. Article 19 guarantees all individuals the right to speak, criticize, and disagree on a particular issue. It stands on the spirit of tolerance and allows people to have diverse views, ideas and ideologies. Not allowing a person to cast a vote negatively defeats the very freedom of expression and the right ensured in Article 21 (of the UDHR) i.e., the right to liberty.

(Text highlighted by author)

The SC gave reasons why it felt that the NOTA option was an important part of the voting process:

55) Giving right to a voter not to vote for any candidate while protecting his right of secrecy is extremely important in a democracy. Such an option gives the voter the right to express his disapproval with the kind of candidates that are being put up by the political parties. When the political parties realise that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them, gradually there will be a systematic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity.

I certainly agree with the reasoning. However, for NOTA to have a substantive impact as described above it must be able to affect the results of an election in a formalised and robust manner. Politicians are used to widespread approbation, so a widely used symbolic NOTA option could be shrugged off, or used in some type of political game that results in no substantive positive changes.

A symbolic NOTA option provides little incentive for disillusioned voters to express their voice as there are no clear and unambiguous consequences to that choice. Uncertainty is the worst outcome of all and undermines the use of this type of NOTA, as disillusioned voters would likely steer clear of the voting process altogether, instead of choosing an ineffective NOTA option.

The SC has also made the common mistake of conflating NOTA with abstention, using it as a mechanism to ‘actively abstain’, rather than reject, in the hope that it will have a positive impact.

So what is the relevance to the UK situation?

Firstly the Indian experience demonstrates that documents like the UDHR and the ICCPR carry weight in determination of election law and secondly there is a good reason to believe that these documents have clauses that require a properly functioning NOTA option that allows voters to reject all candidates with formalised consequences.

Before going into the aforementioned documents, readers should remember that NOTA confers the ability to withhold one’s consent during an election process and thereby ensures that consent can also be validly given, thus making an election a democratic process where voters are the sovereign power. Without NOTA you cannot have an electoral democracy. It is as simple as that.

What I hope to demonstrate is that not only is it a democratic pre-requisite, it is also a legal requirement for any country that has agreed to abide by the UDHR, and especially the ICCPR.

UDHR Article 21.3 is relevant to NOTA, in my view:

21.3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

(Text highlighted by author)

ICCPR Article 25(b) is also relevant:

25. Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.

(Text highlighted by author)

UDHR 21.3 is clear and unambiguous in its support for a bona fide NOTA option. If the ‘will of the people’ is the basis of a government’s authority, then that government must surely have obtained their consent first. And how can voters give consent unless there is a commensurate ability to withhold it?

This is of course assuming that the oft used phrase ‘will of the people’ actually means what it says rather than being a meaningless cliché, included for effect.

The ICCPR article 25(b) is a little more subtle, but once understood, equally compelling. Elections are supposed to guarantee ‘the free expression of the will of the electors’. How can that be guaranteed unless their consent has been sought and obtained?

For those in any doubt, if we examine the dictionary meaning of ‘will’, in this context it means: expressing desire, consent, or willingness.

How can any government that is based on the will of the electorate not have their consent? Once we can establish that consent cannot be formally given (by voting) without a bona fide NOTA option facilitating the formal withholding of it, the UK is, arguably, legally bound to provide it.

The ICCPR is especially important in this regard as the UK agency responsible for elections could theoretically be sued for breach of covenant if they failed to carry out elections as set out by the terms of the ICCPR and could in turn be liable for monetary recompense to the aggrieved parties i.e. all UK citizens. The ramifications are enormous.

I don’t recommend that anyone rush off to sue the UK government just yet (unless you allow me to join in!), but it is an interesting avenue to pursue should other ways of bringing this important reform into the election process not come to fruition.

Rohin Vadera


The full text of the UDHR and ICCPR can be found here:

The UDHR is here:

The ICCPR is here:

Party Politics & Coalition Government

I want to briefly talk about party politics in the UK and how it plays into coalition formation.

The first thing to note is that you don’t have to be opposed to party politics in general or all of the parties on offer to support the idea of having a formal ‘None Of The Above’ option on the ballot paper. You can support a political party and acknowledge the importance of being able to formally withhold consent at an election via NOTA, essential in any true democracy – these two things are not mutually exclusive.

At the same time, it is important to understand the reality of how our system works. There is much talk of coalitions at the moment, the favoured outcome for many being a ‘rainbow coalition’ of Labour, Lib Dems, SNP and possibly even the Greens. On the surface of it, this seems like a reasonable outcome, a potentially more ‘left leaning’ and progressive government.

But there is a huge problem here, one that is not immediately obvious unless you fully understand how our current system works. The problem is that even in a coalition of more than two parties, the party whip system, that ensures MP’s always have to tow the party line or face punishment, effectively becomes a government whip system, in practice, on issues that could ‘make or break’ the coalition.

In addition, the completely outdated and inappropriate First Past The Post voting system (designed for two party politics) ensures that the vast majority of MP’s will be elected with far less than 50% of the votes cast, while there are over 300 safe Labour and Conservative seats. This means that, mathematically speaking, the dominant party in any coalition will always be Labour or the Conservatives as they will always have more votes than the other coalition parties combined.

This means that, in practice, only one or other of those two parties can ever call the shots in government, no matter what the outcome of an election.

It’s a closed shop, a two horse race. Every. Single. Time.

This is why we will need to have an official NOTA option on ballot papers – with formalised consequences for the result if the majority were to choose it – before there is any point in trying to change the system by engaging with it (unless you are happy with Labour and/or the Conservatives ruling the roost for ever more).

For anyone one who wants to do the math(s), the latest seat predictions can be found here:

Of course, a change to the voting system to one that recognises the existence of more than two parties, is long overdue also. But it can always be argued, by those that benefit from it, that the current system is ‘democratic enough’ and ‘works just fine’. NOTA, by contrast, can be shown to be a democratic pre-requisite as it is the only way to withhold consent formally at an election (consent being central to the concept of democracy and only truly measurable if it is possible to withhold it), the key word here being formally, as giving consent by voting is formal so the withholding of it must be also (the only other options being abstaining or ballot spoiling, both informal acts that in no way affect the result and therefore in no way constitute withholding consent formally).

Once properly understood this way, it becomes impossible to argue against NOTA without arguing against democracy itself. For this reason, above all other potential reforms, it is achievable and could pave the way for further reform of our system of government. This is why NOTA should be the priority for all pro-democracy campaigners at this time.

Far from being a negative cop out or a wrecking option, inclusion of NOTA on ballots remains a positive, logical progression towards an actual, true democracy, where the playing field is more level and more than two establishment parties – and parties not even of the establishment – can find themselves on an equal footing.

Only then will support for parties other than the main two actually mean something and the formation of coalition governments have the potential to be progressive.

Get involved here:

Jamie Stanley