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In addition, the completely outdated and inappropriate First Past The Post voting system (designed for two party politics) ensures that the vast majority of MP’s will be elected with far less than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: http://may2015.com/category/seat-calculator/
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.