Monthly Archives: May 2015

ERS Report: A Response to Andrew Rawnsley

On 31st May 2015, The Guardian website published an article titled ‘The real reason David Cameron is sitting on a Commons majority’, written by the award-winning political commentator and critically-acclaimed broadcaster and author Andrew Rawnsley.

It is, in my view, the most accurate and honest assessment I have read of the political landscape in the UK both before and after the 2015 general election, in which the Conservatives were able to form a government with a tiny majority of 12 seats in parliament.

Rawnsley’s article – which pre-empted and referenced a now published Electoral Reform Society (ERS) report on how and why the 2015 general election has produced the most disproportionate result in British election history – is excellent, not least of all because he concludes by laying bare the futility of pushing for Proportional Representation (PR) in a landscape where the only parties that can ever call the shots under First Past The Post (FPTP) have nothing to gain from introducing it.

The current system always delivers a majority of seats in parliament one way or another, so it can always be argued that it is democratic enough, even though it patently isn’t. Calls for ditching FPTP in favour of PR can therefore always be ignored, all the while only beneficiaries of the current system are the ones in power. Which is always and forever, as things stand.

And yet, inexplicably, simply calling for PR remains the central strategy of the ERS and most other reformists at this time. It’s maddening.

What Andrew sadly doesn’t go on to discuss – and what the ERS seem unable to grasp – is that the way to achieve democratic reform in such a landscape is to go back to basics, figure out what else is missing and determine what is actually achievable. When you sit down and do this, the solution presents itself.

There is only one reform that would be achievable now with enough support for it. It is achievable because it represents a democratic pre-requisite, a mechanism that is essential in any system of government claiming to be a democracy, one that should have been there all along and that cannot be argued against without arguing against democracy itself, once it is properly understood.

It is the ability to formally withhold consent and reject all that is on offer at the ballot box. The key word there is formally. Consent is central to the concept of democracy but only measurable if it is possible to withhold it. In the context of elections, consenting (voting) is a formal act. The withholding of consent, therefore, must also be formal for it to be meaningful. But it is currently not possible to do this in the UK. Abstaining and ballot spoiling are ambiguous and informal acts that can never affect the result in any way, even if practised by a majority, so neither in any way provides this essential mechanism.

The only way to formally withhold consent at an election is by including an official None Of The Above (NOTA) option on ballot papers with formalised consequences for the result if a majority make use of it.

If this mechanism were in place, the very prospect of a party being beaten by more voters actively and visibly rejecting all that is on offer would force all parties to lift their game and compel them to represent more voters in the first place, organically cleaning up the whole process and levelling the playing field considerably. From there, the chances of further democratic reform towards PR would be greatly improved. Without NOTA in the first instance, how is PR or any other democratic reform ever going to occur? Seriously, how?! It can’t. Not in the current landscape. NOTA, by contrast, would become inevitable if enough people were calling for it as the democratic pre-requisite that it is.

For this reason, NOTA remains the ground zero of electoral reform upon which all other democratic reform could be built. Far from being a ‘cop out’, it is the next giant leap on the road to universal suffrage.

Even the Political & Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC) – now abolished by David Cameron – were beginning to understand and accept the significance of NOTA. Thanks to our lobbying and a sizeable positive response to its consultation on ‘voter engagement’, the PCRC felt compelled to recommend in its February 2015 report that the next government consult before May 2015 solely on inclusion of NOTA on ballot papers. This was due to the clear demand for it and the perceived positive impact that it would have on voter engagement.

Just because the PCRC is no more, there is no reason to give up on NOTA or any of its other recommendations. If anything, it is time to step up the fight. But we must be realistic and not waste our energies lobbying turkeys to vote for Christmas. For the reasons stated, NOTA is the achievable ‘square one’ for any and all democratic reform of the UK’s system of government.

Electoral reformists like the ERS continue to ignore this game changing, logical starting point for democratic reform at their peril – and to the detriment of us all.

You can support NOTA UK’s campaign for achievable electoral reform by signing our petition here and by following and subscribing to us via these social media links:

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Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
31/05/15

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NOTA vs the Red Herring of PR

The 2015 UK general election saw a majority Conservative government elected with the support of less than a quarter of the voting age population, leading to renewed calls for a change from the First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system to a form of Proportional Representation (PR).


This is the new majority Conservative government’s response to these calls for PR (click to enlarge):

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The Electoral Reform Society can correct the false assertions as much as they like. The government’s position is not going to change. This is why campaigning for PR as the catch all solution to the problems of our failing ‘democracy’ is the wrong approach.

NOTA UK’s detractors have made similar false arguments against inclusion of a formal ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) option on ballot papers in the past. But when confronted with the irrefutable argument that NOTA is an essential pre-requisite in any system claiming to be a democracy, they literally have nothing to say. Because it is impossible to dress opposition to NOTA up as a pro-democracy argument, once its true significance is understood. Whereas PR can always be refuted in seemingly pro-democracy terms.

That’s the difference.

For this reason, NOTA would be achievable as an unavoidable government concession with enough widespread understanding of and support for it. PR never will be all the while only entrenched beneficiaries of FPTP are in power – which is always and forever as things currently stand.

Once in place, by virtue of giving a potential voice to literally millions of currently silent and unrepresented voters, NOTA would level the playing field considerably and pave the way for further democratic reform.

Consequently, NOTA remains the ground zero of electoral reform upon which all other democratic progress could be built.

Get involved and help us spread the word here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/inclusion-of-an-official-none-of-the-above-option-for-all-uk-elections-2

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
23/05/15

We Need To Talk About ‘Democracy’

In light of the 2015 general election result, the almost 75% of the population who didn’t vote for the new Conservative government appear to fall into two distinct camps. There are those so angered by the outcome that they are prepared to take to the streets and demand the right to somehow overrule or otherwise undermine the result. Then there are those who simply shrug their shoulders and say: ‘Well what can you do, that’s democracy for you!” But is it?

Regardless of which party you support, could those refusing to take the result lying down perhaps have a point? In a word: yes.

The central premise behind the political idea of democracy is that the consent of the governed must be sought and obtained by those who would govern before they can take office. If the majority consent, then they have achieved this. People consent by voting. Whether your choice wins or not is irrelevant. All the while a majority participate, those that govern can claim it is a democracy.

HOWEVER – there are two problems with this when it comes to UK parliamentary ‘democracy’.

Firstly, consent is only measurable if it is possible to withhold consent. Otherwise, whether you consent or not is immaterial. In the context of elections, consenting (voting) is formal so the withholding of consent must be formal also. This is currently impossible as abstaining and ballot spoiling are ambiguous, informal acts that in no way affect the result. Inclusion of a formal ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) option on ballot papers is the only way to formally withhold consent at an election. Without such a mechanism, an electoral system or system of government simply cannot be described as a true democracy.

Secondly, in the UK, no matter how many people consent by voting, a majority of seats can always be achieved one way or another. That would be true with a 30% turnout or a 90% turnout. If you do the maths and include all those not even registered to vote as well as those who were registered but didn’t vote, the number of people that participate in general elections usually only just scrapes past 50%. But it wouldn’t matter if it didn’t. Technically, it wouldn’t matter if the turnout fell below 50% of all registered voters either. Whoever had more than half the seats could still claim a mandate.

Clearly, that is not true democracy by any stretch of the imagination.

And that’s before we even get in to the totally undemocratic voting system, the undemocratic party whip system, the power of corporate lobbying and the undue influence over voters of the corporate media. To believe that such a system represents the ideal of true democracy is pure delusion.

We need to start talking about this. We need to start being honest about the total lack of any meaningful, truly representative democracy in the UK if we are ever to have a chance of installing one.

Due to it being absolutely essential in any true democracy, and given that ‘the powers that be’ must be seen to be pro-democracy at all times even if they aren’t in practice, NOTA is the achievable, logical starting point for meaningful democratic reform. All other reforms can be paid lip service to and roundly ignored. NOTA is different.

You can get involved by signing and sharing our petition here and by following/subscribing to us via these social media links:

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NOTA UK website

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
10/05/15

 

THE FIGHT FOR ACTUAL DEMOCRACY: Time To Step It Up

Every election to office should also be a straight Yes/No referendum on what’s on offer and/or the system itself.


Apparently, the UK is a true democracy. I beg to differ. Here’s some statistics for you:

The population of the UK is around 64.1 million.

Only 72% of the UK population are registered to vote (46.4 million).
Only 66.1% of those registered to vote actually voted in the 2015 UK general election (30.7 million).

That’s 47.9% of the total UK population. Using 2011 figures, somewhere between 18% and 20% of the UK population is under voting age. So we can safely say that somewhere between 32% and 34% of the voting age UK population didn’t register or didn’t vote.

Only 36.9% of the turnout voted Conservative (11.3 million).

That’s 17.6% of the entire UK population, 24.4% of the registered electorate, dropping to around 22% of the voting age population as a whole. So less than 25% of potential voters actually voted for the government that we are now stuck with for the next five years.

“Well, they should’ve voted shouldn’t they, if you don’t vote you can’t complain…” etc. etc.

Just think about that for a second.

Excluding those under voting age, somewhere between 32% and 34% of the population, between 20 and 22 million people, either didn’t register to vote or didn’t bother to vote. Do you really think that many people simply don’t care about something that very obviously affects their lives?!

Statistically speaking, it stands to reason that the majority of these people are not going to be well off. The majority are bound to be people living at the sharp end of UK society and directly suffering the consequences of government by and for millionaires and the corporate and financial sector.

If they thought voting for the lesser of several evils could make a difference to their lives, then they surely would, right? But they don’t. So, evidently, most of them must know – or believe, depending on your point of view – that no amount of voting in a failing, broken system of oligarchy masquerading as democracy is ever going to make any damn difference to their lives. So they have nothing to do with it, they withhold their consent and reject all the candidates and/or the system as a whole the only way they can – by non-participation.

But what if they could formally register that disdain, that withholding of consent, that rejection of all candidates and/or the whole system, in a way that could influence the election result if the majority were to do so.

There is no doubt in my mind that a great many of this significant but currently silent group absolutely would choose to do that if they could. This is why there is currently no formal ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) option on UK ballot papers, no formal mechanism to distinguish between apathy and conscious rejection. The powers that be know it would be a game changer.

And that is why we must step up the fight for NOTA as the logical starting point for widespread democratic reform.

In a true democracy, as well as being a way of choosing and legitimising a government, a general election should always also be a straight Yes/No referendum on whether that system is working and has the support of the majority.

NOTA would provide a way to ensure that our elections are just that. If you support a party or candidate or the system in general and vote, then you vote Yes. If you choose NOTA, you vote No. There would be a clear measure of how many want in and are happy with the process as it is and how many want out and demand change.

It’s not a democracy if you can’t do this. We know from the Scottish referendum that when a simple Yes/No question that people actually care about is posed, people get involved. Some 84.5% of the electorate in that case.

Put NOTA on UK ballot papers and give people the option of making any election a Yes/No referendum on the parties and candidates put forward, or the system as a whole, and it would only be matter of time before things changed for the better.

With actual NOTA ‘with teeth’ in place, actual democracy becomes possible. Without it, there’s no reason why it ever would or could.

And THAT is why we don’t have the option already. Time to step up the fight.

You can get involved by signing and sharing our petition here and by following/subscribing to us via these social media links:

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NOTA UK website

Onwards & Upwards!

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
09/05/15

ELECTORAL REFORM ‘O CLOCK? OF COURSE IT IS!

But calling for PR in the current political landscape is like trying to make an omelette without breaking a single egg…


(This article first appeared on the Democratic Audit website)

Once again, the UK’s antiquated First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system has delivered a government that the vast majority of the registered electorate (around 63%) actively voted against. Parties with a sizeable share of the popular vote once again have a tiny share of seats in parliament, while parties with far less popular support have been awarded a disproportionately large share of seats.

Not surprisingly, everyone who has lost out to this system this time around, from UKIP to the Green party and everyone in between, is now calling for electoral reform in the form of Proportional Representation (PR).

There can be no doubt in any rational, sane person’s mind that when you have more than two parties vying for office, FPTP is a farcical and redundant voting system and that a more proportionally representative system is long overdue.

But campaigning for PR alone is not the place to start if we truly want to reform our electoral system.

Because, no matter who wins a UK election, FPTP absolutely ensures that only either Labour or the Tory parties, neither of which have anything to gain from PR’s introduction, can ever call the shots in government by virtue of always having at least four times as many seats each as the next nearest party. This is true even in coalition, because whichever of them is called upon to form one will always have easily twice as many seats as all their junior partners combined under FPTP. If coalition government in the UK (and indeed parliament as a whole) were about grown up compromise, this would not necessarily be an impediment to progress. But in a childish numbers game where the party/government whip is king, ensuring that the party with the most voting power always rules the roost, real progress and radical change is nigh on impossible.

Not only do neither of the two dominant parties have anything to gain from changing the voting system, they can never be put under any real pressure to do so because, as undemocratic as FPTP is, they can always say it is ‘democratic enough’ as it always delivers a majority in parliament one way or another. For this reason, no matter how loud the calls for it, they can always pay lip service to PR (as a desirable reform only) and then do precisely nothing about implementing it.

By stark contrast, inclusion of a formal ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option on ballot papers is an achievable reform as it can be shown to be a democratic pre-requisite, 100% essential in any true democracy and impossible to argue against without arguing against democracy itself, once properly understood (see here and here for why).

With enough widespread understanding of this fact, NOTA could eventually become an inevitable government concession to appease a population increasingly aware of its democratic rights, just as votes for women and the welfare state were won before it. From there, the playing field would already have been levelled considerably, as all parties would be compelled to work harder for more votes or risk having more people visibly and formally reject them at the ballot box than actually vote for them. In such a landscape, the prospect of further democratic reform ought to be significantly improved.

Without this first step, there is no reason whatsoever why any Tory or Labour dominated government would introduce PR. If electoral reform is the order of the day, then the achievable reform of NOTA must surely be the logical starting point.

We now have an unprecedented window of opportunity to pile pressure on the newly elected government to introduce this potentially game changing and undeniably essential electoral reform. Because thanks to NOTA UK’s lobbying (and some 71.8% of around 16,000 survey respondents calling for it), the parliamentary select committee for Political & Constitutional Reform (PCRC) felt compelled to recommend in its final report on increasing ‘voter engagement’ (published in February 2015) that the next government consult before May 2016 solely on inclusion of NOTA on ballot papers. They concluded that there is not only huge demand for NOTA, but that there would be a clear, positive impact on voter engagement of having it. This is a huge step forward for our campaign.

When you really understand the extent of the democratic deficit in the UK, it becomes clear that NOTA is the ground zero of electoral reform upon which all other democratic reform could be built. For this reason, it must now be the priority of all pro-democracy reformists at this time. The alternative is five more years of ineffectual lobbying of turkeys to vote for Christmas with zero progress made and no end to the current, undemocratic two party system in sight.

People can support NOTA UK’s campaign for achievable electoral reform by signing our petition here and by following and subscribing to us via these social media links:

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Twitter
YouTube
NOTA UK website

Enough is enough. Together we can call time on our outdated, failing democracy and take the power back. Lets make history.

Jamie Stanley
11/05/15

NOTA UK