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.
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