Monthly Archives: April 2016

Systems thinking, leverage points and the immovable logic of NOTA

oligarchybanner.jpgIf you can see the flaws in a broken or knowingly deceptive system, it makes literally no sense whatsoever to make use of that system as it is and expect the outcome to change.

All this can ever achieve is legitimisation of that system and assurance that the inevitable outcome it produces will persist unchallenged.

The only viable solution to that problem is to either replace the broken and/or deceptive system with one that actually does do what it is supposed to (or claims to) or fix whatever is preventing it from doing so.

In the case of most nation state’s current electoral systems, by far the most significant and obvious flaw is that they claim to be democratic but in reality can only ever deliver oligarchy masquerading as democracy. If you doubt this, you should probably read up on the 2014 study jointly conducted by Princeton and Northwestern universities that proved beyond doubt that the United States is officially an oligarchy.

Among those who acknowledge it, this problem can seem largely insurmountable. But if you approach it the right way, this is far from the case.

Within faux-democratic electoral systems such as that of the US and the UK, the most glaring and most addressable problem is the total absence of a mechanism that enables voters to formally withhold consent and reject all that is on offer in a way that can actually effect the result if enough people choose to do so.

It is essential to be able to do this in any true democracy because, at its core, true democracy is about people consenting to be represented in government by whoever they collectively choose to elect. But consent is only measurable if it is possible to withhold consent. The act of consenting and endorsing candidates / parties (by voting) is formal and binding, so the act of withholding consent and rejecting must be formal and binding also in order to be valid. Not voting or ballot spoiling / ‘writing in’ are meaningless, informal acts that in no way equate to this.

The only way to do this properly is with a formal, binding ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option on ballot papers.

Because it is essential to be able to do this in a democracy, all the while the game of the powerful is to present oligarchy as democracy, NOTA is an achievable reform – or rather would be, if enough people understood it and were calling for it as the democratic pre-requisite that it is. To argue against NOTA, in those circumstances, would be to argue against a central pillar of democracy itself, thus allowing the facade to crumble.

Therefore, it follows that with enough pressure, NOTA could become a government concession to keep the peace and avoid all out, overt tyranny (notoriously costly, in many ways, and nigh on impossible to sustain), as opposed to voluntary, covert tyranny (the self-sustaining goal and inevitable outcome of oligarchy masquerading as democracy).

Once in place, with the prospect of blanket, formal rejection hanging over every party and candidate, NOTA would have the power to trigger further organic reform of any  broken and/or deceptive electoral system it has infiltrated, towards one that is truly democratic.

But without this first step, nothing can ever change for the better in such systems as things stand.

From a systems thinking point of view, campaigning for and securing a formal, binding NOTA option on ballot papers in the first instance is literally the most logical and viable solution to the problem at hand. It is the most accessible leverage point at which meaningful intervention can occur. (More on systems thinking and leverage points here).

NOTA is not the be all and end all, but it remains the logical starting point for defeating oligarchy and kick-starting true democracy, once the true nature of that problem is fully understood. For this reason, it should be the priority of any and all progressives, reformers and true democrats at this time.

You can find out more and get involved with NOTA UK’s campaign here:

Jamie Stanley


Response to George Monbiot’s piece: “Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems”

Today, The Guardian published an article from writer and activist George Monbiot seeking to demystify and critique neoliberalism, the prevailing economic doctrine of the last 50 years.

You can read it here. It’s a very good piece. My only small gripe is that it doesn’t fully explore one very important fact: that the system of government that ultimately prevails under neoliberalism will inevitably be oligarchy masquerading as democracy, and any electoral system underpinning such a system of government will inevitably become nothing more than a facilitator of oligarchy that actively prevents actual democracy occurring.

This is one of the most urgent problems we face as a species, not just in the UK and the US but around the world. Monbiot correctly states in his piece: “It’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed.” This is no more true than when applied to our broken electoral system and system of government (broken if one accepts that the goal of each is, and always should be, actual democracy).

And yet, last time I checked, George remains one of the ‘you must go out and vote‘ crowd at general election time, even though, as acknowledged in his piece, people who don’t engage at the ballot box “feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment”.

How could you not feel that way, when you understand that the system is set up so as to ensure that only one of two establishment parties can ever form a government or call the shots in coalition, and each will always be answerable to the oligarchs, regardless of how progressive and well intentioned the new man or woman at the helm may personally feel inclined to be?

The reality is that as well as having an alternative to a broken system for when it dies, you also have to be actively trying to either put that system out of its misery or fix what is broken about it so that it becomes fit for purpose. If you simply engage with that system as it is and expect it to reform itself, you’re going to be disappointed. Unfortunately, that is all that putting one’s faith in the likes of Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders when they snap in to focus amounts to as things stand.

Most proposed reforms of our electoral systems either do little to address this problem or are completely unachievable all the while the only parties calling the shots have nothing at all to gain from implementing them. Proportional Representation in the UK for example. PR is not seen as a democratic pre-requisite but as an arguable democratic improvement. As such, calls for it can always be paid lip service to then roundly ignored by those who have the power to make it happen but nothing to gain from doing so. Why on earth would they do anything else?

Until such time as it is possible to formally reject all that is on offer at the ballot box in a binding manner, thus finally giving a voice to the disaffected silent majority who currently either don’t vote at all or begrudgingly vote tactically for the lesser of several evils at elections, nothing is likely to change.

A formal, binding #NoneOfTheAbove option on ballot papers remains the logical, systemic starting point for democratising any corrupt system of government. Mainly, because it is achievable. It must be possible, in a supposedly democratic system built upon the idea of people consenting to be governed (by voting – a formal act), for people to withhold that consent formally if they so choose, and in a way that can affect the outcome if the majority do so. Ballot spoiling and abstaining are informal acts that in no way equate to this. #NOTA is the only thing that does. It can therefore be shown that NOTA is 100% essential in any system claiming to be truly democratic.

If enough people understood this and were calling for it, NOTA would eventually become an inevitable government concession to keep the peace, just as votes for women and all manner of democratic advancements have before it. Then, and only then, with the prospect of mass public rejection and the power that comes with that, will it be possible for progressive politicians and parties to truly put the general population and society as a whole first, ahead of their corporate puppet masters. And only then will it be possible to put forward any meaningful opposition or alternative to the cult of neoliberalism.

The bottom line is this: Corbyn/Sanders or no Corbyn/Sanders – NOTA remains the leverage point at which we will start to truly turn things around. I look forward to George and others one day finally concurring with me on this and joining the movement.

You can find out more and get involved here.

Jamie Stanley

#ResignCameron – And Other ‘Rock & a Hard Place’ Scenarios

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Unfortunately, as entertaining as it all is, the only thing Cameron resigning over the Panama Papers ‘revelations’ will achieve is the ruination of his beloved legacy. A worthy karmic outcome, perhaps, but nothing more than a sacrificial scalp.

If we had a truly democratic system where an election could be called early if necessary (it can’t, the Tory imposed Fixed Term Parliament act prohibits this) and there were truly progressive parties unshackled from the utterly corrupt world of high finance that can actually win under First Past The Post (there aren’t, despite Corbyn’s apparent 21st century credentials Labour is still crawling with Blairite/Thatcherite Cameron clones while FPTP renders all other parties largely cosmetic), then the PM’s resignation would mean something.

As things stand, celebrating the knives out for Cameron, as satisfying as this is, is really just playing into the hands of those who would seek to oust him from within his own party and take over the reigns. Boris Johnson, IDS, Theresa May etc.

In other words, it’s a sh*t sandwich, as always. Our faux-democracy is incapable of offering up anything else.

Until we are able to get big money and vested interests out of politics altogether and create a system of actual democracy, any apparently seismic changes are bound to be temporary and cosmetic in reality.

Regular viewers will know where this is headed…

The first logical step in creating such a system is to give people the power to utterly reject FORMALLY (currently impossible) all that is on offer at the ballot box. An official, binding ‪#‎NoneOfTheAbove‬ (NOTA) option, in other words. It is a democratic pre-requisite to be able to do this.

Alongside grass roots activism and self-education about the way things really are and how they really could/should be, ‪#‎NOTA‬ ought to be a top priority for all progressives, as it remains the systemic leverage point by which we can begin to build a truly democratic and representative system of governance. An also useful (in my view) switch to Proportional Representation (PR), despite recent signs of an opposition alliance forming to achieve it, remains an unlikely first step all the while the big two have a vested interest in the continuation of FPTP. NOTA, by contrast, would be achievable now if enough people understood it to be the 100% essential democratic check and balance that it is and were calling for it as such.

Newcomers can find out more and get involved by checking out the rest of our website and by joining our facebook group. If you can afford it, please consider making a donation to our totally unfunded, non-partisan, volunteer run campaign via the paypal button at the top right of this page. Thank you.

Jamie Stanley