One of the most prevailing myths that comes up time and again when talking to people who oppose inclusion of a formal ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option on ballot papers, is the idea that it would somehow ensure a victory for the Tories every time if implemented in the UK.
This argument is flawed on a number of levels.
Firstly, and most importantly, it fails to acknowledge what NOTA represents. NOTA is the ability to formally withhold consent and reject all that is on offer at an election. It is essential to be able to do this in any true democracy. I have written at length about why NOTA is a democratic pre-requisite, how there is currently no similar formal mechanism in the UK and why NOTA is therefore achievable many times before. (If you disagree with any of these premises I would politely suggest that you follow the hyperlinks, to begin with, and re-examine your understanding of consent in relation to voting and democracy!).
Once it has been accepted that NOTA is 100% essential in any true democracy, it becomes impossible to argue against it without arguing against true democracy itself, no matter what form your opposition to it takes. Essentially, if you are truly pro-democracy, then you have to also be pro-NOTA, if both concepts are properly understood, even if you perceive its presence on the ballot box as unhelpful in terms of what you want to see happen at an election. To oppose NOTA and claim to be pro-democracy is, quite clearly, a contradiction in terms.
The second problem with the ‘NOTA = Tory government’ argument is that it assumes that the biggest problem with our system of government and electoral system is the prospect of it delivering a Tory government in the first place. It isn’t.
The problem is neo-liberalism and the corporate oligarchy masquerading as democracy that it inevitably leads to. The differences between a future ‘Blairite’ New Labour government and a traditional Tory one would be negligible at best. If we’ve learned anything from Tony Blair’s experiment it should be that.
The prospect of Jeremy Corbyn going into a general election, having successfully transformed the Labour party into something anti-neo-liberalism and genuinely progressive, certainly makes things interesting. If this occurred, many of the millions of politically engaged but disillusioned people in the UK, who would otherwise abstain, spoil their ballots in disgust or formally vote NOTA if they could, would undoubtedly vote Labour and probably swing the election. I can understand then, from that point of view, the logic of not having anything on the ballot that could take votes away from Corbyn and prevent this happening, even if the absence of NOTA remains completely undemocratic.
But how likely is that scenario really? Assuming Corbyn hangs on to the leadership and leads Labour into a general election, what are the chances, honestly, of him genuinely having transformed the Labour party by then, and by extension, the way that a UK government goes about its business?
The status quo in the UK has prevailed for the longest time. It is much more likely that his power as Prime Minister, in a system that will still be set up primarily to facilitate a corporate oligarchy masquerading as a democracy, would be severely limited at best. The extent to which the enemies of all that Corbyn represents, even within his own party, have gone to undermine him and prevent Labour from evolving thus far speaks volumes. It is reasonable to assume that they intend to persevere and ramp up their opposition the closer he gets to becoming Prime Minister – and beyond.
In a true democracy, of course, this would not matter. Those enemies would not have any power in the first place, having been filtered out by a democratic process that allows for true manifestation of the will of the people administered by community minded, qualified representatives only.
But the UK system is categorically NOT a true democracy. It will remain a corporate oligarchy masquerading as one, regardless of who is seen to be in power in Westminster, all the while the electoral system and the system of government it underpins are specifically designed with that in mind.
Just as likely, if not more so, as Corbyn getting into power only to find himself shackled to an immovable, fundamentally corrupted system, is the prospect of him being ousted one way or another before then and replaced with a ‘business as usual’ neo-liberal candidate, alienating all those who would otherwise have been compelled to vote expecting real change. At which point, we will all be back to square one.
It is not good enough to simply play along with apparent developments and hope for the best.
In order to fully democratise the UK system of government, or any corrupt system of government, the general public first need to remove powerful, vested interests from politics altogether and ensure that their elected representatives, who have the power to make and repeal legislation, are truly qualified, community spirited people only.
Many would say this is an impossible task and that some kind of compromise is in order. But this flies in the face of systems thinking. If a system is failing to deliver its officially stated purpose – in this case, truly democratic governance (we all know that isn’t the aim, but that is how it is officially presented) – it must be made fit for purpose i.e. significantly reformed or replaced. Continuing to engage with the failing system as it is and expecting a different result is clearly madness.
The ‘go to’ reform that comes to mind at this point for most people in the UK is Proportional Representation (PR). I have spoken and written at length elsewhere about why I consider this to be a red herring. That is not to say that PR is not a desirable improvement or that the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system isn’t deeply flawed. It is simply a question of what is, and isn’t, achievable in the current corrupted paradigm.
Even with PR in place – unlikely to happen any time soon in my view – it would essentially be a compromise with an already totally corrupted system, rather than a way of getting to the root of the problem. The enemies of true democracy might be hampered by PR, but they certainly wouldn’t be defeated.
The question, then, is what does get to the root of the problem? The answer (as I’m sure you were expecting!) is NOTA.
Because NOTA, if implemented properly, would be a way of completely undermining the control that various agents of oligarchy, both inside and outside Westminster, currently have.
The very prospect of a party or candidate coming second to more people rejecting everything on offer would, in time, organically level the playing field, as no party will want to take that risk. It would be far too damaging and embarrassing, they would have no choice but to understand and engage with NOTA voters and put forward appropriate candidates with appropriate policies and, crucially, mean what they say or face blanket rejection next time around at the ballot box.
For this reason, providing the option to formally reject all that is on offer, in a way that would affect the result if a majority did so (by triggering by-elections and/or a re-run general election if NOTA ever ‘won’) to millions of non-voters, not to mention the millions more who tend to vote begrudgingly for the lesser of several evils at elections (including many Tory voters), would be a truly transformative step – and that’s before anyone has even cast a vote. From there, all manner of further democratic reform would be that much more possible. Without it, it is difficult to see how or why anything will significantly change for the better.
Crucially, the reform of NOTA is achievable, as I alluded to earlier and have spoken about at length elsewhere. It remains, therefore, the logical starting point and leverage point for all reformists and progressives genuinely wanting to transform a corrupt system of corporate oligarchy into a true democracy.
The problem is not the Tories, or the ‘Blairites’ or even the fact that our electoral system favours two main parties over all others. The problem is this:
It matters not who is in power in a system of oligarchy masquerading as democracy, that system will always be working against the interests of most people and in the interests of rich and powerful elites, while having the gall to present itself as a paragon of democracy.
It is this corrupted system that needs to change, if a truly democratic and sustainable system of governance is ever to be achieved. And if it can’t be changed, then it must be dismantled and replaced.
The question, then, is how? Logically speaking, the answer, to begin with, is NOTA.
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Onwards & upwards!