Tag Archives: Ballot

Response to Government Position on NOTA

Eileen Vagg at the Cabinet Office recently responded to our request for her to elaborate on the government’s position on NOTA. Here is my reply which contains all the points she raised in order, nothing omitted:

Dear Eileen,

Thank you for your correspondence. Allow me to go through it point by point.

1: “The Government considers that, when participating in a ballot, the position should be that the elector makes a positive choice of a representative rather than a negative one. It does not agree, therefore, that the introduction of a provision such as the one you suggest would be a positive step.”

This is not an argument, it is a logical fallacy. Specifically it is a ‘circular argument’. Essentially this: “The government believes electors should make a positive choice, therefore it doesn’t believe NOTA is a positive step.” Aside from containing a baseless, unspoken assumption that NOTA is negative, this offers zero reasoning for your repeated claim that engaging in the positive abstention of voting NOTA is a negative act. If you offer no logical reasoning to back up such a claim, it simply cannot ever stand up to scrutiny. The fact that you would attempt to dismiss such an important issue using such a clumsy logical fallacy suggests to me that perhaps you actually do realise that our assertions about NOTA representing the ability to withhold consent, which is itself central to the concept of democracy, are correct and that it therefore would be an inherently positive, democratising step to include it on the ballot paper – but that you would rather not have to deal with such a massive, game changing issue so close to an election.

2: “The Government believes it should be for candidates and the political parties to actively engage the electorate so they can make a positive choice of representation.”

So do we. Why do you think having NOTA would prevent this? On the contrary, if the electorate had the option to reject all candidates and parties on offer, then clearly there would be even more incentive for them to try to engage the electorate. One more positive reason why we should have NOTA.

3: “Neither the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) nor the United Nations’ ‘Universal Declaration on Human Rights’ (UDHR) requires states to adopt a particular electoral system.”

We never said it did. What we said is that these internationally recognised documents basically state that in a true democracy, elections must allow for the consent of the electorate to be sought and won before a government can be formed. As stated previously, consent is immaterial if it is not possible to withhold consent. Abstaining is not the same as formally withholding consent, it is simply not participating and can be dismissed as voter apathy with no further analysis. Spoiling the ballot is not the same either as all spoilt ballots are lumped in with those spoilt in error. Any spoilt vote count is therefore meaningless and does not provide an accurate measure of voter discontent. The only way to formally withhold consent at an election is by having an official NOTA option on the ballot paper with formalised consequences for the result if the majority choose it. In other words, without NOTA, the truly representative democracy that both the ICCPR and the UDHR call for is not possible. Ergo, these documents could be shown to indicate that NOTA is, arguably, a legal requirement in any truly representative democracy.

3: “The secrecy of the ballot allows the free expression of the elector.”

Indeed, but this is not irrelevant. The issue is not one of secrecy, it is one of consent and the ability to meaningfully withhold it, currently denied us.

4: “Your suggestion that an election is re-run where more than 50% of electors choose a NOTA option would lead to difficulties, not least of which is a lack of representation for constituents.”

What difficulties? The only difficulty it would lead to is that it would make it much harder for the current political elite to dominate the UK political system ad infinitum. For the already completely unrepresented majority in the UK, that is not a difficulty, it is progress. The one difficulty you have cited already exists, clearly. If anything, having NOTA would ultimately lead to better representation of constituents due to the knock on effect of having it (alluded to in point 2 above).

5: “The suggestion that there could be a temporary representation followed by a further election would not be straightforward and would raise a number of issues.”

But presumably issues not significant enough to actually warrant listing them. The only issue I see it raising is that it would level the playing field and cause the current political elite to have less dominance, a good thing for true democracy. Without a proposal to deal with the logistics, a NOTA win would indeed ‘not be straightforward’. That is precisely why we have put forward just such a proposal to make it as straight forward as possible. I note that you have not acknowledged this proposal at all in your response.

6: “The Government has no plans to bring forward legislation to introduce such an option on the ballot paper, but will keep under review the ways in which the democratic process may be enhanced.”

Well, we’ve just outlined a way in which the democratic process in the UK may be significantly enhanced and you have rejected it totally on entirely spurious grounds. So presumably, ‘reviewing’ is as far as the government is prepared to go on this issue. Also known as ‘paying lip service’.

Thank you anyway for your reply. We at least now know the extent of your commitment to improving our democracy. We will continue to make the solid, indisputable case for NOTA out in the real world with a view to eventually making it an election issue that can no longer be dismissed and swept under the carpet as you have tried to do with your response.

Yours sincerely,
Jamie Stanley

Feel free to send further POLITE responses to Eileen Vagg at elections@cabinet-office.gsi.gov.uk

NOTA Straw Poll

NB: This poll is purposely minimal. If you have selected ‘No’ or ‘Possibly’, feel free to tell us why in the comment thread so that we can analyse and discuss reasoning.

An open letter to the Electoral Reform Society

Dear ERS,

I enjoyed the ERS Democracy Dinner very much, well done to all for pulling it together. I was particularly pleased to find out that some senior Lib Dems, a lifelong peer, a renowned historian and pretty much everyone I spoke to, including many ERS members, support the idea, in principle, of having NOTA on the UK ballot paper.

Unfortunately, Katie Ghose confirmed at the end of the night that there is still a large disconnect between your organisation as a whole and ours as she informed me that ‘ERS is not sure about NOTA’ as it is apparently still perceived as ‘negative’.

In the text of our 38 Degrees petition, on our website and in our facebook group we are at pains to constantly re-iterate how and why having NOTA on the ballot paper is an inherently positive reform. It saddens me that the ERS as a whole, a natural ally of ours, still appears to cling to this ‘negative’ NOTA myth.

Just to be clear, I have nothing but respect for the work that you do – but there is an ‘elephant in the room’ here that never appears to be talked about. It certainly appeared to evade detection at the dinner…

For me, personally, the plain, verifiable fact of the matter is this: the system of government we have in the UK in 2013 is, categorically, NOT democracy. Not even close. For me, the unpalatable truth is that we have finally, after many years and decades of erosion, allowed a Corporatist plutocracy to take hold instead. (If you are in any doubt as to the appropriateness of my use of the word Corporatist, I would invite you to familiarise yourself with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that is being pushed through – potentially game over for democracy, some might say…)

Once one has acknowledged this reality, it is hard to see it as anything more than ‘pie in the sky’ to expect the mechanisms of an inherently anti-democratic system to deliver democratising reform.

What we at NOTA UK are proposing, by contrast, is a lasting, game changing reform to our electoral system that is actually, organically achievable. It is achievable because NOTA is a democratic pre-requisite that when properly understood cannot be argued against without appearing anti-democracy. Even if they are, the political class can never be seen to be that – or the all-important, status quo sustaining, illusion of democracy would evaporate forever. Ergo, with enough vocal support behind it, NOTA could, as with votes for women and the NHS, become an inevitable government concession.

Once in place, if implemented properly (so that a NOTA win has real ramifications for the election result i.e: a re-opening of nominations, by-elections, re-run elections etc. – unlike in all other countries that have it, where the next placed candidate takes office anyway – pointless!), the knock on effect would undoubtedly be huge (we even have a proposal to deal with the logistics of re-run elections that avoids political instability – see here: https://nota-uk.org/2013/11/16/nota-for-real-logistics-ramifications/ ). Once the potential for this scenario is in place, parties would have no choice but to engage with and represent NOTA voters concerns – but actually mean it, or face constant, permanent rejection at the ballot box. Self-serving and corrupt career politicians would, potentially, be discouraged from standing in the first place, while community spirited people of integrity ought to feel encouraged. From that point, changes to the voting system and wider reform of the kind the ERS advocates would become achievable.

Until then, I honestly can see no rational, logical basis on which any other reform can be achieved in the current, broken, Corporatist paradigm, that doesn’t just reinforce that paradigm and entrench it even further.

This is why NOTA is the logical starting point and why it ought to be the unifying reform that everyone is campaigning for with one voice. If we were, we would get it in place in no time – maybe not before 2015 but certainly in time for the following election. From there, the sky would be the limit.

The ERS has done great, important work for many years and long may it continue – please don’t think I’m being overly cynical or critical here! –  but there is currently a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the reality of the increasingly authoritarian and Corporatist world in which we live and the ideal of the not yet realised true democracy that ERS aspires to.

In my humble opinion, it is time for ERS and all progressive reformers to acknowledge the sick and dying ‘elephant in the room’ and embrace a sure fire way of putting it out of its misery once and for all so that we may set about replacing it with a healthy, functioning alternative instead. For all our sakes.

I formally invite Katie on behalf of the ERS to clarify its position on NOTA and explain the reasoning behind not wanting to throw your full support behind it, if indeed that is still the case.

Yours sincerely,
Jamie Stanley