Tag Archives: Electoral Reform Society

Response to our open letter to Caroline Lucas

So I finally received a reply to our open letter to Caroline Lucas of the Green Party of England and Wales. Here it is with my response:

“Dear Jamie,

Thank you for getting in touch and apologies for not replying sooner – I get a lot of correspondence and give priority to that from my constituents.

As you know, the Green Party fully backs having a “re-open nominations” option on the ballot paper and I’d agree that a “none of the above” option is in the same spirit. It’s not possible for us to campaign on everything and I don’t think we’ll be doing anything proactive on this in the immediate future, but I’ll let the campaigns coordinators know about the open letter and your calls.

In terms of changing policy, that’s done by members and the policy coordinators, copied in above, should be able to tell you whether there’s ever been any proposals along these lines.

Best wishes, Caroline”
—————————————————————————————–

“Dear Caroline,

Thank you for your reply.

A couple of things, firstly Re-Open Nominations and NOTA are more or less the same thing, my issue with the current Green Party policy is that to many RON will be seen as a needlessly technical and jargonistic term, the preserve of political parties, student unions and the like. Most voters, as you know, are not necessarily members of such groups and generally like things to be simplified as much as possible. RON would constantly need explaining, where as None of the Above is a recognised, self-explanatory phrase. For this reason, we feel strongly that the wording of the policy should be changed so that it is clear that the proposed reform is a formal, binding NOTA option, perhaps with RON in brackets, it could then go on to explain what is meant by RON for the avoidance of doubt.

Secondly, it is clear from your response that NOTA/RON, while recognised as necessary, is not a priority for the Green Party. I feel strongly that this is missing a trick. As outlined in the open letter, there are solid, irrefutable reasons why NOTA is the logical starting point for full democratisation of a plainly undemocratic electoral system such as the UK’s.

In a true democracy, it is essential to be able to formally withhold consent at an election, as voting is the formal giving of consent and consent is only measurable if it is possible to withhold it in an equally impactful way. NOTA is the only way to do this, as ballot spoiling / abstaining are informal acts that can in no way affect the result. NOTA would therefore be achievable, in the short to mid term, with enough widespread understanding of this fact and support for it among the general public, as it is not possible to argue against a democratic pre-requisite without arguing against the concept of democracy itself. As undemocratic as the Westminster elites are in practice, they can never be seen to be. Therefore, all it would take to get NOTA in place would be for some mainstream politicians and parties to come out in favour of it and join us in making the case for it in a high profile way. From that point, NOTA would become inevitable. There is also quite probably a legal case to be made for inclusion of NOTA (see here: https://nota-uk.org/…/guest-blog-is-nota-a-legal-requireme…/ )

The same cannot be said of PR, because as desirable a democratic improvement as it may be, it simply cannot ever be argued that PR is a democratic pre-requisite in a system where securing a mandate hinges on seat share, not vote share. In my view, it does not matter how many high profile parties and people are calling for PR, if the party in power benefits directly from FPTP, as is always the case because of the very nature of FPTP, why on earth would they do anything other than pay lip service to calls for a new voting system then ultimately ignore them?

They would not be able to do this if NOTA were the ’cause célèbre’, for the reasons stated. Once in place, a post-NOTA electoral system would be much easier to reform and improve with additional changes such as PR.

If full democratisation of the UK system is the aim, rather than just figuring out how to get one’s own party into power or the continued justification of one’s organisation and funding (ERS, for example), then campaigning for NOTA has to be the start point. Any mainstream political party with the courage and foresight to acknowledge this and get behind our campaign fully would be making history. Until that happens, the issue of electoral reform is likely to continue going round in circles as it has done for decades.

Again, I would be more than happy to consult with policy makers on this issue with a view to making NOTA a central plank of any future Green Party manifesto.

Yours sincerely,
Mr J Stanley
NOTA UK
26/09/2016″

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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NOTA UK website

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
31/05/15

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

The Case For NOTA: A Call To All Reformists

As the 2015 UK general election approaches, talk of electoral reform and interest in NOTA UK’s campaign to get a formal None Of The Above (NOTA) option added to UK ballot papers grows. As well as an increase in support, this is inevitably accompanied by plenty of resistance and a general misunderstanding of what we are trying to achieve and why.

So I’m writing this as a direct call to all those seeking to reform UK democracy and make it fit for purpose at this time. In particular, I am keen for the arguments put forward here to be heard and understood by the Electoral Reform Society, campaign group Common Decency and high profile, pro-democracy individuals such as TV presenter Rick Edwards, columnist Polly Toynbee and writer Armando Iannucci.

The most common misconception and argument against having NOTA on ballot papers is the incorrect belief that it is already possible to formally reject all candidates in our system so why bother having it. This is often, but not always, accompanied by an inaccurate evaluation of the efficacy of being able to do so in the first place.

Making use of a formal NOTA option would categorically NOT be the same as abstaining or ballot spoiling. Abstaining is dismissed as voter apathy with no further analysis and cannot affect the result in any way, even if the majority do it. The same is true of ballot spoiling as they are never counted as spoiled in protest, only ever as spoiled in error or ‘intention uncertain’, so again, even if the majority do this it has zero effect. (More on that here: https://nota-uk.org/2015/03/02/election-hacking-what-the-electoral-commission-has-to-say/ )

Neither of these things make any difference because they are not recorded as a formal rejection, or the formal withholding of consent. Democracy is all about consent. When you vote you are consenting to be governed by whoever wins, even if your choice doesn’t win. But the giving of consent is only meaningful and measurable if it is possible to withhold consent. In the context of elections, consenting (voting) is a formal act. Therefore the withholding of consent MUST be formal also. Yet it is currently impossible to do this in the UK, for the reasons stated.

Utilising an official NOTA option, in stark contrast to pointless abstaining or ballot spoiling, would represent an unambiguous, formal withholding of consent and a rejection of all the candidates and/or the system as a whole. It is therefore meaningful. Crucially, as stated above, it is 100% essential to be able to do this in any true democracy.

If the majority were to choose NOTA, whether nationally or in specific constituencies, that would render the result null and void, triggering by-elections and/or a national re-run election as applicable. That is democracy in action. (We have a proposal to deal with the logistics of this, see here: https://nota-uk.org/2014/12/11/top-nota-faq-what-happens-if-nota-wins )

The point, though, is that the very presence of this mechanism would force all parties to lift their game and appeal to more voters, potential NOTA voters included, or risk the embarrassment of having more people actively, formally reject them than vote for them. Not spread out over several parties and therefore obscured, but visibly, undeniably, all in one place.

Think about that for a second.

The knock on effect of this ought to be that parties would feel obliged to put forward more universally acceptable and ‘decent’ policies and candidates, giving disillusioned voters something to vote for in the first place.

THAT is the whole point of NOTA. It is a vital check and balance in any truly democratic system, currently missing from ours. And because it can be shown to be a democratic pre-requisite, it is achievable – as the powers that be can never be seen to be anti-democratic (even if they are in practice).

Without NOTA, literally nothing is going to change. Because no amount of getting more people to vote can make any difference in the current paradigm, for the simple reason that, no matter what, there are only two parties that can ever really call the shots in practice, even in the age of coalition governments, and neither of those parties have any incentive or reason to introduce reforms that are seen as desirable only and not 100% essential. (More on that here: https://nota-uk.org/2015/04/18/problem-reaction-solution-why-understandable-efforts-to-encourage-high-voter-turnout-misses-the-point/ )

When you really understand that the problem is not lack of engagement with the system but the system itself, it becomes clear that the solution is not to endorse the system further but to actively change it from the ground up. The way to do that is to campaign for the achievable reform of NOTA, in the first instance, as it is the ground zero of electoral reform upon which all other democratic reform could be built.

The efforts of all those calling for electoral and democratic reform are commendable. But very few are seeing this bigger picture and taking the systems thinking approach that we are. If all those people and groups were to get on board with us, then we really would be on our way to making the current, fundamentally undemocratic UK electoral system a thing of the past.

Crucially, thanks to NOTA UK’s lobbying, we have a unique window of opportunity between now and May 2016 to lobby the next government hard to make NOTA a reality. We have written an open letter to all party leaders to find out where they stand on the issue in light of this development. (See here: https://nota-uk.org/2015/03/30/an-open-letter-to-the-leaders-of-all-uk-political-parties/)

Feel free to respond in the comments or by email ( stan(at)notauk.org ). Bear in mind that I reserve the right to publish conversations if I feel doing so may further understanding of and/or support for our cause.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
22/04/15

Select Committee: CHECK! Next stop: The Electoral Commission (and its peculiar definitions…)

The parliamentary Political & Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC), thanks to successful lobbying from NOTA UK (and 71.8% of almost 16,000 responses to one of its survey questions in favour of NOTA) explicitly recommended in its February 2015 report on ‘voter engagement’ that the next government should hold a public consultation before May 2016 specifically on the issue of inclusion of a formal ‘None of the Above’ option on UK ballot papers for all future national elections.

Their cited reasons were a clear increase in public demand and the potential positive impact on engagement that NOTA could have.

In the past, NOTA has been perceived and portrayed by establishment parties and media as a lazy, negative cop out or a wrecking reform championed by a fringe minority of people. No doubt it will be again. But the PCRC’s recommendation and increasing mainstream coverage of and support for NOTA as a bona fide and necessary electoral reform in and of itself makes this position increasingly untenable for anyone clinging to it.

With that in mind, I will of course be writing to the seven main parties in the coming weeks to find out where they stand on NOTA in light of recent developments (watch this space!).

In the meantime, the next logical step seems to be to put pressure on the Electoral Commission (EC). So not long after the PCRC’s report was published, I contacted them to see where they currently stand on the issue of NOTA. I was eventually directed to pages 85 and 86 of their report on ‘Standing for Election in the UK’. It transpires that oddly, while their discussion of NOTA in the report acknowledges recent developments, the EC’s position has effectively not changed since 2003 and remains against introduction of NOTA on the grounds that, in their view:

“…the purpose of an election is to elect one of the nominated candidates to elected office. An election is about making a choice between the nominated candidates and expressly allowing for ‘positive abstention’ defeats that purpose and discourages voters from engaging with the candidates on offer.”

Clearly, this view does not stand up to scrutiny.

Firstly, the purpose of an election in a democracy is not solely to elect nominated candidates to office, it is primarily to facilitate accurate representation in government of the will of the electorate. If no candidate on offer fits that bill in the eyes of voters, then they should be able to formally reject all that is on offer. If a majority were to then choose to do so, a formal rejection would have taken place that would have to be officially acknowledged and acted upon, in the form of a re-run election with different (better…?) candidates. This is democracy in action.

Secondly, it is incorrect to define NOTA as ‘positive abstention’. I have made this mistake in the past myself. But I realise now that to do so is to misrepresent the concept utterly and here’s why.

Abstention is about non-participation. You abstain at a general election by either not registering to vote at all or by registering but not attending the polling station to vote. In votes and polls within certain organisations (the Electoral Reform Society, for example), you can also register your desire to abstain by ticking the relevant box on a ballot paper. But either way, abstaining like this can in no way affect the result of a poll. Even if the majority abstain, the vote is still carried and the candidate or proposal with the most votes wins.

Voting NOTA, clearly, is about active participation. Because, unlike abstaining, withholding consent and rejecting all candidates via a formal NOTA option (if implemented properly i.e.: with formalised consequences for the result if NOTA were to ‘win’) can always potentially impact on the result.

By conflating NOTA with the idea of abstention, albeit supposed ‘positive abstention’, the EC is in fact conflating it with the idea of non-participation. This is disingenuous to say the least – and not a position that I expect them to be able to hold for much longer!

With that in mind, I will be formally requesting that the EC revisit the issue of NOTA and alter their position in light of recent developments. Feel free to do the same via the contact form on their website: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/contact-us

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
18/03/15

UNITY & FOCUS: A Pep Talk

So – this week there’s been some heated disagreement and in-fighting between a couple of NOTA supporters on our facebook group wall and other supporters expressing disdain for such public displays of disunity. Unfortunately, this is inevitable in any group of people with a common goal and numerous viewpoints competing for airtime.

Clearly, with only a few weeks to go until the 2015 general election, and the obvious opportunity that this time period represents in terms of getting our message out there, we need to keep such distractions to a minimum and make sure that we are all on the same page.

UNITY & FOCUS

For very good reason, I have fought long and hard to keep NOTA UK as a separate entity from the various other seemingly pro-NOTA camps that have sprung up since I founded it in 2010. Each one of them has been plagued with egos and agendas that fall outside our focused, purposely limited remit of getting the concept of NOTA, the urgent need for it and the inevitability of it firmly embedded in the public consciousness with a view to pressuring the establishment into making it so when the time is right.

As I have stated previously elsewhere, the idea of taking ballot papers home this May (discussed at length here), like all other proposed gimmicks to simulate NOTA or draw attention to our campaign, is a risky one for a number of reasons. As such, it is not a basket that NOTA UK should be putting all its eggs in, in my view.

I personally will be taking my ballot paper home as it makes sense to me as a form of pro-NOTA freedom of expression. I am also happy to support and advise any separate campaign calling on others to do so in the name of NOTA, so as to a) ensure that said campaign is on message with our long term aims and not doing any harm to our credibility and b) help co-ordinate and capitalise on any media coverage that may come of it.

What I won’t have, and have never tolerated, is people throwing their weight around unduly and trying to force others into accepting their vision of what our NOTA campaign should and shouldn’t be doing.

The facebook group wall is a discussion forum where people put ideas forward for consideration. If the consensus is that the campaign should adopt a certain strategy and the key players who have been here actively pushing things forward the whole time can all see the merit of it, then it will most likely be adopted. If I were ever in a minority of one opposing such a shift, I would happily stand down and hand over the reigns to someone else.

The fact remains though, that under my stewardship and tight control of how this campaign interacts with the outside world since 2010 (for no other reason than to avoid the kind of implosion and aimlessness observed elsewhere), we are now a recognised force (for better or worse) in the electoral reform world by a great many people, including, believe it or not, some movers and shakers on the other side of the fence in Westminster.

In other words, we have LEGITIMACY.

We are also in the right, morally and philosophically speaking, and have time on our side.

Whatever happens between now and the election and beyond, the calls for systemic change are only going to get louder and the opportunities for us to get our arguments for NOTA across are only going to increase. We don’t need to throw caution to the wind or take unnecessary risks. We just need to stay focused – ready, willing and able to fight our corner.

With that in mind, I thank everyone who has contributed to the development of this campaign and got us to where we are now and ask that instead of getting jumpy and bumping up against each other, we all remain patient and keep the faith.

Because we are winning.

Onwards & Upwards!

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
28/01/15

Electoral Reform Society AGM de-brief

On 13/09/14 I attended the Electoral Reform Society’s AGM to represent and debate our policy proposal, that the ERS start campaigning for a bona fide ‘None of the Above’ option with formalised consequences to be added to UK ballot papers for all future elections.

Needless to say, it was predictably frustrating. Out of a five hour day, only 40 mins were set aside for debating the nine policy proposals put forward by members, including ours. A token gesture, lip service, nothing more. A number of people complained about this, myself included.

I got less than a minute to talk about NOTA and then less than a minute to respond to one reasonable question about blank votes from a younger ERS member and three logical fallacy based objections from older members who evidently don’t understand what NOTA is.

But then again, why would they? I was given no time to speak and the society’s formal recommendation to reject the proposal was itself based on a number of clear and demonstrable logical fallacies and blanket misrepresentations of NOTA. (A point by point take-down of their recommendation to reject can be viewed here: https://nota-uk.org/2014/08/30/nota-uks-policy-proposal-to-be-debated-by-ers-at-their-agm/ )

It’s almost as though the upper echelons of ERS don’t want a fair and open debate on anything they have already decided they’re not interested in – like genuine, achievable electoral reform…

The only upside was that there is obviously a split in the ERS on this issue, even on the council, as a council member slipped me a note with an email address wanting to stay in touch as, apparently, some members are very interested in NOTA and want to help in the future. All the younger members I spoke to afterwards knew where I was coming from and were very supportive. I made sure to leave a few copies of our evidence submission to the parliamentary select committee looking into ‘voter engagement’ with all the info that I’d not been allowed to present. (See here: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/WrittenEvidence.svc/EvidenceHtml/7985 )

In the end, the vote on our NOTA proposal was 92 for, 128 against with 19 abstaining. There were nowhere near that many people in the room so we must have got a fair few postal/proxy votes. So not a bad showing at all really, all things considered. Thanks to everyone who took the time to send in their votes in favour.

I never expected to win the vote, the odds were always stacked against us. But it matters not, for me it was more about making our presence felt and making connections. We are still making the solid and indisputable case for NOTA and will continue to. Slowly but surely we are getting heard above all the noise and chatter.

Onwards & Upwards!

FOOTNOTE: The first of our four part video series is nearly ready and will be published soon, so keep an eye out for that!