Tag Archives: NOTA campaign

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″

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#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
NOTA UK
08/04/16

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

‘Election Hacking’: What the Electoral Commission has to say

Followers of NOTA UK’s progress over the last couple of years will know that in the wider NOTA movement the issue is often raised of how best to draw attention to our shared goal of getting a formal None of the Above option on UK ballot papers, as well as the need for NOTA in any true democracy and the level of demand for it. With that in mind, I recently contacted the Electoral Commission to clear up a few questions and hopefully settle a few arguments.

There are a number of strategies that have either been proposed or are being actively pursued by groups and individuals apparently in the name of the NOTA cause. These include:

  • taking ballot papers home en masse
  • abstaining en masse
  • ballot spoiling en masse
  • standing candidates on a single issue NOTA platform

(DISCLAIMER:  While NOTA UK welcomes any action that could draw attention to our cause in a positive way and possibly further it, and while we would not seek to tell anyone else what to do, it does not, as an organisation, actively promote or endorse any of these strategies – for reasons that will hopefully become clear!)

The quotes below are all from an email conversation between myself and George Marshall, Communications and Public Information Officer at The Electoral Commission.

TAKING BALLOT PAPERS HOME EN MASSE

To get the ball rolling, I initially asked George whether taking ballot papers home was legal and if so what would happen if someone tried to do this. Here is his reply:

If a voter is issued with a ballot paper, there is a process set out in the election rules that should be followed. That is, the poll clerk issues the paper, hands it to the voter, the voter marks their paper, the poll clerk observes the voter putting the paper into the ballot box.

If the Presiding Officer (PO) is aware that a voter is leaving the station without putting the paper in the ballot box, the PO would be obliged to ask the voter to put the paper in the ballot box.

If the voter refuses and leaves, then the PO should mark the ballot paper account accordingly. This ensures that at verification there is an audit trail which can explain why there is not the same number of papers in the box as were issued […]

The phrase mark the ballot paper account accordingly’ just means that the Presiding Officer would note on the ballot paper account that a ballot paper had been removed by a voter from the polling station and not placed in the ballot box. The Presiding Officer would adjust the figures on the ballot paper account to show this so that at the count there would be an accurate tally of the number of ballot papers in the ballot box with the number stated on the ballot paper account.”

I then asked what would happen in the event that more people in a constituency took their ballot paper home than actually voted and whether this would have any effect on the result or not, informing him that my understanding is that it would not. His reply:

You are correct – this would not have any effect on the result.

In summary then, it is perfectly legal to attend the polling station with your polling card, collect your ballot paper and take it away instead of voting. This would be counted as a removed ballot, separate and distinct from all spoiled ballots, people who simply didn’t attend the polling station and people not registered to vote. As such, this strategy could arguably be seen as a solid way of manufacturing a way of unambiguously recording voter discontent.

However, regardless of how many people were to do this, it categorically cannot effect the election result in any way. As such, it would in no way simulate or act as a substitute for actual NOTA ‘with teeth’ (i.e.: formalised consequences for the result if it were to ‘win’).

ABSTAINING / SPOILING BALLOT PAPERS EN MASSE

The difference between either of these approaches and actual NOTA ‘with teeth’ is well documented on this site. In a nutshell, abstaining can be dismissed as voter apathy with no further analysis, while ballots spoiled in protest are lumped in with those spoiled in error for counting purposes, rendering the resulting figure meaningless as a measure of voter discontent. As such, neither of these approaches in any way simulates or acts as a substitute for actual NOTA ‘with teeth’. Some people believe, however, that if this were done in numbers it would in some way affect the result.

With that in mind, I asked George if my understanding that a majority of registered electors choosing to either not vote at all or spoil their ballot papers would have no effect on the result was correct. His reply:

“That is correct – this would not affect the result and the candidate with the most votes would still win.”

In summary then, not only does abstaining or spoiling the ballot paper in no way meaningfully register voter discontent, it absolutely cannot affect the result in any way, even if done in large numbers.

STANDING CANDIDATES ON A NOTA PLATFORM

This is also covered extensively elsewhere on this site. Suffice to say that forming a party or standing as an independent on any single issue, regardless of what it is, clearly only constitutes the addition of another ‘one of the above’ to the ballot paper and not a functioning NOTA option, as has been claimed by some. Proponents of adopting this strategy in the name of NOTA tend to fall into two camps:

1: Those who recognise it is as a symbolic gesture only and acknowledge that if elected any candidate standing on a NOTA platform ought really to step down immediately, thus simulating NOTA ‘with teeth’ and triggering a by-election.

2: Those who believe that if elected they would be able to push for NOTA from within Westminster whilst either remaining silent on all other issues or expanding beyond the single issue of NOTA into other political realms.

The problem of the latter approach is self-evident. Any campaign to get NOTA on the ballot box must, by definition, be politically neutral if it is to be taken seriously at all. Political parties with the prospect of being elected invariably attract people with agendas above and beyond the self-limiting remit of any campaign for a bona fide NOTA option.

The former approach, while making more sense, we have always seen as extremely risky and something that should only be considered as a last resort i.e: if we were still struggling to be heard in the run up to the election. If not enough people backed such an approach, the result would be a perceived lack of support for NOTA, potentially taking the campaign backwards. Indeed, this is true of all the ‘election hacking’ strategies outlined above – without the right level of support, each of them has the potential to backfire and undermine the NOTA campaign significantly.

CONCLUSION

As a result of NOTA UK’s lobbying and the general public getting involved in the fight, the parliamentary select committee for Political & Constitutional Reform (PCRC) were compelled to explicitly state in their recent report on increasing voter engagement that the next government should consult before May 2016 solely on the issue of NOTA’s possible inclusion on ballot papers.

This means that the hitherto seemingly impossible task of getting the urgent need and demand for NOTA on the UK government and wider public’s radar has now been achieved. As a result, we are now in the unprecedented position of being able to add our voice to the mainstream debate in the coming weeks and months. We also have a clear window of opportunity to embed the solid arguments for NOTA firmly in the public consciousness and put pressure on the next government to adhere to the PCRC’s recommendation – without having to resort to gimmicks or risky strategies such as those outlined above.

For this reason, there is no need for NOTA UK to endorse or get behind any of the above approaches as we are already very much on track to making NOTA a reality.

That said, supporters of the NOTA cause are of course free to do as they see fit on election day. If you feel that any of these approaches represents a way of expressing your disdain for the current political landscape and your support for NOTA, then you must do what makes sense to you. All we would ask is that any organised groups or campaigns make clear that they are separate and distinct from NOTA UK and that they endeavour to reinforce, rather than detract from, the solid arguments for NOTA that we are making and will continue to make.

That being the case, and all being well, there is absolutely no reason why future generations will not one day be found scratching their heads in amazement at the very idea of ‘None of the Above’ NOT being on the ballot paper.

Onwards & Upwards!

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
02/03/15

NOTA campaign gets massive boost from parliamentary select committee!

On 05/02/15, the parliamentary Political & Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC) published its report into ‘voter engagement’ in which it recommends a whole slew of genuinely quite radical (by UK standards!) electoral reforms to be implemented during the next parliament. The full report can be downloaded here.

Here’s what they had to say about NOTA, as a result of NOTA UK’s lobbying and public engagement with the committee:

“Having the option to vote for “none of the above” on the ballot paper is the proposal which has had the largest support among those who have given their views to the surveys we have drawn upon. This change would enable people to participate at elections even if they did not wish to vote for any of the candidates presented. If large numbers of people did choose to cast their vote in this way it would serve as a wakeup call for candidates and parties that they needed to do more to gain the support of the electorate. We recommend that the Government consult on including, on ballot papers for national elections, an option for voters who wish to participate but not vote for any of the candidates presented, and report to the House on this proposal by May 2016.”

This really is a huge leap forward for us. Although the committee has stopped short of including NOTA as one of its recommended immediate reforms, it has explicitly stated that it believes that the demand for NOTA and the potential positive effects on voter engagement of having it means that the next government must hold a public consultation on the issue.

Although this is slightly less than we could have hoped for, it is still a huge achievement when you consider that a year ago the mere mention of NOTA in the corridors of power was likely to be met with derision and a cold shoulder.

The PCRC survey mentioned above, in which we were able to get them to publish a question about inclusion of NOTA as a reform in and of itself regardless of whether voting is made compulsory or not, is very telling. This question got the second most responses (15,840), beaten only by the question about compulsory voting (16,095).

A whopping 71.8% of respondents to our question voted ‘yes’ to NOTA.

I think it’s fair to say we have now successfully put NOTA on the map, a key aim of this campaign from the beginning five years ago. There’s a long way to go of course. But no-one can say we aren’t getting the arguments heard and moving in the right direction.

A massive thank you to everyone who took part in the consultation and to all our facebook, twitter, youtube and website followers for your continued support in our efforts to make UK democracy fit for purpose.

Onwards & Upwards!
Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
05/02/15

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Open Letter to Mark Flanagan (Notavote / The NOTA Party / The Above & Beyond Party)

Like Dr. Who and Sam Beckett, the group formerly known as Notavote and The NOTA Party has apparently once again morphed into a seemingly different entity. There is now an ‘Above & Beyond Party’ that intends to pick up where they left off after being barred from standing by the Electoral Commission. Below is my open letter to Mark Flanagan, the apparent head honcho. Feel free to share.

***UPDATE*** Apparently, Above & Beyond is in fact Mark Flanagan’s separate, further offshot from Notavote / The NOTA Party… which makes it even worse! Original letter edited slightly to make more sense in light of this.


Dear Mark,

Since its inception in 2012, Adrian Langan’s Notavote / The NOTA Party (now aided and abetted by your offshoot Above & Beyond Party) has consistently sought to cancel out and replace NOTA UK as the primary group campaigning for a formal None of the Above option on UK ballot papers for all future elections.

This is in spite of NOTA UK pre-dating their efforts by two whole years and in spite of the significant progress we have made towards getting NOTA in place for real since our inception in 2010.

Notavote / NOTA party members inadvertent (or concerted, depending on your view point) efforts to undermine the credibility of NOTA in the past have included:

– claiming that their party’s presence on the ballot paper constituted a bonafide NOTA option when it clearly didn’t,

– lying about their origins and claiming to have been set up in 2007 in order to get the jump on us,

– allowing known far right agitators to infiltrate their facebook group at an admin level,

– bullying and ejecting their own members if they spoke up for NOTA UK,

– and, of course, publicly attacking my own personal credibility at various times along the way.

They were recently prevented from standing candidates on a supposedly NOTA platform next May by the Electoral Commission on the grounds that the party name could have confused voters into thinking it is already possible to vote for None of the Above when it isn’t. This deception is in fact exactly what members of the group, a group that you yourself were at the time a part of, had attempted to do.

Your group’s reaction to this news was to encourage your supporters to believe that the banning was the result of a conspiracy to prevent NOTA appearing on the ballot paper. (NOTA UK’s response to this can be seen here: https://nota-uk.org/2014/11/08/nota-banned-as-party-name-by-electoral-commission/ )

I later appealed via our NOTA UK blog for you to finally put this perceived split to bed by publicly endorsing our campaign and acknowledging that your efforts must now be, and always should have been, in support of our campaign rather than in competition to it (see here: https://nota-uk.org/2014/11/28/appeal-to-reason-and-logic-re-the-nota-party/ )

There was no response.

Instead, you have now taken it upon yourself to re-brand the idea as The Above & Beyond Party, identical to its predecessor in all but name, and restated your intention to stand single issue NOTA candidates next May, now complete with a set of proposals to deal with a NOTA ‘win’, once in place, that run directly contrary to NOTA UK proposals that have been formally presented to a parliamentary select committee and accepted into the public record.

So – with all this in mind, please answer the following questions:

1: There is a parliamentary select committee survey and public consultation running until January 9th 2015 that invites members of the public to put forward their views on a set of proposed electoral reforms, including (thanks to NOTA UK’s lobbying) inclusion of an official None of the Above option on the ballot paper. (Survey: http://tinyurl.com/octv8r3 Consultation: http://tinyurl.com/oxboqy4 )

Why have you not mentioned this in your campaign material or made any effort to alert your supporters to this crucial, landmark change of attitude in the corridors of power towards NOTA?

2: Your proposal as to what would happen in the event of a NOTA ‘win’, aside from being completely unworkable, flies in the face of the solid proposal to deal with such a scenario that we have been promoting for years now and that the afore mentioned committee has accepted into the public record. (See here: http://tinyurl.com/mcqywys )

Are you purposely trying to undermine and cancel out the good work and massive progress towards NOTA for real that NOTA UK have achieved in the last four years? And if so, why? In whose interests are you acting, if not all who want to see NOTA on the ballot paper?

These are legitimate questions Mark. Because nothing that you or Adrian are doing is in any way aiding the cause that we supposedly share. By constantly presenting yourself as THE None of the Above movement, complete with strategies and proposals that fly directly in the face of our formally established ones, all you are doing is making all those campaigning for NOTA look like they don’t know what they are doing.

But we do know what we are doing.

The real question is: what exactly are you playing at?

I eagerly await your response.

Yours sincerely,
Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
10/12/14

NOTA campaign officially arrives!

On 20th March 2014, our NOTA campaign went into overdrive and found itself very much at home in the corridors of power…

David Babbs from 38 Degrees appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Voter Engagement to give evidence from a recent survey of their members. NOTA featured heavily in the responses and so naturally featured heavily in his presentation also. Watch the video here, NOTA comes into its own around 20 mins in.