Tag Archives: NOTA UK

NOTA UK: Ten Years On

Firstly, thank you to everyone who has supported our campaign for real democracy over the years. If you’d like to make a donation you can do so here: https://www.paypal.me/notauk
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Ten years ago, I set up a Facebook page called ‘The None of the Above Movement’ to try to find out how many people shared my view that democracy in the UK is a sham – a Hobson’s Choice between two parties of the establishment with no way to register any kind of meaningful protest against that system at the ballot box.

Within days it had over 6000 followers – most of whom were culled in a Facebook update a couple of years later, forcing us to start again with a new group.

Since then, I have worked with various people to hone our vision of the one thing, above all else, that many of us feel our electoral system needs in order to be fit for purpose: a formal and binding bonafide ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option ‘with teeth’.

We’ve lobbied parliament, managing to get a select committee to include NOTA as a reform in and of itself in it’s 2015 recommendation to government for a public consultation (the committee was promptly scrapped after that year’s general election). I’ve appeared on various media platforms to try to raise awareness of our campaign and the need for NOTA. We’ve created a video series outlining the case for it. We’ve seen the Green Party of England & Wales develop a manifesto policy to include NOTA on UK ballot papers. All of this has culminated in our extensive and definitive NOTA UK white paper, published last year.

Brexit and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn – both seeming to represent genuine resistance to the status quo to different people – have made it very difficult over the last three or four years to cut through with our message.

As I write this – in lockdown due to Covid-19, witnessing the Labour and Conservative parties once again tearing themselves apart over their allegiances, their PR people and supine media spinning and propagandising everything as usual while people die in their tens of thousands, knowing that the undemocratic system I felt the need to rail against in 2010 remains exactly the same, if not worse – it is clear to me that now, more than ever, we need to come together and start banging the drum for real and lasting democratic reform once again.

NOTA is just one, albeit it crucial, part of that process. Recent years have revealed to me beyond doubt that, quite aside from NOTA’s absence, democracy is completely impossible when outright lying, amplified by totally unaccountable media and virtually untraceable dark ads online, is legal. The genie that Cambridge Analytica let out of the bottle is clearly never going to go back in, while a two horse race voting system in a multi-party landscape remains, in my opinion, a nonsense (although I remain critical of the Make Votes Matter campaign and their reliance on Proportional Representation to solve all of these problems).

I’ve written at length before about why I consider a formal and binding NOTA option on ballot papers to be the logical start point for full democratisation of any system of government (read our white paper for the low-down on that).

To summarise, properly understood, NOTA is an essential game changer that cannot be argued against without arguing against democracy itself. It’s achievable because it’s a democratic pre-requisite. If enough people understood that and were calling for it, it should only be a matter of time before its continued absence became politically untenable.

Once in place, NOTA wouldn’t have to ‘win’ any constituencies to be effective but if it did, it should trigger by-elections wherever that happened. But even if NOTA came second or third, any party that polled worse than NOTA would have serious questions to answer. The knock on effect of this would be that all parties would have to take stock, listen to what NOTA voters are saying and adjust their policies accordingly. Leading to a political landscape in which further democratic reform and the maximisation of the common good ought to become inevitable.

NOTA has never been about ‘not voting’ or encouraging people to try to ‘wreck’ the system. Once NOTA is in place, we wouldn’t then set about trying to persuade people to use it. If you believe a party deserves your vote, you should vote for them. But millions of people don’t and they are currently completely unrepresented. NOTA would give them a voice for the first time in history.

On the ten year anniversary of me embarking on this journey, I am committed more than ever to taking this campaign forward. But I need your help. We have no funding, no friends in high places. If you’d like to support this campaign, please consider making a one off or regular donation here to help fund the following:
  • PR costs (publicist, media co-ordination)
  • Campaign materials (social media ads, video content, leaflets)
  • Website maintenance/upgrade (domain costs, admin)
  • Time spent lobbying MP’s (emailing, phoning, meeting in person)
  • Travel costs (to meetings with interested parties, potential media appearances etc.)

Additionally, if anyone with experience of co-ordinating large scale campaigns shares our vision and wants to get involved, please don’t hesitate to contact me at stan(at)nota-uk.org

We’ve come a long way. But there is much work to do. Join us.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
01/05/20

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You can find out more and support our campaign for formal, binding NOTA in the UK by following the links below and signing our petition:

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NOTA UK website

NOTA UK publishes definitive ‘None of the Above’ White Paper

Today, we at NOTA UK publish our definitive white paper on the urgent need for a formal and binding ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option on all ballots for elections in all countries claiming to be a democracy.

It is our most comprehensive document to date, one that answers all common questions, counters all common rebuttals and lays out the reasoning behind our assertion that NOTA is the achievable logical starting point for reforming our broken electoral systems, installing real democracy and maximising the common good over time.

You can read and download it in .pdf format below (other formats are available on request):

You can find out more and support our campaign for formal, binding NOTA in the UK by following the links below and signing our petition:

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NOTA UK website

Onwards!

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
07/01/19

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”
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“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″

An Open Letter to Caroline Lucas MP

Dear Caroline,

I am writing to you in my capacity as founder of the electoral reform campaign group NOTA UK, campaigning since 2010 for a formal ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option to be added to ballot papers for all future UK elections.

In my view, as much as Proportional Representation (PR) advocates are keen to downplay this, the recent defeat of your bill regarding scrapping First Past The Post (FPTP) in favour of PR shows that we are actually no closer to achieving this than we ever have been. Clearly, this is because it remains the case that the two pain parties will never give up their FPTP advantage as things stand.

In a system that is all about securing a majority of seats, as opposed to a majority of votes, PR is an ideal, not an essential democratic pre-requisite. NOTA, however, is 100% essential in any true democracy, representing as it does the all important ability to formally withhold consent and reject all that is on offer at an election in a formal, binding way.

As such, NOTA would be achievable with enough public understanding of this fact, and with enough people calling for it, because to argue against it is to argue against democracy itself, once both concepts are properly understood.

In my view, the EU referendum result, widely perceived as more of a general protest vote than a coherent rejection of the EU, clearly indicates that there is a demand for a NOTA option on ballot papers and that people would make use of one if they could. The very presence of such a thing would change everything. It wouldn’t even have to attract the most votes and ‘win’ (triggering by-elections) to be effective, although clearly provisions for this eventuality would have to be put in place. Parties would be terrified of coming second to a body of people formally rejecting all that is on offer because it could destroy them. They would therefore have to adapt their policies and candidates accordingly and stand by them fully to attract genuine support. In such a climate, further reforms like PR would be that much more achievable.

Currently PR is nothing but a red herring. The real cause should be getting NOTA on ballot papers before the next general election because it is an achievable game changer. In our view, the sooner PR advocates wake up to this and get on board with NOTA UK’s campaign the better.

As you know, the Green party recently adopted getting NOTA on ballot papers as party policy (although you call it Re-Open Nominations (RON) potentially confusing and muddying the issue – I would push for changing this to the more self-explanatory NOTA), but are not very vocal about it, focussing instead on unwinnable PR. In my humble opinion, this needs to change, urgently.

If the Green Party and all other PR advocates were to get fully behind our NOTA campaign and commit to educating the general public about the need for it, we could get NOTA in place in no time as a government concession to keep the peace. This, as you know, is how all giant leaps forward in politics are achieved, like votes for women and the creation of the welfare state. They were not benevolent gifts bestowed from on high, but necessary concessions to an increasingly aware and vocal public. So could it be with NOTA.

For this reason, I honestly believe that getting NOTA on ballot papers is the next logical step towards universal suffrage, followed closely by PR. But it has to be in that order, otherwise, to be blunt, we are all just pissing in the wind, for the reasons outlined above.

I would be more than happy to meet with you to discuss the matter further and/or act as a consultant to help formulate Green party policy with regard to NOTA. Much more information about our campaign can be found on our website: http://www.nota-uk.org

Feel free to contact me via any of the contact details below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
23/07/16

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: nota-uk.org

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
27/04/16

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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

“Room for a View: Democracy as a Deliberative System” by Simon Burall of pro-democracy think tank Involve

While the NOTA UK electoral reform campaign inevitably regroups between elections, I highly recommend that all our supporters familiarise themselves with the work of pro-democracy think-tank Involve, in particular its recent publication “Room for a View: Democracy as a Deliberative System”.

Among many other salient points, one argument it puts forward is that there is much more to a healthy, functioning, true democracy than voting in a general election every five years and that focussing alone on electoral reform is therefore not enough. I have always held this view myself, with the caveat that all the while an electoral system, the ultimate say that the public has over who is in power, is largely sewn up and monopolised by an anti-democratic elite, reforming it remains as high a priority as anything else, as whatever else is going on outside of that framework, the ultimate power to legislate and enforce policy can only ever remain in the same self-interested hands, negating any positive progress being made elsewhere.

The report also suggests that the focus within the electoral reform movement is not necessarily always correct when this wider context is taken into account. It has long been my contention that campaigning for desirable but not necessarily essential changes to the voting system as a whole (such as PR), in the context of a system where those monopolising it are the only ones with the power to change anything, is the definition of futility. Especially when there is a much more logically sound approach available.

A formal, binding ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option on ballot papers, by contrast, would be achievable once it is properly and widely understood as the democratic pre-requisite that it is, as to argue against it is to argue against a central pillar of democracy itself, namely consent and the concurrent need to be able to withhold it (which in the context of elections must be formal as consenting by voting is formal). Whatever else is going on outside of the electoral system, until such time as the electoral reform movement as a whole wakes up to this reality and refocusses its efforts on the only achievable reform with real potential to enable further reform, no meaningful progress is likely to be made in this area.

In my view, the kind of progressive, deliberative democracy that Involve’s report outlines would have to incorporate a bona fide, binding NOTA option on ballot papers. With that in mind, I’ll be reaching out to Involve in the coming weeks to see where they stand on the specific issue of getting NOTA on ballot papers as part of a broader effort to fully democratise the UK political system.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
10/11/15

Corbyn mania – what does it mean for the NOTA campaign?

Put simply, it means that people need to get real and stay focused on the actual problem that we face.


Because even if Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader of the Labour party, somehow manages to survive the inevitable Blairite and corporate media backlash and in doing so is able to move the Labour party away from its Tory-lite, neoliberal agenda into the middle ground, or even the so-called ‘left wing’, it won’t make the slightest bit of difference to how the UK, and indeed the world at large, is currently being run.

The newly elected corporatist UK government will still be in power until the next election in 2020. And you can bet your life that by then, they and their sponsors will have found a way to further monopolise the electoral process and ensure that anyone with a vaguely progressive, socially responsible and not fervently establishment and corporatist agenda has no chance of getting into power. Either that, or Corbyn will have been ousted by the next establishment plant, or otherwise co-opted, rendering the election the usual Hobson’s choice and two horse race in reality.

Even with the best intentions – and I don’t doubt Corbyn’s integrity – the Labour leadership contest is, in my view, just a massive distraction from the very real problem that we face: that we are now ruled – not governed, ruled – by a completely unaccountable, corporately sponsored elite that there is no meaningful way of opposing within the narrow limitations of our faux-democracy.

Until it is possible to actively, formally reject all that is on offer at an election in a way that would trigger massive reform across the entire political landscape if enough people were to do so, nothing is going to change. Only this mechanism, in conjunction with continued and expanding grass roots activism, could ever deliver a much needed evolution into actual bona fide democracy before it’s too late.

So, my message to NOTA supporters is this: by all means get involved with the Corbyn bandwagon in the hope that a small victory for alternative viewpoints might slightly broaden the horizons of the political landscape in the UK. It may well do. But please don’t fool yourselves into believing that putting all our eggs in that one basket will lead to the meaningful systemic change that needs to occur.

The problem of our sham democracy will remain, as things stand, no matter what occurs within the mainstream parties. And campaigning for a formal, binding  ‘None Of The Above’ option on ballot papers remains the pivotal, systemic logical starting point for making the UK electoral system fit for purpose.

Anything else is just wishful thinking.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
13/08/15

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):

11212617_10153293858650132_8978201650478429228_o

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

An Open Letter to Russell Brand & Brian May

Dear Russell and Brian,

In the run up to this year’s UK general election, I have been closely following your respective approaches to getting people to engage with the pressing problems of our times.

On the surface of it, you both appear to be wanting the same thing: a fairer, more humane, compassionate and environmentally sustainable society with communities and ordinary people calling the shots as opposed to career politicians and corporate lackeys.

Russell, your message is much more nuanced than the simplified ‘don’t vote’ version of it regularly cited by the mainstream media. What you are basically saying is we need to disengage from the established political system as it is not fit for purpose and instead become politically active at the grass roots level.

Conversely, your message Brian is essentially get involved with the political system as it is by voting for decent candidates and policies in the hope that that will lead to the kind of changes you want to see.

As understandable and commendable as both these approaches are, the truth is that on their own neither of them can work in the long term.

I absolutely agree with you Russell that people need to look outside of the established political system and manage their own communities at a grass roots level. But that established political system will trundle on regardless, awarding thoroughly undeserving, corporately sponsored people disproportionate amounts of real power to ruin the lives of everybody else. So in conjunction with the grass roots engagement you espouse, we urgently need to radically reform the established political system into something that runs parallel to it and compliments those efforts – otherwise attempting to achieve real progress becomes a long, drawn out, stress and disease inducing battle with authority and bureaucracy. The New Era Estate campaign that you championed was inspiring and a perfect example of how and why people can win through when they organise and unite against injustice and corruption. But people shouldn’t have to go through all that just to get what is right. Not everybody has the gumption and fight in them that those people on that estate had. And for those that do, the stress levels involved with taking on the system undoubtedly take their toll in the long run. We need to create a society where it is not possible in the first place for people’s lives to be so utterly disregarded and ruined by a minority in pursuit of short term financial gain.

I also absolutely agree with you Brian that people should be able to influence decision making at a macro, societal level by engaging with the systems already in place. But, unfortunately, the established political system is absolutely a closed shop designed to ensure that no meaningful change of the guard can ever take place. I have written at length elsewhere about why this is the case. In a nutshell, no matter how many people vote and no matter who they vote for, the voting system in the UK guarantees that only one of two establishment parties can ever call the shots in government, even in the age of hung parliaments and coalitions. So Russell is 100% correct to say that engagement with that system in its current form is futile.

As stated, the problem is that this system trundles on regardless. Technically, even if considerably less than 50% of the population were to not vote at a general election, a government would still be able to claim a mandate as our system is not about vote share but seats: they will always be able to achieve a majority of seats in parliament and claim that that is sufficient mandate to govern. Yes, there would be an outcry and much hand wringing and calls for reform in that scenario. But technically there’d be nothing anyone could do about it. No amount of endorsing such a system by voting is going to change that paradigm. But, similarly, no amount of grass roots activism is going to prevent people of the political class from wielding disproportionate amounts of power over everybody else.

The solution to this problem, clearly, is to radically evolve the very systems by which governments are formed in the first place, in conjunction with grass roots activism, so that communities and ordinary people are truly represented at all levels of societal decision making. The million dollar question then is: “How on earth do we do that?”

There is a reason why I have devoted so much of my life over the past five years to campaigning for inclusion of an official None of the Above (NOTA) option on ballot papers – with formalised consequences for the result if the majority choose it – ahead of all other possible reforms and worthy causes. When you truly understand how the current electoral system works, it becomes clear that no meaningful reform of the kind that the Electoral Reform Society campaigns for (PR, right to recall, elected House of Lords etc.) can ever be achieved in the current paradigm. Because the only people that have the power to enact those changes have everything to lose and nothing to gain from doing so and there is currently no way of officially challenging their authority and forcing the issue.

By contrast, inclusion of NOTA on ballot papers is 100% achievable in the current paradigm as it can be clearly shown to be a democratic pre-requisite, impossible to argue against without arguing against democracy itself, once properly understood. This is because consent, central to the concept of democracy, is only truly 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. Neither abstaining or ballot spoiling constitute the formal withholding of consent as both acts can be construed otherwise and neither affects the result in any way. The only way to formally withhold consent at an election is via a formal NOTA option on the ballot paper.

The powers that be can never be seen to be anti-democratic, even if they secretly are in practice. It stands to reason then, that with enough understanding among the general public of NOTA being 100% essential in any system claiming to be a democracy, it would become an inevitable government concession. This is essentially how votes for women and and the NHS were won. They weren’t benevolent gifts from on high, they were concessions to appease an increasingly politically aware populous. So could it be with NOTA.

Clearly, the fact that no reform other than NOTA is achievable at this time is not necessarily reason enough to champion it. But an understanding of how a post-NOTA inclusion political landscape would look is.

Introducing the possibility for the electorate to reject all candidates and parties on offer at an election would have a huge impact on the system as a whole. No party is going to want to be embarrassingly beaten at the polls by NOTA voters are they. So it follows that this potential would force them to put forward more ‘decent’ policies and candidates that would appeal to many more voters, potential NOTA voters included. So already, an organic levelling off and cleaning up of the political landscape will have occurred. The current two party oligarchy, while still favoured by the First Past The Post system, would for the first time be under threat as those parties will be just as vulnerable as any other to being visibly rejected by more people than not at the polls. In this new paradigm, the potential for further democratic reform would be greatly increased.

This is why NOTA is the ground zero of electoral reform upon which further democratic progress could be built. If we accept that the system cannot be ignored and must change, and if we accept that no other meaningful electoral reform is possible at this time, then we must also accept that campaigning for inclusion of NOTA, alongside grass roots activism, is the logical starting point for taking the power back.

To recap:

Russell, you are right to call for disengagement from the current political system and encourage grass roots, community engagement. But we need to reform that system as well, otherwise we will always be on the back foot, stronger in numbers but out-gunned where it matters. There is a way to do this. It’s called NOTA.

Brian, you are right to want to see increased engagement with the current political system making a real difference. But the sad truth is that it can’t, currently. They have it sewn up. Engagement with the current system is simply to endorse it and ensure its continuation. We need to change the game before we play it. There is a way to do this. It’s called NOTA.

Thanks to NOTA UK’s lobbying, the parliamentary Political & Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC) felt compelled to explicitly recommend in its final report, published in February, that the next government consult before May 2016 specifically on the issue of inclusion of a formal NOTA option on UK ballot papers for all future national elections. So we have an unprecedented window of opportunity to push for real and lasting democratic reform. This is a huge development. With that in mind, I have written an open letter to all party leaders asking them to state for the record where they stand on this issue. As yet, none have responded.

The three of us, you with your respective audiences and me with a clear, logically sound path to real electoral reform and a growing movement of people getting behind it, could genuinely make history. But all the while we are pulling in different directions, I’m afraid it will be business as usual for those holding the reigns of power for the foreseeable future.

Feel free to contact me via email ( stan(at)nota-uk.org ), I’d be more than happy to discuss these issues with you.

Yours sincerely,
Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
27/04/15