Tag Archives: Progress

Response to George Monbiot’s piece: “Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems”

Today, The Guardian published an article from writer and activist George Monbiot seeking to demystify and critique neoliberalism, the prevailing economic doctrine of the last 50 years.


You can read it here. It’s a very good piece. My only small gripe is that it doesn’t fully explore one very important fact: that the system of government that ultimately prevails under neoliberalism will inevitably be oligarchy masquerading as democracy, and any electoral system underpinning such a system of government will inevitably become nothing more than a facilitator of oligarchy that actively prevents actual democracy occurring.

This is one of the most urgent problems we face as a species, not just in the UK and the US but around the world. Monbiot correctly states in his piece: “It’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed.” This is no more true than when applied to our broken electoral system and system of government (broken if one accepts that the goal of each is, and always should be, actual democracy).

And yet, last time I checked, George remains one of the ‘you must go out and vote‘ crowd at general election time, even though, as acknowledged in his piece, people who don’t engage at the ballot box “feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment”.

How could you not feel that way, when you understand that the system is set up so as to ensure that only one of two establishment parties can ever form a government or call the shots in coalition, and each will always be answerable to the oligarchs, regardless of how progressive and well intentioned the new man or woman at the helm may personally feel inclined to be?

The reality is that as well as having an alternative to a broken system for when it dies, you also have to be actively trying to either put that system out of its misery or fix what is broken about it so that it becomes fit for purpose. If you simply engage with that system as it is and expect it to reform itself, you’re going to be disappointed. Unfortunately, that is all that putting one’s faith in the likes of Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders when they snap in to focus amounts to as things stand.

Most proposed reforms of our electoral systems either do little to address this problem or are completely unachievable all the while the only parties calling the shots have nothing at all to gain from implementing them. Proportional Representation in the UK for example. PR is not seen as a democratic pre-requisite but as an arguable democratic improvement. As such, calls for it can always be paid lip service to then roundly ignored by those who have the power to make it happen but nothing to gain from doing so. Why on earth would they do anything else?

Until such time as it is possible to formally reject all that is on offer at the ballot box in a binding manner, thus finally giving a voice to the disaffected silent majority who currently either don’t vote at all or begrudgingly vote tactically for the lesser of several evils at elections, nothing is likely to change.

A formal, binding #NoneOfTheAbove option on ballot papers remains the logical, systemic starting point for democratising any corrupt system of government. Mainly, because it is achievable. It must be possible, in a supposedly democratic system built upon the idea of people consenting to be governed (by voting – a formal act), for people to withhold that consent formally if they so choose, and in a way that can affect the outcome if the majority do so. Ballot spoiling and abstaining are informal acts that in no way equate to this. #NOTA is the only thing that does. It can therefore be shown that NOTA is 100% essential in any system claiming to be truly democratic.

If enough people understood this and were calling for it, NOTA would eventually become an inevitable government concession to keep the peace, just as votes for women and all manner of democratic advancements have before it. Then, and only then, with the prospect of mass public rejection and the power that comes with that, will it be possible for progressive politicians and parties to truly put the general population and society as a whole first, ahead of their corporate puppet masters. And only then will it be possible to put forward any meaningful opposition or alternative to the cult of neoliberalism.

The bottom line is this: Corbyn/Sanders or no Corbyn/Sanders – NOTA remains the leverage point at which we will start to truly turn things around. I look forward to George and others one day finally concurring with me on this and joining the movement.

You can find out more and get involved here.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
15/04/16

#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

A cross party alliance on Electoral Reform – minus NOTA?!

Much is being made in alternative and more progressive mainstream media of the cross party electoral reform alliance that appears to be forming. Clearly, this has implications for our None of the Above (NOTA) campaign. So, in the spirit of solidarity and open debate, here’s my thoughts on the matter.

I believe this alliance to be a long overdue step in the right direction. However, the focus of the alliance appears to be firmly on getting Proportional Representation in place by 2021 – after the next election.

As things stand, by 2020 the Conservatives will most likely have rigged the game even more in their favour via boundary changes and in doing so further cemented their position. As undemocratic and dishonest as this is, it is entirely possible to do this in our current system. As such, it is likely that the current government could remain in power, even in the face of widespread, nationwide opposition after the 2020 election.

The government of the day, even one with a weak majority, still always has a virtual monopoly on the power to pass legislation. Or not pass it, as the case may be. And in the case of PR, the fact remains that, as desirable as it may be, it can still always be argued by its opponents that it is a non-essential democratic ‘optional extra’ and that the current system is ‘democratic enough’, given that our parliamentary system hinges on seat share, not vote share, regardless of the voting system used.

All the while that is the case, I fail to see how PR is achievable. I keep reading that this cross party alliance will lead to PR, even if the government of the day is vehemently opposed to it. How so? I’m happy to be proved wrong on this. If there is a way, that the incumbent government would be powerless to stop, I’d very much like to know what it is.

Either way, a formal NOTA option remains achievable before 2020, with enough understanding and support for it, as it remains essential in any true democracy to be able to formally withhold consent, and is therefore impossible to argue against without arguing against democracy itself. For this reason, with or without PR, NOTA must be there. If, as I suspect, PR remains unachievable in reality, regardless of how much support there is for it (for the reasons stated above), then NOTA would remain the logical starting point.

With that in mind, it would make lots of sense in my view if this cross party alliance began looking into the need for NOTA and considered making it a stated goal alongside their long term plan for PR. I, and I’m sure others from NOTA UK, would be more than happy to advise and facilitate in this regard.

The Green Party of England & Wales is the only party currently who has acknowledged the need for NOTA and adopted an appropriate policy towards it. I believe this cross party alliance presents an opportunity for us to build on that progress and will be contacting members of the alliance in due course to see where they stand on the issue.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
14/02/16

Getting NOTA on UK ballot papers now official Green Party policy!

So – it took a while but the Green Party of England and Wales have now finally got back to me with full clarification of where they stand on the issue of NOTA. Here is the email in full:

“Dear Jamie,

Thanks for your email, which has been passed on to me in my capacity as
GPEW Policy Development Co-ordinator.

I’m pleased to confirm that the relevant policy chapter, Public
Administration https://policy.greenparty.org.uk/pa.html
was amended at our most recent conference and that section of text now
reads:
————
None of the Above/Re-open Nominations (RON) option

PA310 All ballot papers should allow electors to Re-Open Nominations
(RON) if they are not satisfied with voting for any of the nominated
candidates. Ballots lacking this option provide no valid way to register
non-consent in an election. If the RON option meets the threshold under
the rules of the election then nominations should be reopened and a
second election should take place for the position/s within a period of
two months. This process will continue until a winner is announced, with
the previous incumbent continuing in their role until a threshold is
met.
————

I appreciate the offer to work with us on improving this policy
position (and I do recognise that ‘RON’ and ‘NOTA’ are not the same
thing, as is implied by the current heading), but the reality is that
under our current policy process any member has the right to bring a
policy motion to conference, as long as three other members are prepared
to give it their support and it is posted on the pre-agenda forum of the
members’ website by the stated deadline. No consultation outwith the
party is currently required.

I’m sure you will agree with me that this really isn’t a satisfactory
situation as there are many campaigning organisations that have a lot to
offer us as we seek to improve our policies, and I hope that you’ll be
heartened to hear that Policy Committee are working on a new policy
process which has far more emphasis on truly effective consultation.
This has to go to spring 2016 conference for approval – if it is adopted
we will then be in a position to up our game quite considerably in terms
of making it much more worthwhile for proposers of motions to engage in
genuinely meaningful consultation.

So, the fact that you did not hear back from Natalie or Caroline is a
reflection of the fact that they were both inundated with communications
from members of the public in the run-up to the election – and also
perhaps that they have no more power to change our policy than any other
individual member. Neither of them were involved in the Democratic
Reform motion which came to the Autumn 2015 conference.

If you are willing to be put in touch with the Democratic Reform Policy
Working Group I’d be happy to effect an introduction, and this would
then lead into work to improve our position on RON and NOTA along the
lines you suggest.

I look forward to your further thoughts.

Kind regards,
Sam Riches
GPEW Policy Development Co-ordinator”

——————————————————–

This is great news for our campaign as it means that a comparatively small, but nonetheless influential, mainstream party has:

a) recognised the need to be able to formally withhold consent at an election

b) adopted a baseline policy addressing this need and

c) stated that they are keen to work with NOTA UK to develop the policy going forward.

When the time is right we now intend to make the case for honing the policy so that it focuses specifically on getting a formal ‘None of the Above’ option on ballot papers and nothing else.

We feel that in any system, a clear, self-explanatory and unambiguous NOTA option is essential. It would function as RON in practice if ever evoked, but would not need to be explained to people not used to election terminology as RON would. For this reason, we feel NOTA is by far the better option when it comes to national elections as we believe that most people won’t want to have to think about the mechanism and logistics of rejecting all that is on offer. They just want to be able to reject, formally and unambiguously, and to know that it counts for something. In that regard, NOTA trumps RON every time.

In light of the Green Party’s endorsement of NOTA, we will of course be contacting all the other mainstream parties again in due course to try to clarify where they stand on this democracy defining issue.

Stay tuned. Onwards!

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
24/11/15

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

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:

Facebook
Twitter

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NOTA UK website

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
31/05/15

We Need To Talk About ‘Democracy’

In light of the 2015 general election result, the almost 75% of the population who didn’t vote for the new Conservative government appear to fall into two distinct camps. There are those so angered by the outcome that they are prepared to take to the streets and demand the right to somehow overrule or otherwise undermine the result. Then there are those who simply shrug their shoulders and say: ‘Well what can you do, that’s democracy for you!” But is it?

Regardless of which party you support, could those refusing to take the result lying down perhaps have a point? In a word: yes.

The central premise behind the political idea of democracy is that the consent of the governed must be sought and obtained by those who would govern before they can take office. If the majority consent, then they have achieved this. People consent by voting. Whether your choice wins or not is irrelevant. All the while a majority participate, those that govern can claim it is a democracy.

HOWEVER – there are two problems with this when it comes to UK parliamentary ‘democracy’.

Firstly, consent is only measurable if it is possible to withhold consent. Otherwise, whether you consent or not is immaterial. In the context of elections, consenting (voting) is formal so the withholding of consent must be formal also. This is currently impossible as abstaining and ballot spoiling are ambiguous, informal acts that in no way affect the result. Inclusion of a formal ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) option on ballot papers is the only way to formally withhold consent at an election. Without such a mechanism, an electoral system or system of government simply cannot be described as a true democracy.

Secondly, in the UK, no matter how many people consent by voting, a majority of seats can always be achieved one way or another. That would be true with a 30% turnout or a 90% turnout. If you do the maths and include all those not even registered to vote as well as those who were registered but didn’t vote, the number of people that participate in general elections usually only just scrapes past 50%. But it wouldn’t matter if it didn’t. Technically, it wouldn’t matter if the turnout fell below 50% of all registered voters either. Whoever had more than half the seats could still claim a mandate.

Clearly, that is not true democracy by any stretch of the imagination.

And that’s before we even get in to the totally undemocratic voting system, the undemocratic party whip system, the power of corporate lobbying and the undue influence over voters of the corporate media. To believe that such a system represents the ideal of true democracy is pure delusion.

We need to start talking about this. We need to start being honest about the total lack of any meaningful, truly representative democracy in the UK if we are ever to have a chance of installing one.

Due to it being absolutely essential in any true democracy, and given that ‘the powers that be’ must be seen to be pro-democracy at all times even if they aren’t in practice, NOTA is the achievable, logical starting point for meaningful democratic reform. All other reforms can be paid lip service to and roundly ignored. NOTA is different.

You can get involved by signing and sharing our petition here and by following/subscribing to us via these social media links:

Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
NOTA UK website

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
10/05/15

 

THE FIGHT FOR ACTUAL DEMOCRACY: Time To Step It Up

Every election to office should also be a straight Yes/No referendum on what’s on offer and/or the system itself.


Apparently, the UK is a true democracy. I beg to differ. Here’s some statistics for you:

The population of the UK is around 64.1 million.

Only 72% of the UK population are registered to vote (46.4 million).
Only 66.1% of those registered to vote actually voted in the 2015 UK general election (30.7 million).

That’s 47.9% of the total UK population. Using 2011 figures, somewhere between 18% and 20% of the UK population is under voting age. So we can safely say that somewhere between 32% and 34% of the voting age UK population didn’t register or didn’t vote.

Only 36.9% of the turnout voted Conservative (11.3 million).

That’s 17.6% of the entire UK population, 24.4% of the registered electorate, dropping to around 22% of the voting age population as a whole. So less than 25% of potential voters actually voted for the government that we are now stuck with for the next five years.

“Well, they should’ve voted shouldn’t they, if you don’t vote you can’t complain…” etc. etc.

Just think about that for a second.

Excluding those under voting age, somewhere between 32% and 34% of the population, between 20 and 22 million people, either didn’t register to vote or didn’t bother to vote. Do you really think that many people simply don’t care about something that very obviously affects their lives?!

Statistically speaking, it stands to reason that the majority of these people are not going to be well off. The majority are bound to be people living at the sharp end of UK society and directly suffering the consequences of government by and for millionaires and the corporate and financial sector.

If they thought voting for the lesser of several evils could make a difference to their lives, then they surely would, right? But they don’t. So, evidently, most of them must know – or believe, depending on your point of view – that no amount of voting in a failing, broken system of oligarchy masquerading as democracy is ever going to make any damn difference to their lives. So they have nothing to do with it, they withhold their consent and reject all the candidates and/or the system as a whole the only way they can – by non-participation.

But what if they could formally register that disdain, that withholding of consent, that rejection of all candidates and/or the whole system, in a way that could influence the election result if the majority were to do so.

There is no doubt in my mind that a great many of this significant but currently silent group absolutely would choose to do that if they could. This is why there is currently no formal ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) option on UK ballot papers, no formal mechanism to distinguish between apathy and conscious rejection. The powers that be know it would be a game changer.

And that is why we must step up the fight for NOTA as the logical starting point for widespread democratic reform.

In a true democracy, as well as being a way of choosing and legitimising a government, a general election should always also be a straight Yes/No referendum on whether that system is working and has the support of the majority.

NOTA would provide a way to ensure that our elections are just that. If you support a party or candidate or the system in general and vote, then you vote Yes. If you choose NOTA, you vote No. There would be a clear measure of how many want in and are happy with the process as it is and how many want out and demand change.

It’s not a democracy if you can’t do this. We know from the Scottish referendum that when a simple Yes/No question that people actually care about is posed, people get involved. Some 84.5% of the electorate in that case.

Put NOTA on UK ballot papers and give people the option of making any election a Yes/No referendum on the parties and candidates put forward, or the system as a whole, and it would only be matter of time before things changed for the better.

With actual NOTA ‘with teeth’ in place, actual democracy becomes possible. Without it, there’s no reason why it ever would or could.

And THAT is why we don’t have the option already. Time to step up the fight.

You can get involved by signing and sharing our petition here and by following/subscribing to us via these social media links:

Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
NOTA UK website

Onwards & Upwards!

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
09/05/15

ELECTORAL REFORM ‘O CLOCK? OF COURSE IT IS!

But calling for PR in the current political landscape is like trying to make an omelette without breaking a single egg…


(This article first appeared on the Democratic Audit website)

Once again, the UK’s antiquated First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system has delivered a government that the vast majority of the registered electorate (around 63%) actively voted against. Parties with a sizeable share of the popular vote once again have a tiny share of seats in parliament, while parties with far less popular support have been awarded a disproportionately large share of seats.

Not surprisingly, everyone who has lost out to this system this time around, from UKIP to the Green party and everyone in between, is now calling for electoral reform in the form of Proportional Representation (PR).

There can be no doubt in any rational, sane person’s mind that when you have more than two parties vying for office, FPTP is a farcical and redundant voting system and that a more proportionally representative system is long overdue.

But campaigning for PR alone is not the place to start if we truly want to reform our electoral system.

Because, no matter who wins a UK election, FPTP absolutely ensures that only either Labour or the Tory parties, neither of which have anything to gain from PR’s introduction, can ever call the shots in government by virtue of always having at least four times as many seats each as the next nearest party. This is true even in coalition, because whichever of them is called upon to form one will always have easily twice as many seats as all their junior partners combined under FPTP. If coalition government in the UK (and indeed parliament as a whole) were about grown up compromise, this would not necessarily be an impediment to progress. But in a childish numbers game where the party/government whip is king, ensuring that the party with the most voting power always rules the roost, real progress and radical change is nigh on impossible.

Not only do neither of the two dominant parties have anything to gain from changing the voting system, they can never be put under any real pressure to do so because, as undemocratic as FPTP is, they can always say it is ‘democratic enough’ as it always delivers a majority in parliament one way or another. For this reason, no matter how loud the calls for it, they can always pay lip service to PR (as a desirable reform only) and then do precisely nothing about implementing it.

By stark contrast, inclusion of a formal ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option on ballot papers is an achievable reform as it can be shown to be a democratic pre-requisite, 100% essential in any true democracy and impossible to argue against without arguing against democracy itself, once properly understood (see here and here for why).

With enough widespread understanding of this fact, NOTA could eventually become an inevitable government concession to appease a population increasingly aware of its democratic rights, just as votes for women and the welfare state were won before it. From there, the playing field would already have been levelled considerably, as all parties would be compelled to work harder for more votes or risk having more people visibly and formally reject them at the ballot box than actually vote for them. In such a landscape, the prospect of further democratic reform ought to be significantly improved.

Without this first step, there is no reason whatsoever why any Tory or Labour dominated government would introduce PR. If electoral reform is the order of the day, then the achievable reform of NOTA must surely be the logical starting point.

We now have an unprecedented window of opportunity to pile pressure on the newly elected government to introduce this potentially game changing and undeniably essential electoral reform. Because thanks to NOTA UK’s lobbying (and some 71.8% of around 16,000 survey respondents calling for it), the parliamentary select committee for Political & Constitutional Reform (PCRC) felt compelled to recommend in its final report on increasing ‘voter engagement’ (published in February 2015) that the next government consult before May 2016 solely on inclusion of NOTA on ballot papers. They concluded that there is not only huge demand for NOTA, but that there would be a clear, positive impact on voter engagement of having it. This is a huge step forward for our campaign.

When you really understand the extent of the democratic deficit in the UK, it becomes clear that NOTA is the ground zero of electoral reform upon which all other democratic reform could be built. For this reason, it must now be the priority of all pro-democracy reformists at this time. The alternative is five more years of ineffectual lobbying of turkeys to vote for Christmas with zero progress made and no end to the current, undemocratic two party system in sight.

People 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:

Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
NOTA UK website

Enough is enough. Together we can call time on our outdated, failing democracy and take the power back. Lets make history.

Jamie Stanley
11/05/15

NOTA UK

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