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.
- 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.