Thom Brown, Above and Beyond's candidate for Sheffield Central

Thom Brown, Above and Beyond’s candidate for Sheffield Central

Above and Beyond is a new political party that wants to see ‘None of the Above’ as an option on ballot papers in future general elections. They have four candidates, who are standing in Cheadle, Clwyd West, Leeds North West, and Sheffield Central. We caught up with Thom Brown, their man in Sheffield.

Could you explain what Above and Beyond stands for?

Above and Beyond is campaigning solely for the none of the above option to appear on ballots. We stand for a more democratic system which seeks to involve those who feel apathetic or dissatisfied with the current political system.

The first step towards a more inclusive and representative democracy is the inclusion of ‘None of the Above’ because it gives people the chance to explicitly express the idea that they are politically interested, but see voting as a meaningless ritual or that no one is good enough to deserve their vote. At the least, it allows us to quantify dissatisfaction in a way that spoiled ballots are unable to.

We stand for far reaching political reform, but we believe this should be done using the democratic system we currently have, rather than through violent revolution. We stand for all the activists and academics, who see great societal issues that need solving, but still do not turn out to vote. We understand that voting is extremely important, but elections have to be fair and the result has to reflect how people actually voted. Sometimes people just simply don’t like any of the available options and (if they turn out) vote tactically or for the least bad, even if they disagree with the majority of a candidate’s policies or the views of their party.

Could you explain what happens if ‘None of the Above’ wins?

If ‘None of the Above’ won in a single seat, a bye-election with all new candidates would be staged giving the electorate another chance to select their representative. By choosing ‘None of the Above’, the electorate have already suggested that they do not support any of the parties… Since the constituents have already voted against all the parties, it is necessary that only independent candidates can stand, and they can be chosen on their own merits.

Independence from party constraints means an MP can properly represent the views of constituents in Parliament. Furthermore, there will be no bias in that bigger parties with more funding won’t be able to outspend smaller parties, leveling out the playing field for all candidates.

Is voting ‘None of the Above’ just an excuse for refusing to accept any compromises?

Politics is all about compromise. I (along with other Above and Beyond members) believe strongly that no ideology should have a monopoly of power in government. Above and Beyond believe in dispersing power and allowing all voices to be heard in the setting of a free debate.

Electoral reform to a proportional system is one way in which politics would become messier, but more accurately representative of the diversity of public opinion. Politicians should stop worrying about majorities and opposition and work towards a more cooperative approach in which parties stop fighting each other and start thinking honestly about the best solutions to problems.

To answer the question directly, some people may not accept compromise. However, it is unfair to say that all ‘None of the Above’ voters will not vote for anyone who doesn’t exactly match their views. The reality is that everyone’s views will vary, but there are honest people in the world with good ideas about how best to run society. ‘None of the Above’ should only be chosen when a politically active individual looks at all their options and decides that they are not people that the voter wants to represented by.

People often think that I do not know who to vote for, which is why I’m campaigning for ‘None of the Above’ instead. Actually, there are one or two candidates in my constituency who seem like hard working, honest and intelligent candidates with principles I would happily support. Unfortunately, none of the candidates have ‘None of the Above’ on their agenda. I know that, unlike me, a large percentage (up to 40%, although there’s currently no one counting) of Sheffield’s electorate do not wish to consent to any of the candidates and they deserve a voice too.

How have you been campaigning?

Campaigning has taken place mostly on the streets and at the university. I have been talking to as many people as possible, going door to door with my leaflets and trying to explain what Above and Beyond are about. Most hustings events have excluded me from their debate, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to put my case across about why the five minor parties standing in this election need to take part, with moderate success.

I’ve been working with other students, as well as a few older people, to spread the message across the constituency and I aim to set up some debates in the future. The majority of work has been getting our name out there – through the press, social media and word of mouth. My campaign is entirely crowdfunded and the money I’ve received in donations has barely covered my deposit. Whilst the major parties have thousands of pounds to waste on television advertising and huge billboards, I’ve had to be a little more grass roots. There’s still a long way to go, though.

On May 8th, what would success for you be?

Success for me is not measured solely through the ballot paper. Electoral democracy as in stands in the UK will never favour smaller parties. Even a well established party like the Green party, with hundreds of thousands of members and plenty of income has only managed one MP and will be lucky to get anywhere near double figures this May. One MP has no power against a government commanding a majority in the commons. We recognise that getting one MP even close to being elected would be a huge achievement, but the political establishment isn’t going to change because a few thousand people voted for me.

Although, it is worth noting the effect UKIP, even before they had a single MP, had on the political agenda. UKIP, however, won the European elections and so it is difficult to ignore the message the electorate were sending out in that case. Even so, the ruling Westminster parties are determined to keep us in the EU and the UKIP fight is far from over.

I won’t measure our success by the total number of votes received on May 8th. Of course, I urge people to turn out and vote Above and Beyond regardless, and every vote is highly valuable and appreciated, but this is an issue that goes beyond Westminster elections. We want to raise a national debate and inspire people to think about how we can increase the legitimacy of the government. The support of the media in spreading our message is one form of success.

This is an exciting time for politics. People are beginning to question if the system still works as it should and if the main parties should be given consent to govern. I’m happy to be just a small cog in a global political movement for fair reforms.