There’s a new political party and everyone is invited. Above and Beyond are gaining interest as they aim to stand as many candidates as possible in this year’s general election on May 7th. All of these candidates are campaigning about one single issue – the inclusion of a ‘none of the above’ option on all ballot papers for all UK general elections. Amongst these candidates are University of Sheffield students Thom Brown aged 20 and Drew Carswell aged 19 who are some of the youngest candidates to run in the general election. Features editors Kemi Alemoru and Polly Winn met with the candidates to take a closer look at this eclectic party and its treasured singular policy.
Why none of the above?
Critics of Above and Beyond have questioned whether the ‘none of the above’ option is entirely necessary. Thom Brown from The University of Sheffield explained:
“If you spoil your ballot they don’t actually count it and there is no way to distinguish between somebody messing up and somebody saying that they don’t like any of the parties to show that the parties aren’t good enough.”
The party aims to be able to count the exact percentage of voters who are willing to turn up and vote but do not wish to pick any of the listed parties. Recently, Above and Beyond have attracted a lot of media attention not only due to the fact that their campaign exists to promote a solitary policy, but also due to the young age of the candidates.
Age is just a number
As they sit politely, albeit a little timidly around a table in the Students’ Union, it becomes clear that these two are a pair of intelligent young men who are dissatisfied rather than disengaged. Thom defends himself against the critics who have expressed concerns about his age, by highlighting that he is currently studying politics, having had an interest in it long before his university career. Drew, who is campaigning to be an MP in Cheadle expresses his belief that people can look beyond their age, stating that in order to be truly representative in a democracy, we need people “from all walks of life.”
In fact the candidates think that their age might work to their advantage. For those who feel that current politicians’ lives are so distant from our own, Drew and Thom believe that they can present an alternative to “45 year old blokes bellowing at each other in an old aristocratic building.” Thom says that their policy is effectively aimed at young people because they are the ones whose numbers are seriously dwindling.
“If we could just get them to turn up even if it is just to vote ‘none of the above’ then politicians will have to do more to inspire young people.”
The Above and Beyond party are hoping that the inclusion of a ‘none of the above’ option will mean that politicians will have to do more to inspire young people. Drew expresses his beliefs that there should be more opportunity for children to be educated about politics from a younger age and that it could be taught much more effectively than how it is currently. He proposes that politics should be taught alongside British social history “to make current events feel a little bit more relatable”. Perhaps if children are encouraged to engage with politics at a younger age they would be less apathetic and more likely to get involved.
Absences can often be misinterpreted as apathy, but the Above and Beyond party propose a way of quantifying those who have an opinion but feel that none of the options are entirely suitable. Cheadle candidate Drew suggests that at the heart of this problem is the First Past the Post voting system.
“Apathy isn’t restricted to age. I’ve been speaking to people within my constituency of all ages that are fed up with how the system is currently.” He states that a lot of people feel that if their constituency has a large majority for a particular party, then their vote will not make much of an impact.
Drew believes that the narrow background of MPs is crucial to explaining the increasing apathy amongst potential voters.
“In terms of education, it’s mostly privately educated people who don’t have anything in common with people on benefits”. Considering that 19 prime ministers have previously attended Eton College, Drew’s criticisms show how power has indeed remained with a very small demographic.
The Above and Beyond party aims to address allegiances. Thom had previously taken an interest in the Green party because he felt it fit some of his views but admitted there were things he did not entirely agree with. It is for this reason he believes that there should be another option. “You could be from any walk of life, you could be a socialist or an anarchist and you will probably agree with what we are doing.” Above and Beyond isn’t left or right wing. Their policy can appeal to anybody and encourages an improved democracy that would insure more accountability.
What do they think of their competitors?
Inspired by Labour candidate Oliver Coppard’s almost completely student-run campaign that is taking place in Sheffield Hallam, Above and Beyond plan to start a university society. Similar to the Coppard campaign, Thom and Drew have not received any funding. Thom hopes that starting a society will help to spread their message among the student population.
He views it as a good opportunity to engage with voters and, if they do abstain, to ask them exactly why they don’t vote. At first glance, the young age of the candidates and the severe lack of policies has raised a lot of eyebrows, but Drew feels that by talking to people they “become a lot more positive because we are proposing an actual strategy to get this policy to be the norm.” The two are hoping that by setting up university societies they will gain more credibility and ensure that more voters will be persuaded.
Commenting on Labour’s proposal of electoral reform, Thom and Drew express hope that it will increase the democratic legitimacy of large parties. Thom especially commends the proposal as a good start.
“If we had a proportional House of Commons then it would force the parties to respond more to the needs of the public, especially the bigger parties who are so detached because they only need 35 per cent”
However, the pair were cautious of being too critical of the current political system without offering many solutions. An obvious question is how will Above and Beyond progress if their campaign is a success? Regarding the party’s plan to right all of the obvious wrongs rather than just highlight them, Drew explains what would happen if Above and Beyond won in a particular constituency.
“A bi-election would be called and previous candidates (from all parties) wouldn’t be allowed to run again. In the event that over 50 per cent of the country voted for Above and Beyond, there’d be a national referendum on the system in general and ‘None of the above’ would be included on ballot papers.”
In recent years the public have expressed a desire for change from the regular popular parties. Following UKIP’s controversial success in the European elections Drew warns of the dangers of new parties with questionable policies.
“Look at what Ukip managed to do. We’re trying to give people a voice and a vote for change without aligning them with a political party that might not have particularly good MPs and doesn’t have disagreeable policies. We don’t want people to vote for the best of a bad bunch.”
Thom is quick to defend the party against those who dismiss the Above and Beyond party as a gimmick. “I will say that it is not as relaxed as some people might think. There are a lot of candidates who have been turned down because they weren’t suitable and go through similar vetting processes.” However, due to there being just one policy, the pair feel liberated as they don’t always have to “strictly toe the party line.” Having only one policy allows them to talk freely about their own beliefs. The only strict consensus is that they have to believe that there should be a ‘none of the above’ option.
What does the future hold for Thom and Drew?
We wanted to find out what the candidates hope Above and Beyond would be able to do in the long term in order to become a movement for radical change. Although the two are very much engaged with this campaign at the minute, Thom does not plan to stay in politics forever.
“I have been called a classic career politician for doing this and honestly, I don’t want a career in politics. I want to empower people.”
Whether they personally implement radical change through their own actions or whether the Above and Beyond party do so without their help in the future, they were both very clear on the changes that they would like to see.
When asked about the best way to improve our current political system, Thom and Drew were clear that we would have to “dismantle the big business politics as that is stopping progressive change.”
Above and Beyond are entirely crowd funded and do not have any ties to businesses.
“We’d like to remove money as far away as possible in terms of the lobby groups and the disproportionate power they have. Buying dinner for David Cameron then deciding policy – something needs to be done about that.”
You can find Thom’s Personal crowdfunding page here
For details about their upcoming fundraising gigs can be found here