Tag Archives: government

Never mention politics or religion

Disclaimer: as it says over in the right-hand sidebar of this personal blog which belongs to me, and no-one else, the opinions stated here are my own and not those of any organisation that employs me or has done so in the past. Just in case you weren’t sure.

All a bit exciting over here in wee old Britain lately. We had this General Election, you see, and nobody exactly, well, won. That hasn’t happened for ages.

So what happened next? Well the party with the most seats (Conservative) and those with enough to give them enough to govern (Liberal Democrats) have entered into a coalition. And we haven’t had one of those for, ooooh, ages, since the War, you know. And people are jumping up and down about a) the fact that the other lot didn’t win, b) the fact that a right-wing and centre/left-wing party can’t possibly get on and c) well it’s all so surprising, you know, what happens now? and d) well none of them have any experience, it can’t work and e) the last time that lot were in power the world nearly ended and just you watch, it will all happen again, they hate people and eat babies, you know.

One of the “rules” that I often read about blogging and social spaces like microblogs and social streams is that, as in life, it’s a good idea to avoid contentious topics like politics and religion, unless you have a point to make either way and that is the core purpose of your blog. Basically that’s for fear of showing what you actually believe in and having people point and laugh, or argue and dislike you. That’s an adage that I’ve generally stuck to and will go back to so doing shortly. On this occasion, just for once though, I’m going to comment, and admit that I’m struggling to understand the level of upset that I’m reading on “the Twitter” and “the Facebook”.

First of all, we had an election. Those that had a vote and chose to use it, voted. Those that didn’t do so can be quiet – I’m sorry, but they can, they had a chance to express a view[1], shocking and hardline though that may make me sound. Now, let’s put to one side some of the vagaries of the UK system whereby a party with a reasonable national percentage of the vote ended up with a relatively tiny proportion of the elected MPs, and just accept that the people voted, and we didn’t end up with a clear cut result.

No matter how things had gone, you’re generally going to end up with the supporters of one or more particular colour of politicians being put out that they “didn’t win”. That’s the way that elections work. If one party gets in and spends four or five years doing things which a majority of people then feel are “bad”, then you have the opportunity to remove them at the next election. That’s the system. So I think that whichever way I may lean politically, I have to just accept what “we all decided”[2], and not expect us to go on having weekly vote-a-thons until we end up with a result that I’m happy with.

Now let’s think about the possibilities of what we actually have here. This is where I get a lot more animated, in a positive way.

Whilst Labour and the LibDems may have seemed like more natural political bedfellows, being parties of the Left, or “progressive parties” as the outgoing Prime Minister would want to paint things, putting the two of them together would have been tricky. Labour didn’t “win” in terms of numbers of seats, and I’m inclined to think that the incumbent Government had run out of steam and needed some kind of a shakeup. There would have been a whole debate about “mandate to govern” had that combination worked out, too.

So we’ve got the Tories and the LibDems. But wait! They can’t possibly work together! One is historically a party of liberal freedoms and the other is a party of… small state and liberal freedoms[3]. Actually the thing that really struck me yesterday was when I heard the BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson remark on the PM programme on Radio 4 that Cameron was a student of Vernon Bogdanor at my alma mater, and that he admired Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli was probably the archetypal radical liberal Conservative who made sweeping concessions and improvements to the conditions of the working classes in the late nineteenth century, extending the vote and conducting a remarkable kind of realpolitik that had been unknown until then. This is potentially a very interesting role model for Cameron. Another point is that those people who are concerned that the Conservatives are “the nasty party” run by right wingers who hate ordinary people and want to tax them to look after the rich whilst (preferably) bombing Europe and ethnic minorities [yes yes, I exaggerate for the sake of effect] should be positively welcoming the fact that under Cameron they have now entered into what appears to be a fairly wide-ranging deal, concessions on both sides, with a party that should help to draw them close to the political Centre and moderate those supposed nasty urges. Oh, and if Cameron is prepared to offer electoral reform now, which may in the future go beyond Alternative Vote to something more… well that would be a big change, but the history of the past 300 years of British politics has been all about change. It just may not seem like it when you find it difficult to look beyond an immediate generational horizon.

I’m excited. We’ve not seen such a coalition before in the UK. We’ve got two young party leaders of the same age and generation, both of whom were impressive on the campaign trail. Thanks to the large number of discredited MPs who left Parliament after the expenses scandal, we’ve got a large number of new, younger MPs who are untainted by the past. We’ve got an apparent spirit of cooperation. We’ve got a substantial number of apparently-talented new Cabinet ministers who impressed during the last Parliament. Oh, and there hasn’t been a bloodbath with lots of backbiting in the past few days – it seems as though our elected representatives have actually had mature conversations with one another, and the outgoing leadership has left with dignity[4]. And ultimately, a majority of folks potentially on both Left and Right get a little of something they’d hoped for.

It actually doesn’t matter what I think or what I believe one way or the other here – let’s all do something we don’t do very often in this country – let’s get behind the leaders and show some support. Let’s be positive and believe that this can work, at least for now. One way or another, we as a country voted for change this time around. We didn’t necessarily get the X or Y or Z party that we thought we might get, we got something different, but it’s definitely a change. Let’s go with it.

[1] … assuming that they weren’t unable to get into the polling booth on the day according to some press reports :-/ or that they weren’t Jamelia, who proudly and rather stupidly showed off that she’d never voted during Young Person’s Question Time before the election.

[2] … assuming that we accept that our system is “broadly” democratic… bear with me on that one

[3] … this is where I dust off my History degree! :-)

[4] … although I’ll still look forward to reading the history of this period and all the inside stories in 10 years’ time!

Update 13/05: thanks for all the interest, comments, and tweets about this entry. Glad that the post seems to be resonating with folks – which just goes to show that “rules” about what to blog about can be bent to advantage every now and then :-) Really enjoying all of the feedback, thank you.

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Innovation and Social Media

“Telephone and email still remain important, just as face-to-face meetings and traditional mail retain their spaces,” he said. “Social media is just that: social. It’s part of the way in which humans have driven technology to enable them to communicate, create, share and collaborate. It reflects our own desire as a species to form communities and to connect with one another.”

Last week I was interviewed via email by Camille Tuutti for an article she was writing for GovCon Executive. You can read a few of the things I said about IBM’s use of social media (including the snippet above) in the piece, which is now posted online.

Some thoughts on openness and trust in government

One of the things I’ve been taking an interest in lately is the slow progression of Internet technologies into UK politics – or should that be the progress of UK politicians onto the web?

We have a small number of Members of Parliament on Twitter (you can find them at Tweetminster), and a few have their own blogs too. Sadly some of the initial government moves to use social media were a bit of a disaster (remember David Miliband’s efforts in this area?). Things have improved as the individuals themselves are more savvy (increasingly true as new generations of MPs come into politics) – Tom Watson is a good example and I was delighted to be able to contribute to the open discussion he invited on the proposed Internet site classification idea.

Recently I was particularly pleased to hear Jo Swinson defend her use of Twitter on Radio 4’s Any Questions. I was also impressed with the tech-savvy she showed in a defence of Wikipedia, and her willingness to respond to people who are not even her direct constituents during a subsequent discussion on Twitter. I don’t want MPs on Twitter so that they can lecture me or send out press releases on their politics; and actually, I don’t see it as a gigantic waste of their time. It’s an excellent way to build relationships, and it can also make them seem more human too. Blogging and twittering encourages the use of more conversational language, and that is important particularly in the political sphere.

In an age of increasing distrust and apathy in democracies around the world, I’d like to see more of this. I’d like to see it extend to both the local level, and the international level, too. Local councils in the UK should be encouraged to make more use of social media. Larger bodies like the EU should be making better efforts in this space too – it’s all very well for them to stream proceedings online, but without a level of human interpretation of the jargon and dense documentation that comes out of the European Parliament, it’s very difficult for ordinary citizens to make sense of what goes on.

Pop quiz: does covering up a significant budget scandal in an intergovernmental body give opponents of that body less, or more, to complain about? Thanks to Google Translate I’ve been able to read a Swedish MEP’s blog entry on the subject

One of [my colleagues] argued for example that I should propose to discharge only to “avoid giving boost to European opposition before the European elections”. A hair-raising way of arguing, I think! This is exactly the opposite. If we do not take problems seriously and sweep justified criticism under the carpet, then we give arguments to the EU opponents!

I have to say that I agree – and more open attitudes like this would do a lot to improve public trust in the institutions that work for us.

Parental Guidance advised

200px-BBFC_PG_2002.pngAs per the UK Government’s somewhat bizarre suggestion that websites could be given ratings for content, I thought I’d pre-empt the idea.

Seriously, how can this even work? The minister seems to think that he can implement this through negotiation with the incoming US Administration? Hmm!

So, anyway, I’m awarding my site a PG rating. Hope that’s reasonable. You never know what I might say around here, after all…

Update: check the request for comments by Tom Watson MP – at least one MP is demonstrating a little tech-savvy.

Youngsters, social media, and online privacy

While I was driving to work this morning I listened to a piece on Radio 4 about an Ofcom study published today (also reported on the BBC News website). The report and interview on the Today programme was essentially suggesting that children in the UK are routinely sharing too much personal information on social networking sites. One mother interviewed said that she didn’t really understand the privacy settings on the social networks her son used, that she trusted him, and then admitted that she had “abdicated responsibility” for his use of the sites.

It was another of those segments that made me gnash my teeth and make comments at the radio. While I very strongly believe that children (and their parents) do need to be well-informed about the ways to make effective use of social networks and how to protect themselves online, I wanted to share an interesting experience that may indicate that the problem may not be as bad as the media makes out.

During the Blue Fusion event we ran at IBM Hursley recently, I spent a day running an activity that was all about identity theft and online privacy. The idea of the game was that the students were given a single piece of information – someone’s name – and then had to see how much they could find out about them through social engineering: web searches, finding paper information, or passing themselves off as various official organisations in roleplays. It was entirely contrived, of course… the designers of the activity had deliberately setup a social network profile for the person with “just enough” data to put the youngsters on the right track, and then laid a bunch of other clues based on the individual being quite hapless (not shredding documents, giving out personal data entirely too freely, etc). It was a lot of fun to run, and also brilliantly put together.

At the end of the activity I made a point of bringing the teams together and talking to them about how careless use of social networks could theoretically provide openings to identity theft. We had a short Q&A session that revolved around what networks they used (interestingly, most of them were on Bebo or MySpace, and not Facebook), and what kinds of information they shared. Home addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth were not generally on the list, which was a bit of a relief! The overriding impression I got from the exercise was that these students had a high degree of common sense… not that I’m saying that the sample group should be taken as indicative of every UK student, but their degree of online literacy was highly impressive.

On top of today’s Ofcom study, whilst I was at Male’ airport on the way back from vacation I caught a snippet on Sky News covering last week’s publication of the Byron Review. There’s a lovely statement in the Executive Summary of the review:

Children and young people need to be empowered to keep themselves safe – this isn’t just about a top-down approach. Children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks. At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim.

Again, from what I’ve read I think I broadly agree with some of the findings, but the point at which the teeth-gnashing comes in is where the report (and the media) start to talk about regulation, which just seems to me to indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Internet. Educate, don’t always seek to regulate.

The question is: just who needs educating here? The adults, the children, or the media? I think it’s obvious that today’s youngsters are streets ahead of most of their parents in terms of online literacy. I hope their parents can be persuaded to keep up, and not to attempt to crack down. And I hope the need for a weekly scare story about social networks can actually subside at some point this year – seriously, it’s getting old.

Apparently the Home Office is due to publish a set of recommendations later this week. I await their thoughts with a mixture of interest and dread.