Tag Archives: Digitial Democracy

Why I Voted Conservative

So, that is that. After weeks of campaigning we are down to one mammoth push today. The polls are inconclusive – at the moment my reading of them suggests we may not quite get the 310 seats realistically required to form a majority government. It is close and much will come down to the operation today. Will the Conservative tactic of concentrating resources in key target marginals be the difference? It is cold and calculated, but you win Parliament by winning most seats, not be winning most votes. Can the Conservatives get out all their core supporters to the ballot box? Will the huge numbers of ‘undecideds’ actually go to the polling booths? – if they do the polls may prove miles out and it is anyone’s game. All this vapid speculation will sort itself out from 10pm this evening. I’ll be at the Count at the National Indoor Arena – wishing good luck to all Conservative candidates but particularly Nusrat Ghani in Ladywood and Mother and Son Deidre and Bobby Alden in Edgbaston and Erdington respectively.

I voted by post a few days ago (for Nigel Dawkins here in Selly Oak). For me it isn’t a tribal allegience – I am a newish member and convert to the Tories. There are a couple of big themes which have led me to believe in the Cameron agenda – it is these that have convinced me:

  • The ‘Big Society’ Agenda. OK – I admit this doesn’t land on the doorstep at all. But for me this is the core of the new brand of Cameron Conservatism. Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as society” – Cameron, disagree’s wholeheartedly: “There is such a thing as society – it is just not the same thing as the state”.  Somehow over time the left have claimed words like “social justice” and “progressive politics” as if that language is exclusive to them. What nonsense.   The “Big Society” idea is ‘progressive politics’ in the literal sense and when implemented will lead to greater social justice.  Cameron’s message encapsulates my own personal centre right philosophy.
  • Avoiding our own Greek Tragedy.  We all pity the feckless individuals who get credit card bills showing them overdrawn and who have interest payments they can’t afford but who keep on spending regardless.  Yet a vote for Labour would be endorsing this behaviour at the nation state level.  It is heartbreaking that many cuts will need to be made whoever wins the election – the caricature of the Tories somehow taking glee from wielding an axe is wide of the mark.  If we don’t want to end up cap-in-hand to the IMF/Euro partners with the even more brutal austerity measures they would demand then we have to make very tough choices ourselves now.  It is fantasy to pretend otherwise.  The Conservatives want to avoid the bailiffs, Labour wish to wait for them.
  • Michael Gove’s policies on education.
  • Creating a new age in Government transparency by pushing out all government data into the public domain.  It is a geeky thing and another one that doesn’t land on the doorstep – but the effect will be revolutionary in driving better government.
  • David Cameron, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, William Hague , Ken Clarke
  • Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Bob Ainsworth, Peter Mandleson, Charlie Wheelan

Not everyone will agree with the above.  Different people will pick different reasons to support the Party – many people will be unconvinced and stick with what they know.   That’s democracy.  Here’s hoping for a decent turnout and enough people deciding that 13 years is time enough to get over their anti-Tory reservations, recognise the party has changed, and put an x in the box that will get us over that 310 seat line so we can do what is necessary to get our Society back on track.

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Filed under Centre Right, Election, Indulgent

Getting Back The Lost Conservatives From ’97

On Monday Michael Gove gave a speech in which he hammered Labour over their links with the Unite union and savaged their mischief-maker Charlie Wheelan.  The attack on what is being called  ‘Labour’s New Militant tendancy’ got a fair amount of media coverage.  For me though, the really interesting bit of Gove’s speech was the level of empathy aimed at the ‘New Labour’ voter.   I’ll quote a bit from the start:

“Once or twice in a generation, we have watershed elections – where the future direction of the country depends on the outcome.   It happened in 1945 – when people chose to build a new Jerusalem on the rock of social solidarity rather than individual freedom.It happened in 1979 – when people decisively rejected the corporatist model that had dragged down the British economy and chose a new  way based on free enterprise, low taxes and union reform. And it happened in 1997 – when people were inspired by a message that politics could be different; that wealth and fairness could go hand-in-hand.”

Stating the obvious two of these three watershed elections were Conservative defeats.   What is interesting is that in Gove’s language there is no hint or suggestion that the public were wrong in ’45 or ’97 – just a calm acknowledgement of the choice they made and why they made it.  In other words ’empathy’.

He then ratcheted up even more of this  ’empathy’ – in a way that borders on outright worship for Blair as he drills down into the reasons for Labour’s appeal in ’97

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Labour leadership gradually came to realise that the changes of the Thatcher revolution were irreversible, because the British people did not want to reverse them. We did not want to go back to nationalised monopolies, class warfare, industrial strife and an economy defined by high inflation, higher interest rates and higher debt.

An increasingly classless Britain wanted a lifestyle which transcended class division – based on aspiration, freedom, opportunity – all found in the new market economy.  Tony Blair understood this – and it is why he went to such great lengths, and fought some considerable battles, to change his party.

And he goes on.  You can read the whole speech here and I recommend you do so.  I know that many Conservatives will be deeply uncomfortable with a lot of what he says – such acknowledgement of any of Blair’s achievements will not sit well with  many.   Stick with him though – you can learn from the way Blair won the electorate over  without admiring what he did with the power he won.  Fundamentally, Blair managed to appeal to people’s core conservative values without being lumbered down by ‘nasty party’ baggage.

The Conservative Party have no divine right to reclaim the vote of those who left them in ’97.  It is a two part equation; Labour have to lose them (check) then the Conservatives must win them back (still to play for). These folk still need to be convinced and the argument still has to be won.  But winning any argument is always so much easier when you show empathy and understanding first rather than arrogantly asserting your own view point and expecting dissenters to follow.  I like the language Gove has chosen in this speech.  I hope to hear far more along these lines from the Tory front-bench in the run-up to May 6th.  Game on.

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Cameron’s Vision of ‘Post-Bureaucratic Age’

Today I attended a conference hosted by the grandly titled ‘Post-Bureaucratic Age Network’.  Forget the pompous sounding name, make no mistake – the ideas promoted by the PBA Network will rock our world for the better.  The keynote address was given by David Cameron.  One thing that was certainly  ‘post-bureaucratic’ was the venue – a freezing old brick warehouse in Shoreditch where we all shivered our way through the morning.

The ‘big idea’ is that if you open up Government data to the masses then inevitably better decision-making, better behaviour and thus better government will follow.  The more you think about it the more compelling this becomes.  Remember what happened when the expenses data reached the public domain?  Think about the change in behaviour from MPs that has driven.  Reflect how much better a job the public and press did at auditing that data than the civil service ever managed. The tragedy is that none of it would have been possible without an illegal leak.  The Government has always contrived to protect data from the taxpayer and the taxpayer has always been the poorer for it.

Openness of Government data changes the very nature of government.  It empowers the citizen.  It gives us the tools to make decisions locally based on facts rather than instinct.  Anyone who has worked at  senior level in business  will have been taught that, yes, good decisions can be made by people with no more than good judgement and good instincts but the very best decisions are most often made by people with good judgement  and a credible fact-base (i.e. data).   Inversely, poor decisions are made when you swap the word ‘good’ for ‘poor’ in any one of those three variables (judgement, instinct, data). Sharing the whole fact-base rather than a cherry-picked sub-set of it gives us transparency. Transparency removes the political elite’s monopoly of access to ‘good’ data.  This gives us the power to better assess politicians judgement and instinct. I’m sure that will terrify them.

For Cameron this new age isn’t just about technology or having ‘government data’ (really ‘taxpayer’s data’) available to us all on-line.  He was careful to link this ‘big idea’ to his wider theme that it is not the ‘state’ that should try to solve our problems – it’s ‘society’.  There is a big difference between the two.  We are all passive slaves to the ‘state’ – we are all empowered leaders (if we wish to be) in ‘society’.  His policies are aimed at allowing a renewed sense of ‘society’ to flourish after years of abrogation to the State.  In much the same way he wants groups of parents with a coherent plan to set up their own schools outside of Local Authority control he now plans employee co-operatives taking over various other local services such as libraries and job centres.  He also sees a revolution in planning law to let neighbourhoods have first call on their own development plans and greater use of technology to speed these processes up.

When you listen to these disparate policy threads being pulled together you realise that Cameron really does have a vision for Britain which has far more substance and genuine philosophy than his critics would dare admit.  This philosophy is attractive to me because it is so closely aligned to my own. Unfortunately, only the geeky dweebs like me intuitively ‘get’ this stuff.  The big problem is that Cameron hasn’t yet mastered the best language or killer phrases that lands the enormity of these ideas and this coming new age with the majority of the electorate.   Cameron is often charged with being sound-bite over substance.  The irony here is that he has real substance and he hasn’t yet found the sound-bite!

You cannot roll back technology.  Make no mistake these changes are coming. We will either get there quickly because of government or we will get their slowly despite government.   Change is difficult – you can embrace and adapt, or take the King Canute route.  David Cameron’s instinct is to adapt and embrace the times he lives in. Just one example of speeding us down the right path is his x-prize style competition.  Meanwhile, Gordon Brown has central control instincts to his core and he would continue to resist these forces and Britain would suffer for it.

The Conservatives  need to work harder to get these messages across.  Predictably, despite Cameron talking for 45 minutes on the subject today the only reportage of his appearance in the media I’ve seen is his reply to an off-topic question on the bullying PM.  The vision thing doesn’t seem sexy enough for for the main-stream media to cover – we need to change this.  This is ‘progressive’ politics in the purest sense of the word.  We are talking about fundamentally shifting power from the state back to the citizen – that is the very essence of liberation.   The new society we build can be an engine for solving many (not all) of the nation’s ills at very low cost to the taxpayer.  The same way technology has lowered the barriers of entry to, and cost of doing business – it can be just as transformative on government.  It is a new age, whilst our first steps into it may be ugly, painful and chaotic – on the other side it will be a golden age – but only if we have the bold leadership and the right policies to shepherd it in.

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Filed under Center right, IT Policy, Politics, UK, UK Politics

Why ‘Cameron Direct’ Works

This evening about 100 people gathered in a School in Edgbaston for one of the  ‘Cameron Direct’ events.  The concept is simple.  ‘Dave’ pitches up to a bare stage, yards from the crowd.  There are no speeches, no notes, just questions from the audience and answers from the man.   It isn’t a specially invited audience.  All sorts can and do turn up.

I’ll not bore with the specific details of what was said.  Suffice to say the questions jumped around topics as diverse as ‘Sure Start’, the NHS, Wars, Student Finance, Capital Punishment with a few very testy moments on unemployment and immigration.  Those who went would have learned nothing about policy that they could not found on the Conservative website.  But this isn’t about policy announcement – this is pure campaigning.  The attention spent in Edgbaston is another boost to the campaign of Deirdre Alden who is well on course to reclaim this seat.

What interested me was deciding if this is a good way of campaigning?  Is it a good use of Cameron’s limited time?   On reflection: You bet.

Insofar as Cameron has an image problem it remains his background.  People hear he went to Eton then hear he is loaded and for many that makes him from Mars.  He cannot change those things and is always upfront that he wouldn’t if he could, they are part of what makes him who he is – but he can try and get across that ‘despite’ his background he is not totally removed from humanity in Britain.  Whilst he makes a reasonable fist of getting this across on telly the small screen still shows ‘another’ world in our perceptions.  When we want to really judge the character of a person we want to look them directly in the eye and see them in the flesh as they interact. Without the human contact we feel we are being ‘spun’.  These flesh pressing events are therefore the perfect vehicle for Cameron to help shed the last doubts of the floating voters:

  • The venues are intimate: Voters see him from a few yards away, hear him speak with no pomp, and can see the event is not stage managed.  This is him – for real.
  • People will make their own judgement if he is sincere.  Mine is he is.  And I believe that most people who attend make that same judgement.
  • That judgement will be passed onto friends multi-fold.  Mary will tell ten friends like Jane “I went to see Cameron.  He surprised me.  He came across as genuine.’ – Jane will tell ten friends like Sid “A mate of mine met Cameron – he isn’t actually that bad”, Sid will tell ten friends like Paul “A friend of a friend of mine has spent time with him.  He’s OK”.  Multiply those conversations by many, many thousands and you begin to chip away at the doubts that may linger.  This is human engagement  with thousands directly and then with hundreds of thousands only a step or two removed. Social networking actually doesn’t always require trendy new social media tools on the ‘interweb’ – human networks can be powerful enough.

Wisely, to get most bang for buck, they’re scheduling as many of these as possible in marginal seats.  It is simply impossible to imagine Brown being able to pull off a similar level of human engagement.  Every attempt Labour has tried at this has been a disaster (the best one being the classic youtube video HERE).  Although Cameron Direct probably seems to immediately hit fewer people than other gimmicks like joining twitter could (see here for why that is a bad idea) – for all the reasons above it has far more tangible impact.  His campaign managers have got this spot on.

Of course, gaining public trust isn’t the be all and end all.  It is just an enabler. Cameron does carry extra disadvantage in his pursuit of trust because of people’s experience of Blair. Let’s face it Blair was the Crown Prince of ‘trust me’ politics.  There is a huge element of ‘once bitten’ that makes the hurdle Cameron has to overcome much higher. The good news is that through these events he is clearing it.  Cameron Direct works.  Let’s ramp them up in the run up to the election.

Ultimately, ‘being trusted’ is to seek to do the job.  ‘Judgement’ and ‘delivery’ is to actually do the job.  And it was the judgement and delivery where Blair failed.  Cameron does need to build trust – it is his permission to govern.  But he must never lose sight that earned trust can be easily lost.  He needs to follow up with judgement and delivery and I trust that from May this year – he will.

Cameron in Edgbaston

Cameron in Edgbaston

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Is Cameron Missing a Trick with Twitter? Is he heck!

Yesterday, David Cameron received a direct appeal from Conservative Uber-Blogger Tim Montgomerie to take up Twitter.  You can watch the question and response here.  Yet more pressure on the Tories to play ‘catch-up’ with this medium came with this report referenced in yesterday’s FT.

Whilst I have nothing but respect for Montgomerie and his ability to use the internet to enthuse & engage Conservative activists I think he’s dead wrong on the value of Twitter.  Cameron is right not to waste his finite time on this fad.  Cards on the table: I’m a relative newbie to Twitter, I resisted the hype for a year or two but when I started blogging I joined hoping to drive some traffic to this blog.  I suppose from that point of view it has been successful. I haven’t sussed it out all the etiquette yet, but there are a couple of things I have learned – all of which for me suggest DC should stay away:

  • The oft-published league tables for ‘number-of-followers’ are nonsense – any quick Google search will show you how to quickly ‘buy’ followers, and there is a juvenile (yet compelling) culture of ‘I’ll follow you if you follow me’.  Look at the million plus followers C grade Radio 5 DJ Richard Bacon has signed up.  If you believe the headline then one in sixty people in the UK is clinging to his every 140 character utterance.  If you actually look at his account you have to scroll through literally thousands of Far Eastern sounding names before you find a single person who appears to be a potential 5-live listener.  Either he has a huge cult following in China and the Philippines or his PR agency have recruited a decent ‘follower farmer’.  It can only be a matter of time before the Media suss this out and ‘number-of-followers’ stops being a measure of digital credibility and gravitas – and actually becomes the reverse.  You also need to drop the assumption that because someone ‘follows you’ they actually bother to read your tweets.  A quick look at a sample of twitter accounts shows many follow hundreds or even thousands of people.   Once people are following that kind of volume, you realise your most profound tweets are lost to many in the sheer noise of the place.

The magic is having quality followers not the quantity of them.

  • For Cameron a ‘quality’ follower would be a swing voter who is only following a handful of other people. The reality is that most people on Twitter are either IT Geeks, Media/Marketing Types or Political Animals – the vast majority of this crowd are dead set in who they will vote for. Those who aren’t political are unlikely to be inclined to follow Cameron.  He would either be preaching to the converted or the lynch mob.
  • Staying off also avoids the potential banana skin of the ill-advised tweets after a shandy or two. I actually follow our local Labour MP in the hope she drops a clanger.

It is therefore simply not a good use of the man’s time and a distraction from methods of campaigning that could engage the people he isn’t currently reaching. Don’t get me wrong Twitter is a neat communication technology and it has its place – but it aint the game changer its proponents think it is and DC is right in sidestepping it.

All that dissing Twitter said, if anyone wishes to follow me I’m @guythemac – I tweet rarely, and only use it to draw attention to new material written on here – I’m sure most of my few tweets are drowned out in the ether – but that’s OK –  I have some time to waste – David Cameron does not.

*This article is a tidy-up of a response I left on Conservative home – that debate there can be seen here.

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Million Pound ‘Crowd-Source’ Website: Not as Crackers as it May Sound.

Recently the Conservative Party has been trying to convince the public that it ‘gets’ the internet.  The best example is Maude’s Conference announcement that much more government spending would be published on the net so an army of “armchair auditors” could find the dodgy or wasteful and bring to account.  Make no mistake, it is a cracking idea and should be adopted by every party.

However, there’s a less favourable response to Jeremy Hunt’s recent attempt to move in this space.  Jeremy says a Conservative Government would pay a million pounds to the company that produces a website successfully engaging the public to provide instant feedback on policy initiatives.   It’s an open competition and any company – big or small, can enter. The belief is that the ‘Wisdom-of-the-Crowds’ will help avoid the policy banana skins you fall victim to when in a Westminster bunker sunk in ‘groupthink’.  Labour has given us textbook examples of what needs avoiding – think the ten-pence-tax-band, the Ghurkha saga, Childcare vouchers etc.

Predictably, this idea has been seen by the media as less ‘cracking’ and more ‘crackers’.  In typical discussions on the proposal the word ‘gimmick’ is bandied about freely.  Howls of “X,Y or Z Website already do this” are used to then make the point that the Conservatives don’t even understand what is already out there, “waste of taxpayers money” is another accusation from the Labour camp (irony noted). Without a loud challenge to the naysayers it has the whiff of an own-goal.   It should not have.  This is an idea with genuine merit. The cheap shots are a reaction to the headline without reference to detail.

The devil is, of course, always in the detail.

The inspiration for the ‘competition’ is the fabled ‘X-Prize’ foundation.  This has proven that you can drive innovation (at low cost) through competition.  Its first famous success was a prize for a privately built ‘spaceship’ that could reach orbit.  Now that sounds ‘crackers’! – but it worked.  A small company working in a small hanger in the United States managed what twenty years earlier had taken super-powers significant parts of their GDP to develop and still defeats many nation state-funded space programs today.  With an eye on the prize, an eye on a tight budget, and without the politics and grandeur that stick to state funded programs – they innovated, accelerated and delivered.

The critical success factor was in the detail of what you needed to do to claim the prize.  It wasn’t about drawing up plans for a spacecraft.  It wasn’t about building a mock-up.  It was about building it, launching it and doing it.  In short: delivering it.  No delivery, no prize.  And it wasn’t about a one-off either.  To claim the prize you had to put three people into space, in the same machine, and bring them back in one piece twice in two weeks.  Any cost of failed development was shouldered by the private enterprise – not the taxpayer.

And so it can be with this ‘crowd-source’ government prize.  Get the right criteria in place before the million can be claimed and you have it cracked.   This cannot be about simply knocking up a website with ‘Web 2.0’ or social media features.  It can’t be about just naming the technology or ripping off an existing platform and rebranding it.  No – it has to be about ‘delivering it’.  So to claim the prize, you should have to have something like the following auditable criteria met (I’ve plucked the numbers from thin air by way of example):

  • 250,000 UK taxpayers as registered members.
  • At least 25,000 unique visitors a month for a six month period
  • Mechanism built in to ensure ‘trust’ (perhaps similar to ebay user ratings)
  • Watch system and checks and balances built into identify and catch and attempts to manipulate the system (which defeats deliberate attempts from the judges to manipulate the system)
  • Ease of use (could be demonstrated by requiring 100,000 of your registered users clicking to confirm that they believe the site is worthy of the prize – with any inducements for clicking leading to disqualification)
  • 24/7 uptime of 99.99% over a six month period

And you can add and add criteria to the list.  You could happily have very many websites co-existing for years as they tried to hit all the required performance indicators – the only winner in the development period would be the taxpayer.  It would cost us nothing, the government would be getting the kind of voter input it could only previously dream of and when there is finally a winner it would have a solution they would be far, far cheaper, far more stable and far better user-tested than any other government IT project.  A million pounds really isn’t very much at all in the scheme of Government IT projects.  This could easily represent the biggest taxpayer ‘bang-for-buck’ in recent history.

So Jeremy, ignore the naysayers – press on with this and let’s prove that perhaps the Conservatives really do ‘get’ the internet.  Your success or failure will rest entirely on those claim criteria…. get them right prove the naysayers wrong!

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