As you will have read HERE I went to the Leaders debate in Bristol on Thursday and got sucked into the crazy world of the national media. The Guy News crew have put together a video of the evening which neatly captures what I was writing about (it skips over to Bristol after about a minute)…
Tag Archives: Soical Media
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.
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.