The Defend Peaceful Protest meeting last week was exciting. People are still talking about policing and protest: the so-called "media storm" following the G20 looks like it might turn out to be a shift in consciousness after all. And, of course, the police and the state are still struggling with the issue of accountability as it applies to them, so there's work to be done there. is running a mailing list for discussion, news and updates - let us know if you'd like to be added to it (there's also a facebook group).
I seem to have volunteered to write up the public MPA meeting on November 5th for PSUK/LibCon/OurKingdom etc, so I want to get my head properly around the issues in advance of the MPA meeting, and if I'm linking people to PSUK it would be nice if there was some recent content on it. (On which note, anyone want to talk about civil liberties, dissent, privacy, surveillance, or policing in the UK? We'd really really love to hear from you - it was never intended to just be me and Denny.) So I'll be at the meeting in the morning, writing in the afternoon, and then then there's a civil liberties protest that evening in Parliament Square: what better way of remembering the fifth of November? Anyway, you should come to the protest if you care about such things, it'll be good.
All of which has motivated me to get back into political blogging again. It was one of the things to be sacrificed this summer in the name of Not Being So Exhausted All The Time, which was fair enough, but now I have an enormous backlog of issues I want to talk about. I've literally spent the whole day sorting through my open tabs, filing links and articles into topics, jotting down thoughts, running ideas past Denny and JQP and getting them to fill in the gaps for me. (JQP calls me his Chief Research Otter, but I reckon they're both mine.)
So now I have a big pile of Things To Write About, which is a bit overwhelming but I feel better for organising it all a bit. Quite a lot of it doesn't really fit on PSUK, so I might end up shoving stuff on here unless I can write something good enough that I wouldn't be ashamed to submit it to the news sites.
I won't always have lots to say about stuff, in which case it'll end up linked here as well (although the best way of following what I'm reading/interested in is my twitter, which sees far more activity these days than this journal). Like the three excellent articles I've read today on the role of the internet in democracy:
How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet by the late Adams, Douglas Adams. Originally published in 1999 and still relevant and true.
'Interactivity' is one of those neologisms that Mr Humphrys likes to dangle between a pair of verbal tweezers, but the reason we suddenly need such a word is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport - the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didn't need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don't (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.
I expect that history will show 'normal' mainstream twentieth century media to be the aberration in all this. "Please, miss, you mean they could only just sit there and watch? They couldn't do anything? Didn't everybody feel terribly isolated or alienated or ignored?"
"Yes, child, that's why they all went mad. Before the Restoration."
"What was the Restoration again, please, miss?"
"The end of the twentieth century, child. When we started to get interactivity back."
The end of Adams' article dates it somewhat, so here are two articles from this week, continuing the theme in light of the recent events surrounding Trafigura and Jan Moir, to bring you up to speed:
Poles, Politeness and Politics in the age of Twitter by Stephen Fry, October 19th, 2009
A tweet is a 140 word expression of what's on one's mind, what one is doing or dreaming of. No one, not Biz Stone and the other founders of the service, not you nor I and certainly not anyone in the mainstream or techno press, ever had the faintest idea what Twitter would become. We still do not know what it will become. Some of those who dismissed it as it rose in popularity will now be slinking embarrassedly to the sign-on page, while political ginger groups of all kinds, right left, religious secular, fanatical and mild, will be sitting around wondering how to harness its power. 'Political consultants' who had never heard of the service six months ago will be hiring themselves out as experts who can create a 'powerful, influential and profitable Twitter brand'. And the moronic and gullible clients will line up for this new nostrum like prairie settlers queuing for snake oil and salvation.
"If a twazzock like Stephen Fry can wield such influence," the mainstream parties and their think tanks will be saying, "just imagine what we can do if we get our Twitter strategy right."
Well, I contend that I do not wield influence. I contend that Twitter users are not sheep but living, dreaming, thinking, hoping human beings with minds, opinions and aspirations of their own. Of the 860,000 or so who follow me the overwhelming majority are too self-respecting, independent-minded and free-thinking to have their opinions formed or minds made up for them in any sphere, least of all Twitter.
Perhaps the foregoing is the most fatuous and maddening aspect of the press's (perfectly understandable) fear, fascination and dread of Twitter: the insulting notion that twitterers are wavy reeds that can be blown this way or that by the urgings of a few prominent 'opinion formers'. It is hooey, it is insulting hooey and it is wicked hooey. The press dreads Twitter for all kinds of reasons. Celebrities (whose doings sell even broadsheet newspapers these days) can cut them out of the loop and speak direct to their fans which is of course most humiliating and undermining. But also perhaps the deadwood press loathes Twitter because it is like looking in a time mirror. Twitter is to the public arena what the press itself was two hundred and fifty years ago - a new and potent force in democracy, a thorn in side of the established order of things.
And, published today, Can't stop the blog: what the internet has done for ideas by Laurie Penny.
The American abolitionist Wendell Phillips once said that '"What gunpowder did for war, the printing press has done for the mind." The internet has had the equivalent impact of the advent of atomic warfare on the world of ideas, making individual thinkers part of a chain reaction whose power can be immediate and devastating. Marshall McLuhan observed in 'The Gutenberg Galaxy that "societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication". The British are desperate to see our creakily ancient institutions - newspapers and political parties dominated by wealthy Oxbridge graduates and a parliamentary system where official communication between the two houses is still overseen by the hereditary figure of Black Rod - reshaped by the internet.
Which leads me neatly to the two new ideas I've seen this week to use the internet as a tool to "reshape democracy". The first is PartyStarter.org, an as yet embryonic idea rejected by the 4ip call for ideas, but published to see if anyone else wants to pick up the baton.
Membership of the main UK political parties has steadily declined since the 1970s. Disaffection with parties and politicians is at an all time high. Yet despite this, the big parties have hardly changed their structure since being formed in the 19th and 20th centuries (see http://www.paulmiller.org/partypoopers.htm for background on the slow demise of political parties in the UK and internationally).
Rather than focusing on getting more people to join the existing parties, PartyStarter will encourage and help people to set up their own political parties. It is based on the belief that innovation in the way that parties organise and operate is more likely to come from new 'start-up' parties than from existing parties.
Denny has pointed out that we already have lots of political parties (including enthusiastic and lively new parties like the Pirate Party), but they don't stand a chance of gaining power under the current first past the post system. So perhaps not that useful, although it's good to see ideas being shared, and I think this sort of thing is indicative of the general mood for electoral reform and grassroots political change.
Open Up Now is an exciting new campaign for just that, based on small steps which seem fairly credible.
The way Parliament is run and government does business must change - and getting the best possible people into office is the starting point.
That's why we want the people, not the politicians, to select who stands for election. That's why we want Open Primaries in every constituency, where the people select their own candidates, and where anyone can put themselves forward to be a candidate. That's why we want all current MPs to agree to stand for re-selection in an Open Primary. We want this before the next General Election. And this is what Open Up is calling on every political party to do.
You should read Heather Brooke's excellent article on transparency, MP nominations and party whips. I don't know if Open Up will acheive their aims - it seems a stretch, although I've signed the petition and it seems to be gaining a decent amount of momentum for a new campaign. But I seem to be seeing an increasing number of calls for reform, and they seem to be getting increasingly credible. Or am I just looking properly for the first time? Either way, it's excited. Now we just have to make a few of them start to stick.