Could CliqStart re-engage voters with local politics?

Low voter turnout fuelled by a narrative of disillusionment against the ‘political class’ undermines the UK General Election 2015. There is no doubt that our low electoral turnout indicates a poor democratic health, which raises an important question. Could a digitally empowered civil society improve the health of democracy? With only 24 days to go until the election it’s interesting to see how political narratives are being communicated online. Especially to see if adopting digital technologies will allow politicians to connect with millennials.

It just so happens that my local parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party, Paul Scully, has started to ramp up his digital strategy as part of his local election campaign. A message posted on his Facebook page yesterday announced that he had created a new digital campaign team to “… help me convince those around you that it’s important to vote, and that voting Conservative here in Sutton & Cheam will ensure their vote counts”.

To join his digital campaign team he is using a tool called CliqStart, an app for iOS devices that allows people to join virtual campaign groups; from elections to humanitarian matters. It’s incredible easy to use: download it, find the group you would like to join and then you can choose to take actions as part of that community.

What’s really different about CliqStart is that the app is built on the (growing) realisation that a Facebook ‘like’ isn’t enough. If you want to make a change, then you need to make an action. This is more than just measuring hashtag mentions or message reach – it is about convincing a community of people to do something.

Paul Scully’s community gives you the options of canvassing for him, sharing his campaign messages online and pledging to vote for him. You also have the option to donate (of course) and chat with the community’s organiser. As you can see from the screenshots, it’s still early days for Paul’s community but it’s a smart idea because this is different. The app reminds me of the days when forum systems were popular online, before Facebook became mainstream and changed community management forever.

Of course, digital campaigning methods are nothing new to politics. Obama’s 2008 digital presidential campaign was a game changer, showing the voter engagement can be sourced on social media. The company behind this year’s UK General Election is NationBuilder, a community management tool that is specialised to drive grassroots action and is adopted by most mainstream political parties.

To discover if a digitally empowered civil society could improve democratic health in the UK we should look at politicians such as Paul Scully, because effective social media campaigns are always more than a Facebook ‘like’.

Autumn Statement 2013: Told through tweets

It’s been a busy day for the agency I work for, Keene Communications, as we kept up-to-date with George Osborne’s Autumn Statement. Not only live tweeting the event but also offering political analysis for our clients. Our below Storify below sums up the key facts well.

Defining Loyalties: Now a member of Pirate Party UK

When it comes to political allegiances I’ve never been swift to the forefront. To me character matters more than the policy as character will inevitable supersede any written policy. A man could have the best policy in the world but if he is a howling liar then the policy, no matter how good, is clatter. However, this time policy supersedes all as I have decided to become a member of Pirate Party UK.

They are a democratic party with no right or left wing agenda which is set out to stand for our digital rights. The party aims to ensure everyone has real freedom of speech, can participate by sharing with one another and is totally transparent with its communication.

Now that the internet has turned into a global village organisations are attempting to adapt as more of their information and products are shared digitally. If you own a CD then you have the right to copy it onto your .MP3 player, websites should not be blocked and the government must have a better understanding of intellectual copyright.

The Pirate Party UK manifesto sets out extremely clearly some of the key areas they are working on. A snippet of these views include:

  • The Pirate Party wants a fair and balanced copyright law that is suitable for the 21st century. Copyright should give artists the first chance to make money from their work, however that needs to be balanced with the rights of society as a whole.
  • We believe that patents exist to reward the inventors of truly outstanding ideas, not to allow big businesses to stifle competition with an ever-growing tide of trivial, incomprehensible, overreaching patents.
  • We feel that citizens’ right to private and confidential communication is vital and is not being respected; therefore we will forbid third parties from intercepting or monitoring communication traffic (i.e. telephone calls, post, Internet traffic, emails), and require specific warrants to be issued by a court before the police are allowed to monitor traffic.
  • We will introduce laws on the acceptable use of CCTV. While we recognise some arguments for CCTV, it should not be considered a replacement for police officers on the beat, and it must not be used as an excuse for unrestricted spying on the public.
  • We pledge increased government transparency and accountability.
  • We pledge that we will not allow censorship of the Internet for anything except for in the most extreme circumstances (such as in the case of military secrets or images of child abuse).

It strikes me that everything in their manifesto is founded upon an excellent knowledge of how the internet has changed society. At this stage I am only a party member but I have offered to provide advice on certain issues when available. A more intensive role, considering I have just started work in the PR industry, is not possible.

 

Technology should be embraced, not feared.

 

Christopher Hitchens honoured with Orwell Memorial prize

In the recent bustle of starting in the PR industry I feel ashamed to have only just noticed that one of the UK’s and USA’s greatest political minds, the late Christopher Hitchens, won the prestigious Orwell Prize. The prize is awarded in Britain for a book, blog or classic journalism which attains closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’.

The prize was awarded to his widow, Carol Blue, in May. For a long time Christopher Hitchens’ has been referenced as Orwell’s successor and it seems fit that finally he writing has been officially recognised.

Christopher Hitchens was a classic journalist in every sense of the phrase. Whilst you will find much of his work through podcasts, audiobooks and YouTube videos – his books and newspapers articles were his primary mediums. His art for writing came from an astute mind, perhaps photographical, to which served him well during his years commenting on political and religious affairs. Some of his best books in my opinion include Hitch-22, God is not Great and Letters to a Young Contrarian.

As I made clear in December 2011 Christopher Hitchens was a writer that I will hold in the highest regard. Only a few days ago I was listening to a talk he conducted in 2002 on the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. The world is certainly with a debt without Christopher Hitchens’ astute mind but much of his work will last a generation.

Walking into the Red: Visiting Occupy London

Chalked onto a piece of rough wood is a message which reads, “Welcome to the world’s longest occupation! 88 days since last eviction!”. Next to it another sign states despite misconceptions in the news these tents are occupied by army veterans, healers, members of the NHS, office workers – people like me and you.

It didn’t cover the fact that most of the tents were probably not active at all – everything seemed quite quiet. This truly is a peaceful protest. The message proceeded to disprove the current system of cuts the UK has experienced, asking for a fairer system (“just and proportionate”) re-imaging Cameron’s words, “We are the real big society”. They believe change is coming. Is it?

The infamous mask (not captured at Occupy London)

As I gradually made my way to the front of the cathedral warm acoustic notes could be heard from a tent nearby. The guitar first raised my suspicions of the characters lurking beneath the canvas. These members of the Occupy Movement were not Guy Fawkes mask wearing protagonists. Ideologically inclined members of the public may even struggle to describe many members of the movement as comrades. Rather than play Robin Hood from big corporations’ protestors were relying on hand-outs from the public.

Most protestors just seemed, well, homeless. Camping in front of St Paul’s probably allowed them to exist as part of a community united by a common goal – the global Occupy Movement. Their tents pitched for commodity rather than for an argument with capitalism. Had the jobless and homeless joined the movement for a bone to grind or to secure their next meal? Whilst I didn’t feel threatened by the peaceful tent goers, I was wary of being pestered for money. As I moved I could feel watchful eyes monitoring my ever step. Three protestors sat on the floor playing cards, it looked like rummy, and the game seemed ironic considering their choice of scene. A large tent had been erected along the side of St Paul’s selling second hand books, all profits go towards the movement – a homeless movement.

People call this an Occupy Movement but I’m not convinced. As I walked around each of the 100+ tents a variety of signs could be seen painted, strung, chalked and boarded. Messages yearning for a pacifist state, others revealed the corporate injustice of being a carnivore in an effort to promote veganism.

Yes, so-called communist sentiments were present but no sign disproved of a serious current issue. Their argument is with policy makers but knowing exactly which policies they wish to see changed is impossible. Which message is part of the Occupy Movement? Clearly some members wanted to share their own ideas. One tent even featured a web address promoting a zeitgeist movement… whatever that is supposed to mean.

The ‘Big Cats’ were mentioned but the range of messages around St Paul’s Cathedral makes for a confusing protest and one which is looked upon with uncertainty by the public. If the Occupy Movement is wanted to be taken seriously then they should question the members who stand in their ranks. Everyone was unshaven (even one of the women), a guy walked past me supporting the distinct smell of dogs and some eyes met mine with a questioning gaze.

The Occupy Movement in London seems to be a storm in a tea cup. The frequent argument by St Paul’s Cathedral of limited access is fabricated. You could have fitted several trucks between the front door and the nearest tent. Church authorities are probably more concerned with being shown to publically endorse such a movement. A sentiment which I consider hypocritical as I know most messages would be endorsed by a few passionate church goers.

Media coverage has certainly lessened since tents were pitched three months ago. A judge was expected to reach a decision yesterday over the future of Occupy London but still no verdict has been dealt. Just how many more days will the Occupy Movement remain outside St Paul’s Cathedral? No matter the duration their message has certainly reached saturation point.

We all know what is happening. I daresay that I agree with the initial anger which sparked the sales of tents for this very cause. The Western Free Market economy has failed many families across the world. Some cuts are unjustified, the government lending had Karl Max rolling in his grave but we have avoided a more serious depression.

Go vegan this holiday?

I’m not an economist. I’m a blogger. I’m also a free thinker. I had just left a meeting with ex-Microsoft colleagues and decided to see the Occupy Movement through my own eyes. Even at 21 years of age (soon to be 22) I have benefited, in a small way, from one of the largest technology corporations which exist. Whilst the media take the Occupy Movement as a possible threat I couldn’t help but feel that the whole affair is harmless. A mass of tents will not change anything, even as a symbol the protest is frankly laughable – many members were positively homeless and hardly had the energy to lift the plastic bag containing their newspaper.

A serious debate is needed over the western market economy and economists should be wary of the recent history surrounding the credit crunch. No intellectual debate will be found through the ranks of the homeless and hippies. The Occupy Movement therefore doesn’t have my support.

To some readers of this blog this view may not be of any surprise considering my frequent avocation for the conservative view. I don’t have an editor to impress by writing this blog; it is a place of free thought.  I spent money travelling to the Occupy Protest and approached it as a sceptic. Unfortunately they didn’t convince me and their prolonged occupation will end once the tricky situation regarding laws of the land has been resolved. In the spirit of free speech they should be allowed to protest but currently the only thing they demand are your hand outs.

Are you tempted to pitch up your tent?

Bell Pottinger Group were not to Blame

On the 5th December 2011 a video emerged from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showing Bell Pottinger Group offering reputation management to the despotic regime of Uzbekistan. Countless human rights groups protest due to the country’s use of child labour, torture and media control. Dozens of journalists and activists are systematically tortured in the country’s jails each day. Leader, Islam Karimov, keeps oppression fresh by tolerating no opposition.

Bureau journalists contacted the Bell Pottinger posing as members of Azimov Group stating that the government of Uzbekistan was committed to real change would like to promote good relations with the UK. Bell Pottinger, feeling that this tyranny could do with a spot of reputation management, accepted to meet.

Uzbekistan's Controversial Cotton Fields

Managing Director of Bell Pottinger public affairs, David Wilson, checked after the first meeting that the Uzbekistan government was indeed willing to change their approaches which included child labour, human rights and democracy. The fake Azimov Group agreed.

The key arguments that Bell Pottinger Group will drive for the Uzbekistan presentation (as can be viewed here) are:

–       Uzbekistan is changing. A strong programme of reform is correcting past problems.

–       Uzbekistan is important. Its co-operation with the West has greatly helped US and UK forces in Afghanistan.

–       Uzbekistan can be an excellent trading partner. Its exports are valued and valuable. Its people are becoming more prosperous. The UK should not allow others to get ahead of it in trade with Uzbekistan.

Their Digital PR recommendations were:

–       Drown out negative content

–       Push our messaging to the top of global search engines

–       Direct journalists and internet users to key websites and content

–       Shape the online conversation and debate regarding Uzbenistan’s cotton trade and issues concerning child labour and help to redress the balance in reporting.

I have to reiterate that David Wilson had only agreed to any of this only if the Uzbekistan government was willing to

David Wilson

change. As an expert in public affairs it is rather unusual how David Wilson had not noticed the long history of Uzbekistan not allowing reporters to observe their progress (let alone the jail sentences and torture).

During meetings Bell Pottinger’s close relationship with PM, David Cameron, became apparent. Yet a quick statement by Cameron’s spokesperson denied that lobbying companies influence the government. Clearly not the case, as it did become apparent that Bell Pottinger’s past client, Dyson, had caused the PM to discuss copyright issues with the Chinese PM. Whilst it is true that business matters would be discussed when considering the running of states, it seems unlikely that such a discussion would have materialised from luck.

Bell Pottinger Group were not to Blame
Despite the evidence brought forward from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism I do not believe Bell Pottinger is to blame from the criticisms brought forward by the media since. It strikes unfair how suddenly journalists became outraged by the lobbying industry when their own influence is dubious. I concede that the management exampled by Bell Pottinger on this occasion was not righteous – in places it seemed ignorant considering the extensive history of Uzbekistan.

Instead the investigation raised more questions surrounding the integrity of the lobbying industry, occasionally referred to as ‘the dark arts’. Anybody with an inclination towards politics will know the influence of businesses and states when decision making is in progress. Why shouldn’t lobbyists be transparent and argue for the concerns of the client?

The key point of this investigation was when the bureau said the government of Uzbekistan was seeking real change. Only once this has been announced was the rest of the investigation possible but it was based upon a lie told by journalists. Yes, it provided transparency but under the wrong circumstances. If the Bureau had announced that Uzbeckistan was not seeking changes then I believe Bell Pottinger would have dropped proceedings with pitching the campaign.

Broader education is required publically of the lobbying industry. It starts with providing proper regulation of the industry in the UK. In America a measure of statuary transparency exists which requires companies to disclose client contracts and announce their contact with politicians. A requirement such as this may be the right path to take to ensure integrity remains at the centre of this, at times, questionable industry.

How the UK Government should handle Data Transparency

July 2008 past UK PM, Gordon Brown, became embroiled in a debate concerning data sharing rules after a civil service department lost data which was claimed to be hidden under an “old pals” regulatory system. In response the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas (succeeded by Christopher Graham in June 2009), released a report lobbying for increased transparency between Government, Private Companies and Councils. This is in line with Tony Blair’s speech to the UK e-Summit which outlined how transparency could create a new relationship between citizens and the state. A form of Institutional transparency which declares that the public have a right to know how their personal data is being utilised but with an element of control as outlined through privacy laws. Such an act by the state is intended to gain public trust but will require responsibility on institutions part to lower the risk of further lost data.

Far from a system of Government being viewed under a Machiavellian approach to data usage, it should open to the public. Yet this element of control is a deceit considering the growth of transparency which has been occurring for the last 15 years. Privacy rules only negotiate within matters of law and the government’s approach towards overt transparency is undermined by a radical transparency which is already occurring due to the growth of symmetrical communication online.

The launch of data.gov.uk in 2010 is designed to follow the principles set out by Richard Thomas allowing for non-personal factual data to be made available to the public. Eventually the UK Government will openly share this public data not only for central government but also across the public sector.

Yet transparency is not just concerned with the release of information but from the context it once originated from. Communication on the internet exists as a series of sharing (Re-Tweet, Google+ Share, Facebook Share, etc). Eventually context can be lost behind data due to a Web 2.0 form of Chinese whispers. Whilst the internet across multiple platforms may act as a middle man for communication it does not retain the sincerity or respect that may come from the connotations from where the source of the data appeared from.

Social Media is associated with the cult of the amateur, over simplifications can create inaccurate interpretations. So the government embracing institutional transparency is not only concerned with allowing public data to be freely available but to monitor the sources of where the data is being communicated from. Should a blog like mine have the authority to explain the data behind the Digital Economy Act or should that be left to BBC definitions?

Rather than privacy rules being put in place to act as a rule to control institutional transparency the Government should require guidance for how data should be interpreted once it reaches the intermediary sources (such as Journalists & Bloggers). Even this won’t refrain from misinterpretation but knowing the source context behind public data will assist to reserve data integrity.

 

Safely Out of London: 2011 Riots

Source: Reuters

As of writing this I have safely arrived home from London. Microsoft security kept all employees up-to-date of the London riot situation and eventually many decided to leave and work remotely (one of the beauties of working for the world’s BEST software company!). The atmosphere in London is twofold; of panic and solidarity. Somewhat oxymoronic, ironically caused by morons who choose to loot and pillage their own communities.

Last night Ken Livingstone voiced his opinions on BBC News insinuating that rioting amongst the younger generation was due to the economically tough times. Personally I find it rather disgusting how Red Ken decided to take a situation caused by greed and sheer violence as a political point. Yes, generation Y do have it particularly bad but these gangs were never looking for a job – they feed from those who do. The London riots do not seem political, instead gangs have discovered that through joint communication it is possible to cause havoc in designated areas.

Blackberry Messaging is being blamed to be the telecommunications choice for looters. This afternoon the official Blackberry blog was hacked by infamous group TeaMp0isoN_. Yet blaming particular social mediums is not the point. Text messaging could easily be just as valid. Both communications forms could be traced (it is simple) but unlikely.

TeaMp0isoN's Message to BlackBerry_

Panic has swept London and the police will be out in full force tonight. Not only is the police presence necessary to maintain order but it is also a PR drive. Politicians decided that sipping their wine abroad and waiting for the violence to shift was harming their reputation. The Met need to prove that their force have what it takes to keep London under control.

This is only a quickly written blog post by a student who happens to share one aspect with rioters, age. Let’s not tarnish the whole of generation Y over the London riots. Many of us are very different. When I watch the news I feel betrayed – clearly there are many in our society who do not recognise ethics.

In my opinion this video sums up the whole of the London riots. Warning: it will make you angry.

Stay safe.