This originally took the form of a post on my Facebook wall, and received a lot of positive feedback so I thought I’d share it here. I read this article on “digital detox” recently. Some of it’s a bit hippy-dippy for me, but the general theme of managing variable intermittent reinforcement rings true. Political activism is a perfect example – sometimes you try something in politics and get a positive result, whether it’s winning an election, signing up a new member, getting a policy motion accepted etc. Often you don’t, but the rush is palpable. And there is always more to do, until we have every ward and constituency in the country a safe Lib Dem seat. There’s a phrase that “Activism expands to fill more than the time available”, which is why it’s important to get your priorities right.
Over the last year or so I’ve adopted a number of tools and habits which have made me more relaxed, more productive and feeling much better. Some of it’s about removing distractions. I used to be involved in a lot of geek chatrooms, which have the same intermittent reinforcement – somebody would come along and ask a question, and you’d answer it and they’d be happy and you’d feel good about helping a stranger. I’m now only in two chatrooms with any regular conversation, neither of which is hugely busy, and both of which are largely social chat with people I know personally.
I’m using Workrave, designed as an anti-RSI tool, to prompt me to take occasional short breaks and infrequent longer ones. I’ve turned off push notifications on my email client, and told it to check for new mail every 30 minutes so I’m not frequently distracted by incoming mail. I have made sure I have a decent chair and table to sit at, meaning I can work for longer stretches without getting uncomfortable or giving myself back ache. Occasionally I turn off wifi on my laptop to concentrate on typing up minutes or writing blog posts; I make a note of anything I need to research and come back to it after I’ve finished the draft rather than scampering off in search of data and getting distracted. As a result I’ve been writing more and better. Using Dropbox and ownCloud means I can benefit from remote backup and sharing but still have files available when I’m offline.
Most importantly, I’ve used the parental control feature of my ADSL router to cut off the Internet from my laptop at midnight; this stops those late-night Wikipedia / TVTropes binges, and encourages me to go to bed even if I’m not yet completely exhausted; lying in bed reading a book is more restful, and grants me better sleep, than sitting online until I feel tired. I’ve actually noticed that I wake up after less sleep, feeling better, by going to bed before I’m exhausted, and I’m squeezing an extra hour out of every day as a result. I’m doing better at looking after myself as a result – I’m eating better and not often forgetting meals or being too busy to eat, which keeps my brain fuelled and able to concentrate.
I’ve been making heavy use of my back garden over the last few months; sitting outside in the fresh air, listening to the noises of the neighbourhood and the feel of the breeze has been great for me, and there are two green spaces (one well-tended park, one more overgrown reserve) very close to me that I can walk around and enjoy, or sit reading a book within. I’m getting more actual reading done, more time to sit in thought or actively meditate, and I’m doing more home cooking which I find grounding.
The self-reinforcement of variable interruptions is starting to wear off; I’m finding it easier to put down non-urgent tasks when I need to rest, and also easier to complete tasks before they become urgent and stressful. I don’t currently have a smartphone so I don’t have the temptation to constantly check email and social media on one, but when I do get a new one (hopefully before Conference) I will need to work out a way to manage distractions through that as well.
In terms of my activism, I’m also doing things that make life a bit easier for other people – after last night’s local party exec meeting, I gave three other people lifts home, to save them slogging on the buses. It’s a simple thing, doesn’t take much time for me, and helps them stay positive.
It seems obvious in Lib Dem circles that in the run-up to the next General Election we’re going to have to significantly concentrate our strength in our held seats, and the small smattering of (mostly Tory) constituencies where it looks like we can take them from our opponents. This is the subject of a recent op-ed by Stephen Tall on Lib Dem Voice, referencing a Guardian article.
It’s also a continuation of what’s been referred to as the “Rennard Doctrine”, a strategy which emphasises concentrating resources on where we can win adopted by Chris Rennard as Chief Executive, which saw the Lib Dems’ share of the seats won in General Elections more closely matching our share of the popular vote. A 20% discrepancy came down to around 10% – still a long way short thanks to the vagaries of “First Past The Post” plurality voting, but enough to make the party a more effective Parliamentary force.
The problem, as discussed in Stephen’s article, is that by concentrating resources on the places we can win, the places we can’t win get weaker and weaker. This was the story of Cleggmania in 2010; the biggest rise in membership in 20 years, most of whom joined in places where there was no Lib Dem presence, and hence nothing to engage or retain them. Yes, the fall in 2011 was even bigger than the Cleggmania rise, but the disheartening feeling of joining and getting nothing out of the party can’t have helped. (You can see more on Lib Dem membership figures over here.)
The alternative to purely concentrating our strength where we think we can win, is what’s termed in the US as a 50 State Strategy. It was popularised by Howard Dean as chair of the DNC (and indeed he came to Liberal Democrat conference in 2009 to tell us about it). This attempts to mobilise Democrat supporters wherever they are in the country, even deep in Republican territory – introducing them to each other, encouraging street-scale campaigning, standing for election… generally low-level grassroots activity which can build up over time. This doesn’t make much short-term sense; even the vote for President isn’t a direct popular vote, but filtered through the electoral college which is pluralistic in almost every state. However, in the longer term it can pay dividends; starting to flex campaigning muscles in Republican turf in 2005 may well have led to Obama winning Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina in 2008, since the party was more able to capitalise on Obama’s national media profile. The comparison to Cleggmania should be obvious.
We fought this year’s Euro elections on the idea that our areas of strength would give us enough votes to win seats in a PR system. Generally, our vote held up in those places thanks to our campaigning, but our vote elsewhere collapsed horribly, and we lost almost all our MEPs. We will need to build our strength nationwide before the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2016, and the European Parliament elections in 2019. But what of the General Election in 2015?
To borrow a phrase from bi activism, we can embrace the power of “and”. While it’s clear that the majority of our resources must be dedicated to campaigning until polling day, I think there’s room to look to expand, using the General Election as a driver. While we can’t run a full 650 Constituency Strategy, we can look a little wider than the boundaries of our target constituencies. Most of our held seats are non-adjacent, so we should be reaching out to bring members, supporters and activists into the campaigns.
As a Lib Dem in a constituency adjacent to one of our held seats, this is what I’ve been doing. I do a lot of work on member engagement and retention, trying to make sure my members are supporting campaigning and fundraising events in our held seat. I’ve organised simple social events to draw in people from across the area and get people talking and enthused, and their reach is spreading to other nearby “black holes”. Through all this the drive is to get people worked up, more keen to play a part in their local area, but mostly to come and help in our targets.
In the longer term, we have two options – keep rolling out from the centres of strength, which is a slow-but-steady grassroots approach, or try to identify potential hotspots where we might be able to start up activity more or less from scratch. I think that regional parties have a strong part to play in the latter. (One thing I like about CiviCRM as a membership management tool is that it allows you to map members, supporters and activists by postcode, giving you a good “feel” for where you might have a nexus of support.) But this will require strong regional parties who are committed to rebuilding in black holes, and I’m not sure how many of those the party has.
Liberal Democrat Voice is an independent website run by volunteers which accepts article contributions and allows discussion on a wide variety of Lib Dem-related topics. I don’t read every article there in depth, but it’s basically essential reading for Lib Dems, even if you just skim the headlines to get a sense of what’s new.
Unfortunately like most news websites these days, the comment section has become a regular shouting match for derailment and disruption rather than discussion on the topics at hand. There are two particular categories that irk me; one is Mens’ Rights Activists who try to derail any post on equalities with their “but what about the white cis straight mens!” nonsense. The other is the anti-Clegg faction who will spam every post on the site with calls for Nick to resign. In my opinion these people are getting in the way of debate, not contributing to it.
I have finally got sufficiently fed up with this to do something about it, and written something which will filter out particular users’ comments from LDV posts. This should make LDV more useful and less rage-inducing. By filtering out the predictable comments from the predictable people, I should be able to get more out of the LDV comment section. It’ll reduce my temptation to feed the trolls and post things that make me look bad, like the comment in the screenshot. If others use it, it’ll hopefully increase the signal:noise ratio further.
There’s a plugin for Firefox and Iceweasel called Greasemonkey which allows the user to install small programs to edit webpages after they’ve loaded. There are equivalents for Chrome, IE, Safari and other browsers as per the Wikipedia link provided. I have started work on a simple killfile for some of the LDV commenters I find particularly disruptive, which you can download here. Once you’ve got Greasemonkey installed, that link should load my script and start running it on Lib Dem Voice pages. It’s only a first draft at the moment, and I expect future improvements if I can be bothered, but your Greasemonkey should pick them up when I do.
And to make the obvious liberal point: Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom to be heard. These posters are not violating LDV’s comment policy, but I do not want to, and do not have to, read what they have to say.
I am not surprised to learn from FCC that my policy motion on IPv6 has not been accepted for debate at Conference in Glasgow this autumn. The polite rejection reads:
I am writing to let you know that the conference committee decided not to select your motion Connecting More Devices to the Internet for debate at the Glasgow conference. The subject matter is very technical and, although the drafting does a fair job of trying to make the issues as clear as possible to a non-specialist audience, we nevertheless felt that it would be of limited interest to most conference representatives and was unlikely to lead to a good political debate.
I am sorry to have to disappoint you on this occasion.
So yeah, mildly disappointed, but not surprised. I have asked what further recourse I might have, including lobbying a policy working group or just smiling sweetly at J-Hup.
When I’m not doing politics, I work in IT as a systems and network administrator. This involves dealing with the Internet Protocol (IP) a lot. This is basically the thing that makes the Internet (and hence the Web, which is a subset of the Internet) work. Trouble is, it’s based on an assumption that everything directly connected to the Internet (like your BT HomeHub, Virgin box or whatever) can have a unique identifier called an IP address. But there’s so much stuff connected to the Internet these days from smartphones to lamp-posts that we’re running out of unique identifiers allowed by the current version of the Internet Protocol.
Networking geeks basically solved this problem over 15 years ago in 1998 with a new version of the Internet Protocol, but we’re still using the old one because there’s no real incentive for anybody to switch before anybody else does. It’s a classic tragedy of the commons, so wearing my political hat I think there’s a case for the Government to lean on the industries.
I’ve drafted a policy motion on mandating rollout of IPv6 to end users for Lib Dem Conference in Glasgow. It’s aimed at a non-technical audience, so I’ve elided or hinted at some of the problems of address space exhaustion such as route fragmentation. I’ve had a couple of non-technical people read it, and they can grasp the gist: “There is a problem. There is a solution, but nobody’s doing anything about it. The Government should make them.” Note that I’m only addressing the ISP side; hosting and content providers are largely based outside the UK, particularly cloud-based ones, and it’s a business with tight profit margins; I think that if everybody has the ability to reach you on IPv6, then increasing IPv4 prices (and policies of IPv4 allocators such as RIPE) will encourage those providers to implement IPv6 of their own accord.
I’ll be encouraging my local party to support it, but the more LPs we get behind it (and individual conference reps) the better. Let me know if you have any suggested alterations to the text, or whether you or your local party would like to support the motion.
Maybe in 10 years I’ll be proposing a motion to deprecate IPv4…