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London Democrats

July 21, 2010

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceA week or so ago I was very happy to find out that newly-elected MP for Cambridge and friend of No2ID and ORG, Dr Julian Huppert was chairing a Liberal Democrat Policy Working Group on Information Technology and Intellectual Property. This is an area where Lib Dem policy has been lacking for some time. As a long-time campaigner against software patents and digital restrictions, member of the Free Software Foundation and general pro-Creative Commons copyfighter, it was entirely relevant to my interests and I rapidly volunteered.

The sign-up e-mail says this:

Working groups usually meet about once a month over a period of about a year. Meetings are mostly in London in the evening, although occasional week-end meetings outside London are also held. Unfortunately expenses are not available.

Members are expected to take evidence from witnesses and to contribute to writing the final paper. Some members largely contribute by email or by telephone conferencing, although attending at least one or two key meetings is very useful.

To me this is backwards. Very few people can attend meetings in London on weekday evenings. It’s possible to organise a national party body using e-mail, with webchat for real-time conversations, so I don’t see why a policy working group should be any different. I’m still going to contribute, but I’m going to feel like a second-class citizen.

This working group is not unique. If you’re not based in London, it’s practically impossible to engage with the Party. It’s fair enough that the Party is based there – after all, it’s where Parliament is so most of our MPs and Peers end up there fairly often. However, the Liberal Democrats is much more than its Parliamentarians – it’s the ordinary members, the councillors, the activists and campaigners and supporters.

The Party has online things like Lib Dem Act which allow its members to communicate, but it’s not using these tools to actually engage people in getting involved in the party, policy and organisations. Act is the wrong tool for this job since it’s public, but there are plenty of ways, largely online, which can involve people without the time and money required to commute to London; physical meetings could happen somewhere more generally convenient like Birmingham, or regional working groups formed which meet in person and then collaborate via e-mail.People have volunteered to implement ideas, including partywide secure videoconferencing. There’s no reason why these tools can’t be discussed and trialled, and every reason to get people outside the Westminster Bubble more involved in the direction and policy of this party.

Incidentally, this reminds me that some time ago I volunteered for consideration for such a future working group using an internal party website, which I can no longer find. I mentioned that I was interested in free software, software patents, digital rights and information technology. I have never heard anything back from this, even after the formation of this new working group. It’s bad enough failing to involve members, but asking them to volunteer and then ignoring them is scandalous.

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  1. Andrew Hickey
    July 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Yeah, that got me annoyed as well. Especially since there’d been a pretty heated discussion on an email list I’m on about how it’s absolutely fair and right that all the party stuff be done in London and none of it could possibly be done by web conferencing or anything…

  1. July 25, 2010 at 7:21 pm
  2. September 15, 2010 at 7:03 pm
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