Ten most popular blog postings (1st quarter, 2009)

Here’s what you’ve been reading the most on my blog over the last three months:

10. Lap dancing in Crouch End – one of the big local issues coming up for decision

9. Heading up the party’s Technology Board – see number 1.

8. Sharon Shoesmith – see number 2.

7. Reading the Baby P Serious Case Review – see number 2.

6. Why the number of female MPs matters – see why I think so.

5. What should you do with your emails? – a fun way to demonstrate to Jacqui Smith what’s wrong with the government’s latest plans to keep tabs on what we’re all doing.

4. Not so equal pay at Cambridge University – not Cambridge University at its best.

3. Politicians and Twitter: why The Times is wrong – not The Times at its best.

2. Sharon Shoesmith in The Guardian – I’ve found this blog really useful during the Baby P tragedy, as it’s given me the chance to raise issues and expound on my views at the length the issue demands, but which the media rarely gives MPs.

1. Are you a techno wizard? – no surprise that news about the Liberal Democrats online (and other) work should attract the attention of an online audience!

What have I been doing?

It’s gong to be a bit of a bitty blog for the next few weeks as went back to hospital for X-ray on Friday – only to be told that bone in hand is broken. So am now plastered – so to speak – which makes typing a pain. Am hoping to find someone to take dictation… Anyway – highlights:

– the Government on Friday talked out the Bill that my colleague Evan Harris introduced on the royals being able to marry Catholics and women not being shunted out of line to the throne by boy children. Government says it agrees – but once again I suspect action won’t follow. Wimps. They should have a look at the polling on the subject – overwhelming support for these changes!

– Friday evening went to address Lib Dems in Hitchin and Harpenden. The very able and active PPC, Nigel Quinton, picked me up from station – and embarrassingly had to cut up my food for me! I think they have the potential to do what Lib Dems did in Hornsey & Wood Green if they put in the base work before the election – whenever that comes. After the General Election – if they are the obvious alternative to the Tories – they could reap the benefit.

– Saturday I went to the induction of the new Rabbi at Highgate Synagogue. Rabbi Liss and his wife Shully are just lovely and I have no doubt that the Jewish community in Highgate will blossom and be very very happy. The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, was there as was his wife – so it was a big occasion. In responding to Rabbi Sach’s blessings, Rabbi Liss was very winsome and very human. The atmosphere in the synagogue was warm, friendly and very inspiring. Our Highgate Safer Neighbourhood team were there too and it is clear that Highgate synagogue is making real strides in being involved in the local community. I stayed about 2 1/2 hours but then had to leave (before the kiddush – drinks) to rush up to Westminster.

– there, I briefly joined the march for Jobs, Justice and Climate – but mainly because I got caught up in it whilst trying to get to my coders’ meet up for the new Lib Dem Technical Advisory Board. When I did arrive found room nearly full of men (have to give some thought as to why women are not coming forward as coders) but today this was the army whose skills and talents we are harvesting. Fantastic!

– Then met with Sarah Ludford MEP and a host of local Lib Dem activists to do some campaigning in Muswell Hill, followed by a speech in High Wycombe to possible future female MPs.

Technology Advisory Board news: Howard Dean done, meetup to come

It was really good to see lots of people come to hear Howard Dean on Saturday at the special event for coding volunteers at our Harrogate conference this weekend. Lots of words of wisdom from him – and lots of enthusiasm to do even more and better things from everyone!

For those who volunteered to help fill the gap in some of our coding and technical resources by filling in my survey a few weeks ago – the next event is a meetup in London later this month. If you filled in the survey, you (should!) have got an invite by email last week to this.

Although we’re having this first meeting to kick things off in London, I’m keen that we involve people right across the country – whether that’s with regional groupings, meetings round the country, online discussions or whatever. As we’re a grassroots party – in part that’s up to you to decide!

As for the rest of the board’s work – keep your eyes peeled for more news!

Howard Dean to meet Technology Advisory Board volunteers on Saturday

Looking forward to heading off to Harrogate this weekend for the spring Liberal Democrat conference – though not quite sure when I’ll have time to finish preparing!

We’ve got a special meeting with Howard Dean on the Saturday for everyone who responded for my call for volunteers to help with software coding etc. If you haven’t had an invite by email and think you should have, drop a line to ecampaignteam@libdems.org.uk.

The power of Twitter

Spent morning at Microsoft in my role as Chair of the new Technology Advisory Board – and later was on Simon Mayo’s program talking about Twitter. Three other mega-enthusiasts were there too – twittering as the program was live with live responses coming in. Talking of which, Simon Mayo got an email in from one of my constituents asking if I could contact Haringey Council about Fortis Green pavement being extremely icey. After the program – I did – and Haringey said they would go out at once as a priority. The power of Twitter and the Simon Mayo program – whooaaaaaaaa!

Are you a techno wizard?

This article appears in this week’s Liberal Democrat News:

Since the news that Nick Clegg was proposing to the Federal Executive that I should chair the party’s new Technology Board (a proposal the FE agreed to last Monday), the internet fraternity have been keen as mustard to give me their ideas – and I am keen to have them!

So this is great, but what’s become clear to me – other than the need to publicise that the Board’s work will be about technology in the sense of e-campaigning, computers and the internet, rather than technology in the sense of scientific research – is that there is a huge pool of untapped potential.

Because almost nobody whose conversation or email or Facebook message started, “I work in IT and I’ve got some ideas for how the party can improve…” and who clearly has a bundle of useful IT skills is actually using those skills very much to help the party at the moment. I want to enable that skilled army to employ its talents to the max.

One or two get it totally – and are wonderfully valued for that. A good few more are doing things like looking after their local party’s website (though, frankly, these days that usually doesn’t require much technical IT skill – skill yes, but not technical IT skill). But generally – there is a large pool of people with technical talent that we’re hardly tapping.

Yet looking at the tools the party currently has, and the resources we have available to improve them, there clearly is a lot of very valuable work which such people could be doing. So as I’m beginning to map out the whats and hows of the Board’s work, I have three clear priorities in mind.

First, really getting the most out of the opportunities the internet offers isn’t really about the technology – it is about how we use it – and getting those online opportunities embedding into our activities. As the writer Clay Shirky puts it, “The revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools. It happens when society adopts new behaviours.” That’s why Nick suggested me for this position – because I use what the internet can offer – but in techno terms am an infant.

Second, we need to build on our efforts to give individuals – whether members or not and living in a target seat/ward or not – the opportunities through the internet to campaign on behalf of the party and to spread our message both online and offline.

Third, where we have tools that should or could be improved, we need to tap into the volunteer skills of members and supporters. We will in part do that by setting the right standards and frameworks for the party overall. But we will also only achieve this if we open up more of the code the party has acquired so that more people can contribute to it.

For example, our email list server is based on open-source software and is used by hundreds of people to run email lists, some of whom are expert programmers. And yet the only changes to the code that happens are those the party does or pays for centrally. Likewise, many of our other tools – such as the petition engine that we frequently use in my constituency – and indeed the party’s www.libdems.org.uk website – run on code the party owns.

So with the help of Richard Allan, I’ve put together a brief online survey asking people to volunteer information about the technical skills which they have – whether it is the programming or software development management skills to help us get more and better code written without having to rely solely on the stretched resources at the centre.

The survey is at http://www.libertyresearch.org.uk/take/505 – and please fill it in if this sounds like something for you, and let others know about it too.

And as if by magic…

… the day after the Federal Executive approved my nomination to chair the party’s Technology Advisory Board (Monday), the party has started rolling out a new website at http://blogs.libdems.org.uk

I think it would be a little cheeky for me to claim credit for this – nice though the timing is! Handily bringing together the latest news from a range of different Liberal Democrat websites – along with some of our media coverage – all in to one place, it will I’m sure soon become a regular read of mine – and I hope of yours too.

Politics and the internet

My thoughts on how the Liberal Democrats should approach the online elements of the next general election are up on the New Statesman blog:

Later this year will be the 10th anniversary of my first website: a dozen or so static HTML files, livened up with an animated graphic and a Javascript quiz – a little bit of interactivity even back then!

Looking at how my use of the internet for politics since then has multiplied – emails, blogs, more emails, Facebook, yet more emails, Twitter, even more emails, an experiment with Bebo, and yet more emails – I would say I’ve learnt three key things about technology and politics.

First, you don’t have to know how to do the technology – you can get other people to help with that – but understanding what you want out of it and the new opportunities it offers is vital.

Second, it helps bring political success – I wouldn’t have got elected an MP without it.

And third, as much of the technology has got easier and easier to do, getting the technical details correct is – while still key – becoming less important compared to getting your mindset right.

I’m quite taken at the moment with a quote from the American writer Clay Shirky, which makes this last point in a slightly different way: “The revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools. It happens when society adopts new behaviours.”

You can read the full piece over there.

Heading up the party's Technology Board

I am so excited about fronting the new Technology Board for the Party. Clever move by Nick Clegg I think as I think / hope this will be a good match between me and the need for a non-geek, non-nerdy human being to lead the way (vital and lovable though geeks and nerds are!).

I have always used the internet to campaign – and to communicate with all the different people that I have wanted to reach for different reasons, different issues and to achieve a variety of outcomes. And behind the scenes, I’ve always appreciated the importance of technology to make both campaigning and casework efficient and manageable.

Now Nick is unleashing me formally on the wider world. And I will have his backing to take the party where no party has gone before – not exactly his words – but my interpretation!

Seriously – this is the new frontier and is still in its infancy. The Lib Dems have already been ahead of the game vis a vis the internet with an army of bloggers and e-campaigning enthusiasts pushing the envelope already – now is the time to continue and expand our operations. So – priority obviously will be outward facing – but the internal e-campaigning at the grassroots will also be expanded.

Nick acknowledged that my ‘technical’ technology knowledge wasn’t the reason for wanting me to be the image of a modern, cutting edge Lib Dems (thank goodness) – but it is the way to bring it on!

So – Obama schmama – watch this space. Of course – the Board itself is not yet in existence – so much to do and so little time to do it!

Rest of mini ‘reshuffle’ is over on the party website.