Should magistrates Twitter?

Sorry to see that the twittering magistrate in Shropshire has felt the need to resign after someone complained about his use of Twitter to send out messages about the legal system.

For me, Steve Molyneux hasn’t done anything wrong – he didn’t Twitter whilst sitting in court hearing a case and the only information he gave out was in the public domain. But he was doing something right – helping demystify our legal system and bring the public and the system a little bit closer together. We need more of that, not less.

Good can yet come of this – and I hope those in the judicial system will seize the opportunity to lay down some guidelines – guidelines which encourage magistrates to use Twitter and other technologies (blogs come to mind in particular) to help explain to us all how our legal system works.

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!

Politicians and Twitter: why The Times is wrong

So – Rachel Sylvester in The Times has taken a dislike to politicians who use Twitter.

What particularly gets my goat is the comment from “psychologist Oliver James” who claims: “Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.” Well – I don’t think you’ve ever met me Mr James – and I’m sure they are millions of other Twitter users who you’ve not yet either. And no-one would have time to read the tweets from everyone who uses Twitter. So you’re diagnosing millions of people who you’ve never met – and whose words you’ve never read. Not impressed!

Not surprisingly, I also take issue with her claims about how politicians have reacted to the economic crisis – “The opposition parties are quick to criticise Labour’s decisions but find it hard to say what they would do instead.” Can I introduce you to Vince Cable perhaps?

But what’s really wrong with the piece is the idea that politicians shouldn’t move with the time. I don’t send telegrams. My campaign team has no carrier pigeons. I hardly ever use a classical reference in my speeches. And that’s because I’m not a Victorian politician. Times change. The public changes. Today – 2009 – many of my constituents and other people are on Twitter – and so it makes sense for me to be too. If that’s how they choose to get information, it’s not a lack of identity that makes me honour those choices – it’s respect for the public.

Of course you can’t squeeze everything into 140 characters – but then I’ve not stopped doing other, wordier things (such as this blog, leaflets, speeches etc etc). And as for the parting line in The Times about the need to have politicians with moral fervour – I agree.

By the way – I’ve not counted, but I’m pretty sure you could fit each of the 10 commandments into a 140 character tweet (or the equivalents from other religions). Brief messages doesn’t mean you can’t have beliefs or passion!

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!

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.

Finding the Liberal Democrats online in Haringey

Over the last year, the online presence of Haringey Liberal Democrats has steadily been growing and expanding. Five of my local colleagues now have their own sites / blogs:

Matt Davies – Fortis Green councillor
Fiyaz MughalNoel Park councillor
David SchimtzTottenham Parliamentary spokesman and Seven Sisters candidate
Neil Williams – Highgate councillor
Richard Wilson – Stroud Green councillor

Haringey Liberal Democrats are also on Facebook, including information about our forthcoming events, or – if you’re not a Facebooker – you can also instead out about our events via the main party website.

Oh, and don’t forget – I’m on Facebook, Twitter (mini-blog style updates) and Flickr (photos).

If I could commission one government IT project

That’s the topic of my (first!) posting today over at Liberal Conspiracy:

I’ve been pretty critical of two massive government IT projects – the existing plans to introduce mandatory identity cards with a huge database behind them and also the Home Office talk of a database of all phone calls and emails made anywhere in the country.

My criticisms in both cases are three-fold: the money involved could be better spent on other projects (such as giving us more police rather than keeping huge databases of the activities of innocent people), they involve a huge infringement of our liberties and privacy, and – thirdly – big IT projects like this are likely to go wrong and to be vulnerable to misuse.

But I’m not a Luddite. Over time I’ve found embracing IT innovations has made my life easier and made me more efficient – whether it was years ago buying a laser printer to speed up production of casework letters or more recently starting to use the text-messaging based blogging service Twitter to help keep residents informed of what I’m up to as an MP.

Indeed, the idea of organising information in an efficient way so that it helps people make decisions and find out what’s going on is fundamentally a very liberal approach – getting computer code to do the heavy lifting so that individuals can find out and act.

So this has got me thinking – if I could commission just one IT project from government, what would it be?

You can read the rest of the piece here and there’s an interesting response over at Puffbox.

Ten most popular blog postings (1st quarter, 2008)

End of another quarter – so it’s time for another top ten list. Here are the blog postings which have proved most popular with readers of my blog in the last three months:

10. The interesting case of Seb Green – the admirable way someone has reacted when things go wrong.

9. I’m the bride – at last! – blogging prize, not wedding bells. But nearly as exciting.

8. One of my favourite topics for blog postings – about winning an election! This time Rachel Allison was the much deserving winner in the Highgate by-election.

7. I’ve blogged quite extensively over the last three months about the scandals surrounding Ken Livingstone and the funding of projects in London – so no great surprise that this posting about Ethnic Mutual’s grant made it into the top ten.

6. Low Copy Number DNA – one of those postings which keeps on getting traffic as, each time there’s a crime involving DNA records, people go hunting on the internet for more about this technique.

5. Mr Speaker doesn’t speak for me – I disagree with the Speaker’s decision to try to keep things secret.

4. Lots of online coverage for me first steps using Twitter.

3. A (then) Conservative councillor calls for sterilisation of people whose lifestyles he doesn’t agree with – An appalling insult to mothers and fathers.

2. Our sexist monarchy: why in the modern world should men still be able to elbow aside women in the line of succession to the Throne?

1. And in at number one: Brian Paddick comes calling. Somewhat surprised to see this at number one as it wasn’t the most interesting or exciting posting – at least in my eyes!

(Click to see the previous top tens).