At Westminster, an Early Day Motion is a motion tabled by an MP, calling for a debate on a particular topic. The motions rarely get debated, but they draw other MPs’ attention to particular issues. EDMs are a sort of petition system, exclusive to members of the House of Commons.
I had always taken it as a given that EDMs were a useful tool in a campaigner’s kit. If one Member of Parliament is allied to your cause, they can table an Early Day Motion… which then gives supporters of the campaign a reason to write to their own MPs about the issue. By requesting that your elected representative signs the EDM, you are effectively asking “please put it on record that you support this issue”. This is useful.
During the course of the Libel Reform Campaign, we made much of the fact that 249 Members of Parliament had signed EDM 423, which was a lot. It was also significant that the motion had cross party support.
The disappointing fact that some EDMs do not attract cross party support is often a useful data point. For example, of the 36 people who have signed EDM 37, condemning the imprisonment of Raïf Badawi in Saudi Arabia, none are from the Conservative Party, who are currently in government. Since Badawi is in prison for the crime of setting up blog that discussed liberalism, it is odd that no Tory wishes to put their name to it. Perhaps they simply haven’t been asked… but perhaps the Conservative whips have asked them not to, for reasons of diplomacy. (This is infuriating to campaigners, but as I blogged previously, there may be good and honest reasons why this is so.)
It is possible, however, that if one seeks genuine change rather than posturing, EDMs are a distraction. While working on the Raïf Badawi case, I wrote to some MPs asking them to sign the EDM. I received this reply from one Member of Parliament:
I very rarely sign EDMs for the following reasons. First, they have absolutely no impact at Westminster.
Second, PR companies and the like suggest to their clients that they should pressure MPs to sign them when they know full well that they are political placebos with negligible impact but they can claim that their influence has made MPs sign EDMs.
Third, I am told they cost the taxpayer (each) about £300 a month and there are hundreds of them. I do not like that at all in view of my first two points.
One MP I could name signs almost every one, but I think that to be dreadful because he knows full well that they achieve nothing. But it gets that MP off the hook! Not one EDM has made it through to legislation in my time.
The EDM on libel reform disproves that last point, but the others are worth considering. The £300 figure is a factual claim which I will check. But if the EDM process is not particularly respected by MPs then it might not have the parliamentary influence that campaigners assume, and those ‘PR companies’ assert.
On Monday, Labour Party members received an e-mail from Liz Kendall in their inboxes: an open letter.
You probably think I’m writing to ask you for your vote in the upcoming election for party leader.
And I am.
But what really matters for our country and our party is another election – the one we’ll fight together in 2020.
By then, our country will have suffered under five more years of the Tories.
&cetera. I was a little underwhelmed by the text, to be honest. The values she lays out do not seem to delineate Kendall from other candidates, or even the other parties. “End inequalities” and “eliminate low pay” are policies that Labour surely shares with the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. Conservative Party Leadership Candidates probably would not put these issues at the top of an appeal to their members, but it would be difficult to find a Tory MP that disagrees with either. However, “we need a more caring society”, “We must share power with people” and “We need a future of hope for all our young people” are phrases that would make their way onto a Conservative membership e-mail. Only once in the e-mail does Kendall explain a policy difference between her and anyone else (on inheritance tax). So the aspirations and goals, worthy though they are, seem rote when stated by themselves. Continue reading “Liz Kendall as a Quick Case Study on Political Persuasion in the Digital Age”
When we debate surveillance (whether its CCTV or snooping on our e-mails) the debate is usually framed as a trade off between civil liberties and security. Its the right to privacy versus the right to be protected from crime. Often, civil libertarians seek to win the argument by highlighting how the State can be tyrannical, oppressive, corrupt… or unworthy of trust. Our governments are compared literary dystopias like Airstrip One in Nineteen Eighty-Four or to real-life dictatorships like North Korea. These arguments are persuasive to some.
But as I have discussed previously, this approach does not persuade everyone. And by deploying these arguments, civil liberties campaigners actually leave themselves exposed. What if you do not believe that (say) the UK is as bad as North Korea? What if you think that, on balance, Teresa May, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and Robert Hannigan are actually on our side and not out to seize tyrannical control of the people? All this chat about nefarious government agents acting like the Stasi will simply not persuade.
When we talk about surveillance, we need to talk about The Observer Effect. In physics, this is the concept that says that by measuring something, you change it. And we’re talking about surveillance, The Observer Effect means that simply by watching someone, you change their behaviour. Continue reading “Surveillance changes the "Psyche of the Community"”
Readers of this blog will know how irritated I get with the quality of parliamentary and government papers online. Transcripts and other documentation are frequently uploaded as PDFs, as if the only thing a researcher or campaigner plans to do with the document is print it. The online version of the Houses of Parliament Hansard still retains references to columns and pages, and linking to excerpts of text is a laborious process.
For more on this, read my rant: The mess under the bonnet of the Houses of Parliament website.
So imagine my delight to see the launch of Say It, a new tool from MySociety. It provides a tool to put transcripts of debates, court cases, and official inquiries online. The tool has been launched with a searchable, linkable version of the Leveson Inquiry sessions.
It is this sort of thing that empowers grassroots campaigns and catalyses democracy. And by ‘democracy’, I don’t just mean voting, but the idea that citizens make the decisions together.
SayIt dovetails nicely with a project I have been tinkering with in my spare time – converting the text of the four volume Leveson Report into HTML, (though I confess I almost had a heart attack when I saw the link to the MySociety tool – I thought that my efforts had been duplicated!)
Last week, I published two e-Books for English PEN.
The first is Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, edited by Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer. This is a fantastic piece of literary campaigning for three prisoners of conscience. The government of Vladimir Putin, in collaboration with the Russian Orthodox church, have sought to censor the satire and criticism directed at them by the punk art collective Pussy Riot, by convicting three of them on a charge of ‘hooliganism’.
There is little English PEN or I can do to help with the legal battle. But what we can do is ensure that the feminist poetry and the dissident message is not suppressed. Catechism amplifies what Putin sought to silence.
Download the eBook or buy a printed copy now! You can even make a donation if you feel so inclined.
The other project is PEN Atlas: 10 Literary Dispatches from Around the World. It has been published to coincide with the international translation day conference taking place today in London. It is a re-packaging off some of the best content from our PEN Atlas online project.
Download the e-book now!
In creating these publications, I applied some of the lessons learned during the course of my Insignificant Woman project. I also advanced my knowledge a bit too.
I had been using the EPUB conversion cool within Lulu.com to create my e-book files. This tool is simple and easy to use (you just upload a Word Document) but is somewhat limited. For example, when you want to place two headings adjacent to each other in the text, it creates unnecessary page breaks. However, by good fortune I happened across the Sigil tool on the Google Project Hosting repository. It is not an entry-level program, but it is perfect for someone like me, who has basic knowledge of HTML and CSS. I used it to tweak an existing EPUB file for Catechism, but then used Sigil to create the PEN Atlas file entirely from scratch. Later, I used Calibre to convert and EPUB file into a Kindle ready eBook.