Apr 142012

Compare this video …


… with this video …


Relatively unmediated expressions of what people think – even if still run through the professional mill (a comment to this post, and some of the video’s own content, suggest that Eddie Izzard may have had a hand in the second film) – are more likely to give you a truth which the prepackaged marketing-speak modern politicians place so much of their faith in generally fails to communicate.

Fortunately, I don’t have to make a decision on who to vote for in this election.  But on the strength of the second video, and if a Londoner born and bred, I might be inclined to allow my emotions to sway me where common sense – and the register used in the first video – would have vigorously encouraged me to say “Abstain!”.

Amazing how money and politics always manage to undermine the message, though.  That imbecile-like hullabaloo surrounding the making of an election broadcast, whilst fascinating for media types and journalists everywhere, only serves to underline the need to separate political parties, marketing advisers and voters from contaminating contact.

The slogan we should pay attention to being: “Grassroots!  Grassroots!  Grassroots!”

Anyone anywhere want to construct a political party which goes even further than the second video – which, in its structures and constitution, actually allows its own members an unmediated public voice and control?  For if these two videos had any bearing on the matter, there’d be little to lose and plenty more to gain by releasing all that sincerity which currently appears to be bound.

Apr 142012

New Labour was accused on multiple occasions of creating a nanny state:

Nanny state is a term of British origin (and primary use) that conveys a view that a government or its policies are overprotective or interfering unduly with personal choice.

Interestingly, the phrase is said to have probably been coined by “the Conservative British MP Iain Macleod who referred to ‘what I like to call the nanny state’ in his column ‘Quoodle’ in the December 3, 1965, edition of The Spectator.  I say interestingly because it’s now the turn of the Conservatives themselves – along with MI5, our very own island-bound security service – to decide precisely which flavour of economic theory the United Kingdom should believe in (or maybe that’s kow-tow to – depending of course on your point of view):

Britain’s internal security service, MI5, includes ‘the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism’ is on its ‘list of potential targets to be safeguarded against subversion. We are told this by Bernard Porter, the distinguished historian. He can’t tell us how he knows that, because he found out in a discussion held under Chatham House rules.

As Dan Hind concludes:

[...] To put it yet another way, if the Labour party adopted economic policies that would serve the interests of the majority, they would become legitimate targets for counter-subversion.

But as he also points out in his piece, all three main political parties seem to pay at the very least lip-service to aspects of economic policy which would hardly come under the description of the “Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism”: cooperatives and mutuals, industrial democracy of various kinds and so on.  Which effectively means MI5 believes (has believed for a long time now) that if push came to shove a pretty substantial number of politicians and their supporters would fall down on the wrong side of the socioeconomic fence.

Is this then a case of the nanny state run rampant?  Is this then a case of a nation suddenly packed full of revolutionary subversives?  Or do we need, in a world which supposedly tends towards more open government, to apply democracy-guaranteeing crowdsourcing technologies not only to our politics but also to the long-held and perhaps already stale assumptions of our blessedly antiquated, though obviously still necessary, internal security services?

Is it, in fact, in Cameron’s nanny state, now time for the spies to finally come in from the cold of ancient autocracy?

No.  I’m not suggesting we should all get involved in day-to-day operational matters at all.  But working as a nation of empowered voters to draw up a series of detailed objectives and aims – to iron out such absurdities as that “Anglo-Saxon economic model” for example – would surely be something worth putting in a manifesto and voting on at the next election.  Or simply bringing to Parliament and working through in a consensual way between all interested parties.

What do you think?  Those millions of intelligent crowdsourcing eyes applied to the interface between the worlds of spookdom and civil society?

Answers on a machine-read postcard to …

Apr 142012

Here’s something which really does deserve your attention.  It’s an opinion survey for the European Commission on the subject of the approaching “Internet of Things” (IoT).  If you thought mixing the real and virtual worlds was already getting messy, you’ve seen absolutely nothing yet.  I reproduce their preamble below (the bold is mine):

The Internet of today offers access to content and information through connectivity to web pages and to multiple terminals (e.g., mobiles, TV). The next evolution will make it possible to access information related to our physical environment, through a generalised connectivity of everyday objects. A car may be able to report the status of its various subsystems using communicating embedded sensors for remote diagnosis and maintenance; home information about the status of the doors, shutters, and content of the fridge may be delivered to distant smart phones; personal devices may deliver to a central location the latest status of healthcare information of remotely cared patients; environmental data may be collected and processed globally for real time decision making.

Access to information relating to our surrounding environment is made possible through communicating objects able to interact with that environment and react to events. This makes possible new classes of applications such as smart homes with automated systems to monitor many aspects of daily living, smart grids and intelligent energy management, smart mobility with better control of traffic, or smart logistics with the integrated control of all processes in the entire distribution chain. There are endless examples of this evolution of networked devices, also known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Internet of Things holds the promise of significant progress in addressing global and societal challenges and to improve daily life. It is also a highly promising economic sector for sustainability, growth, innovation and employment. But it is likely to have a profound impact on society, in areas like privacy, security, ethics, and liability. The policy challenge is to assess the right trade-off between the potential economic and societal benefits and the control that we want to retain over an environment where machines will gather, exchange, process and store information automatically. The effects on our private and public space require that people and their governments debate the appropriate governance and management of the Internet of Things in the future. To this end the European Commission envisions a recommendation addressing the main issues, of which a number are outlined in the questions below.

The purpose of this consultation is to solicit the views of a wide range of stakeholders and the public at large.

This is going to be a key moment in how our future worlds – both real and online – develop.  The lines are not simply going to get blurred – they will actually disappear.  The drive to make more money out of such technologies really does require a firm cross-party alliance of those who believe privacy is still worth defending as a concept and societal good.  As Paul Bernal concludes in his interesting analysis on how our political parties are internally conflicted on the matter:

I’d like to think that all this is possible – that we can harness the ‘good’ side of each of the parties, and not let ourselves be railroaded into something that, ultimately, I don’t think that many people, whatever their political persuasion, either want or believe that we really need. The politics of privacy are complex – one of the things that I have found particularly refreshing since I started working in the field is that is can unite people with otherwise very different political perspectives. Let’s hope that we can unite in this way successfully this time.

And let’s hope that the European Commission gets it right this time – especially after their dismal behaviours around ACTA recently.

Apr 142012

I had this conversation the other day at the Political Innovation meet-up on gaming and policy-making.  It seems to me that the big issue with Twitter and the law lies precisely in a question of framing.  And the framing has been done by agencies quite outside the common populace.  So whilst we suffer the consequences of the confusion thus engendered, we really are not to blame for overstepping the multitude of marks.

Twitter, Facebook and all the rest set up their stalls with the idea that the casual throwaway over-the-garden-fence kind of conversation could be replicated online with virtual tools.  Most of us thought, when we ventured onto such terrain, that we would have the freedom to extend our local village globally.  The rules would remain the same – the right to irreverent, racist, sexist and beyond-the-pale remarks would continue to be a par for the course.

What we didn’t realise at all was that our ephemeral occurrences were actually part of Twitter and Facebook’s business models.  There was absolutely no intention for the ephemeral to be treated as such.

We were indeed, long-term, the product not the customer.

These were not – as we had been led to believe – tools the common man and woman would use to exchange peer-to-peer information in the comfort of their privacy settings but, instead, tools the advertisers would use to communicate their latest sales pitches: tools which allowed such advertisers to get to know us so precisely that even our deepest prejudices would be laid bare for them to press the appropriate buttons.

So no wonder we’re getting it all so very wrong – and feeling unhappy as a result.  Twitter and Facebook are actually as resilient and permanent as an interrogation and signed interview sheet at your local police station.

Did you realise that when you got onboard the ship of social networks?  I’m pretty sure most of us really did not.

Apr 142012

This caught my eye just a moment ago.  From the Guardian today (the bold is mine):

Shops that prey on customers’ weaknesses such as strip clubs, bookies and kebab shops are blighting economic recovery on high streets, council chiefs warn on Saturday.

The Local Government Association environment board vice-chairman is then quoted as saying (again, the bold is mine):

“The general public are less likely to shop on high streets with clustering, while businesses may be less willing to set up on roads with clusters of unsavoury takeaways and raunchy sex shows. Town halls and local people are calling on the government to reform the tools available to councils to make local planning decisions that can prevent unwelcome clustering hitting economic growth.”

Presumably franchises such as McDonald’s and Burger King are not included in such judgements, given that they don’t prey on anyone’s weaknesses at all – and certainly not at an industrial level.

Neither, I suppose, would tasteful sex shows upset the LGA – or is that actually the sub-editors at the Guardian itself?


Prejudice permeates us all.  The only defence is to be conscious of how easy falling for its ever-present temptations can become.

And then to act accordingly with an appropriate humility, sense and sensibility.