Thursday, 31 December 2009

Singing without voices

If you know me, you'll know how much I love singing.

It's energising, soothing, and helps me with my breathing. When I have bronchitis, I'll mime; when I'm working, I'll do it sotto voce; when I'm in New York, I'll do it walking down the street (no-one looks); when I'm writing a speech, I'll compose it like a song.

I've got a thing for a capella singing - singing without instruments - but did you know you can also sing without voices?

I went to British Sign Language classes for a couple of years* and one of my favourite parts of the course was the "singing" - we each had to prepare and interpret a song of our choice, in sign language. Huge fun, and also very moving to literally see the songs brought to life in the students' hands.

Here are a couple of examples of songs interpreted in sign language - in these videos it's American Sign Language or ASL. I like the way Stephen Torrence conveys the range of emotions in the Miley Cyrus song, and the bit at the end where he renders the "Oooohs" is really cute.

Video also available on YouTube here.

And as it's New Year's Eve, how about Jonathan Coulton's "The Future Soon":

Video also available on YouTube here.

There are also sign language choirs; I've dabbled in a bit of public performance myself. Have a look around on YouTube, or better still, try and get along to a live concert.

*The best thing I received from the course was the ability to be the BSL interpreter for my sister and brother in law - both Deaf - when my niece was born by emergency caesarean. It was an incredible night and a huge responsibility as I translated for the anaesthetist, the surgeon and my sister. My niece is now 7, hearing, bilingual in English/BSL, and proper feisty. I, on the other hand, now have an enviable sign vocabulary of labour-induced expletives and gynaecological terms.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Twitter: learn more about your follow relationships

Twitter's all about followers.

It's not about buying or spamming them, but about building up relationships and sharing information with them.

It's also public and transparent (unless you choose to protect your updates).

So here's the thing: you can see who your colleagues, competitors and opponents are talking to - or neglecting to talk to! If you're a politician, candidate, journalist, blogger or in business, it's well worth checking Twitter following relationships and making sure you're not missing out.

Here are three tools I use regularly to find out about the networks of my followers, (and their followers and their followers' followers!) plus one recommendation for you to follow:

  • Friend or Follow

  • As the site says, "Who are you following that's not following you back? Who's following you that you're not following back? Find out!"

    There are three tabs: following (people who you follow that don't follow you back), fans (people who follow you, but whom you don't follow) and friends(reciprocal relationships).

    It's easier than trying to figure out the same thing by looking on the main Twitter site. You may spot some followers you'd missed, and with whom you'd like to reciprocate.

    You can even export the lists as .csv files!

  • DoesFollow

  • Dead straightforward. Just enter two Twitter usernames and get a "yup" or "nope" answer.

  • Who Follows Whom?

  • Ever got a new follower and wished you could check which friends you have in common, the way you can on Facebook? Well, you can with Who Follows Whom?, and it even goes one better: you can enter up to five usernames and see whose gangs you're all in.

  • @goodbyebuddy - follow Goodbye, Buddy on Twitter and they'll send you a DM when someone unfollows you. I love the way they don't sugar the pill - my last DM from them was: "Well, well, well. What have we here? @mmhmmshns unfollowed you. They were never your real friend anyway."

    There are other similar services, but for cheekier and funnier unfollow messages, give this one a try.

  • By the way, you don't have to restrict yourself to following people whose networks overlap a lot with your own, or even at all. It's good to be a pioneer sometimes.

    UPDATE: Goodbyebuddy has now changed the way it works. It no longer automatically sends Twitter DMs when someone unfollows you. From the Goodbyebuddy website:

    All you have to do is follow @goodbyebuddy on twitter and visit this page. You might have to wait a day or two until your unfollower stats show up.

    Tuesday, 27 October 2009

    Facebook to "memorialize" deceased users' profiles

    Facebook has introduced the option to modify the accounts of users who have passed away.

    From the Facebook blog:

    "How do you deal with an interaction with someone who is no longer able to log on? When someone leaves us, they don't leave our memories or our social network."

    Friends or family of the deceased can notify Facebook via this form, providing proof of death (eg an obituary or news article) and request to have the account "memorialized."

    "Memorializing the account removes certain sensitive information and sets privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search. The Wall remains so that friends and family can leave posts in remembrance."

    A sensitive move by the social networking site - preserving the account as a memorial, if desired, while removing actions such as friend suggestions.

    Memorial accounts and groups have been around on Facebook for a while - you sometimes see messages like: "Memorial only shares certain information with everyone. If you know Memorial, add them as a friend on Facebook." However, this is the first time Facebook has offered to cater in this way for users who'd like a loved one's profile to be kept "alive."

    Interesting that they're accepting web links as proof of death (although it's not stated whether a copy of the death certificate would do instead).

    More evidence that nowadays, we live and die online.

    Friday, 16 October 2009

    Lib Dem Bloggers' Unconference - have you signed up?

    The first Lib Dem Bloggers' Unconference will be held in Edinburgh: shaped by the participants, centred around one theme (the clue is in the title) and depending on YOU for its success.

    No podiums nor preaching - it's a practical, sociable day.

    MPs Jo Swinson and John Barrett will be there, plus Lib Dem blogfather Jonathan Calder and members of the Lib Dem Voice team (including moi!)

    Note this:

    Venue: Edinburgh - Scottish Lib Dem HQ, 4 Clifton Terrace EH12 5DR. Map here.

    Date: Saturday 21 November 2009

    Time: 10am-4pm

    Facilities: Wireless network will be available, meeting room and (tbc) a smaller breakout room.

    Transport: Haymarket Station opposite, good bus links, parking not so good on the doorstep but is available within a few minutes' walk. Edinburgh airport to the west of the city.

    Do this:

    Register via this thread in the Lib Dem Voice Forum.

    If you're already a blogger, think about leading a session on your area of expertise. If you're interested in starting a blog, bring your questions and ideas.

    If you're a Lib Dem and a blogger (or would like to find out how), then this is for you.

    Details are also on Flock Together.

    Saturday, 5 September 2009

    A capella on the Paris Metro

    Just back from a few days in Paris - I did look out for this lot on the Metro, but didn't see (or hear) them!

    Still, fabulous musical musical highlights did include: an a capella concert on the Left Bank, an 18-piece string ensemble busking in a tunnel at Gare du Nord and an accordionist playing a mashup of "Over the Rainbow" and the Can-Can on a train near Bir-Hakeim.

    Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

    Wednesday, 5 August 2009

    London bus routes as Google Maps mashup

    What Bus?! have produced a handy mashup of all the London bus routes.

    "We aim to make it easier to travel by bus by displaying bus routes near you on an integrated and interactive map. Bus route maps can quickly turn into spider diagrams and become hard to navigate, especially in large cities. We hope that our format is intuitive, helpful for identifying buses to catch if you find yourself in an unfamiliar location "bus-wise" and saves you time getting to wherever it is you want to go!"

    Transport for London bus maps are downloadable as PDFs from their website, but with WhatBus?! you can zoom and drag, or even type in a postcode to look up the nearest routes. Click on an individual line and you can view it in isolation.

    It works well on PC and Mac, but it will really come into its own when it's accessible for mobile devices. Dave from WhatBus tells me that this is the next step, including BlackBerry and Google Android devices.

    An iPhone app is currently under development.

    Tuesday, 4 August 2009

    'Star Wars (John Williams Is The Man)' - an a cappella tribute

    More a capella excellence!

      Thank goodness the lyrics are now revealed! And helpfully captioned so you can sing along.


    Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

    Thursday, 30 July 2009

    Testing out m'new ukulele strings - I feel a Prom coming on

    Inspired by Alex Foster's blog post about his new uke and the upcoming Prom by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, I've restrung my uke and got down to some serious training.

      Ladies and gentlemen, our soloist tonight, etc, etc...

      Anyway: snippets from Stairway to Heaven and (for balance) Highway to Hell.

      Who else is in?


    Download now or listen on posterous
    Stairway to Heaven.mp3 (406 KB)

    Download now or listen on posterous
    Highway to Hell.mp3 (289 KB)

    Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

    Wednesday, 29 July 2009

    Liberty Street (contains font irony)

    Liberty Street, London SW9, is an enviable address with a suitably distinctive street sign.
    Unusually for London, the sign features The Village Font, (a derivative of Albertus™) which was used in the 1960s TV drama The Prisoner.
    Bonus font fact: Liberty Street is just around the corner from the Type Museum in Hackford Street.
    Tantalisingly, the museum is not open to the public at present. As with the Village in the Prisoner series, I'd like to know what one has to do to end up inside...

    Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

    Thursday, 23 July 2009

    Have Microsoft bottled it?

    Tastes a bit like Google juice...

    Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

    ÜberTwitter vs TwitterBerry

    I downloaded ÜberTwitter to my BlackBerry recently - it does so many things that TwitterBerry can't.
    These are the ones I like in particular:

    1. On the ÜberTwitter icon, the umlaut accent marks change from green dots to red stars when new tweets come in, without you having to launch the app
    2. Tweets are appended with your (approx) location on a Google Map - don't worry, it's optional but can be useful for campaigning, events, or just showing off when you're on holiday ;-) When readers click through, they see something like the above screenshot
    3. Photos are embedded in tweets without having to click through to them - although you can, if you want to enlarge or go to the hosting site
    4. You can take photos and post them directly within tweets. No need to set up a separate account anywhere, ÜberTwitter takes care of it all by posting an ÜberPic complete with the number of views
    5. You can look at a user's timeline in isolation
    6. There's a retweet command (TwitterBerry had me doing a lot of copying and pasting)
    7. Reply all - useful for when you want to reply to a tweet containing several usernames without keying them all in
    8. Reply to DMs as DM, not @ (to avoid those awkward moments - what Auntie used to call "showing your petticoat." We've all done it...)
    9. Hashtag search
    10. Trending topic search
    11. Search friends and followers (and your friends' and followers' friends and followers... Huge time-sink alert!)
    12. Look for twitterers near you: "Everyone near you"
    13. It updates differently. Whereas TwitterBerry automatically updates to view the most recently posted tweets, so that you have to scroll down and read the rest in reverse-chron, ÜberTwitter saves your place at the last tweet you viewed, then you can scroll up and read in order.
    14. Shows the bio of a user when you click on one of their tweets.
    15. Favourites: you can mark them and view them, plus those of your friends (encore huge time-sink!)
    16. You can delete your tweets
    17. There is an Unfollow command
    18. You can follow conversation threads
    19. You can select "load more" to view even more tweets from a selected timeline
    20. It shows which twitter client other twitterers used to post their tweets (I take a nerdy interest in such things and know others who admit to the same...)
    Automatic URL shortening is promised for the next release - excellent!
    It would also be nice to have:
    1. Umlaut accent marks turning a different colour when "@" replies or DMs are received, or getting an asterisk like the BlackBerry Facebook icon does
    2. Ability to view sent DMs as well as received ones
    3. Ability to post short sound files in tweets
    Although I really liked TwitterBerry, I've taken to ÜberTwitter straight away - it's helped me find so much more information, and easily too.
    Have you tried it yet?  Which features do you like/use a lot?
    Download ÜberTwitter here.

    Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

    Monday, 20 July 2009

    Chocolate, 70s nostalgia & avuncular humour

    Treets are back!
    I used to buy them with my pocket money.
    They were the 70s forerunner to M&Ms and inspired an uncle to tell the following awful/brilliant joke, long after they'd stopped making them. (I don't think he'd realised).
    Anyhoo, drumroll please...
    "Once I got a peanut stuck in my ear, so I poured in some chocolate and it came out a Treet."
    Best bit was the baffled audience. Now it's my turn to be baffled, as I've found Treets in a stub on Wikipedia:

    Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

    Sunday, 19 July 2009

    BikeTubes: 100 more guided rides for cycle commuting beginners

    Following the success of Bike the Strike in June, the London Cycling Campaign announces:

    LCC will be running 10 BikeTube rides a week for 10 weeks this summer in an attempt to encourage more novice cyclists to ride to work.

    Working in partnership with Transport for London, who will be publicising the led rides through their website, LCC will provide experienced marshals to guide hundreds of new cyclists from the suburbs into central London.

    Details of when and where the rides will go have yet to be finalised, so be sure to check back on the LCC news pages or the BikeTube website soon.

    Saturday, 18 July 2009

    Laura Ingalls: From Little House to White House?

    It's time to go public: I'm fascinated by Little House on the Prairie - both the books and the US TV series. I love the way that stories from the 19th century, published as books in the 1930s, were re-interpreted in a TV series in the 1970s, with all the hairstyles and political context that went with the time.

    It can be watched in a cosy Sunday-evening, motherhood-and-apple-pie way, or more critically, in a "what's wrong with this picture?" way. (I'm thinking in particular of the portrayal of character sterotypes such as people with disabilities, tinkers, outsiders, strangers, the socially inept - there's a strong and stylised strand of "us and them" throughout many of the episodes.)

    I watch it with my family, who like it on all these levels, and it provokes some great discussions.

    Now Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls in the show, has published her autobiography, Prairie Tale.

    Now aged 45, Melissa speaks to Newsweek about her child-stardom, her dorkiness, her alcoholism and whether she has political aspirations:

    Watch the clip here.

    Thursday, 16 July 2009

    Arrested for being tall?

    Dismayed, but not surprised, that police are still arresting photographers for taking photos in public places - without reasonable suspicion that these are connected with terrorism or other illegal acts.

    Last week Kent police arrested 5' 11" Alex Turner who had refused to show his ID after being challenged in Chatham High Street.

    From The Register:

    According to his blog, our over-tall photographer Alex Turner was taking snaps in Chatham High St last Thursday, when he was approached by two unidentified men. They did not identify themselves, but demanded that he show them some ID and warned that if he failed to comply, they would summon police officers to deal with him.

    This they did, and a PCSO and WPC quickly joined the fray. Turner took a photo of the pair, and was promptly arrested. It is unclear from his own account precisely what he was being arrested for. However, he does record that the WPC stated she had felt threatened by him when he took her picture, referring to his size - 5' 11" and about 12 stone - and implying that she found it intimidating.

    Turner claims he was handcuffed, held in a police van for around 20 minutes, and forced to provide ID before they would release him. He was then searched in public by plain clothes officers who failed to provide any ID before they did so.

    Following his release, he further claims that the police confirmed he was at liberty to take photographs, so long as - according to the PCSO - he did not take any photographs of the police.

    See Alex Turner's blog for photos and his copy of the Search record form issued by Kent Police.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Cllr Milton Martin defects to Waltham Forest Lib Dems

    A Labour councillor in Waltham Forest, north-east London, has defected to the Liberal Democrats after he and five colleagues were deselected by their own party last month.

    From the Waltham Forest Guardian:

    Cathall member Cllr Milton Martin made the switch after he was spurned by the party in a major cull, it has been confirmed.

    He said: “It's true that I've crossed the floor and I'm no longer part of the Labour group.

    “It's to do with the deselection but it's a long story and it's also to do with a catalogue of things that have taken place over the last 12 years I've been a councillor.”

    Cllr Martin has not yet given the full reason for the shift but has said a statement will be released in due course.

    Forest member Cllr Faiz Yunis confirmed that he too has been deselected but has said he will not yet comment on reports that he is set to follow Cllr Martin's lead.

    He said: “As far as I've heard, the process has been suspended. There's an inquiry by the regional Labour party."

    Councillor John Macklin, leader of the Lib Dem group, confirmed that the party had been approached by "a number of Labour Councillors... the circumstances surrounding the deselection of sitting Labour councillors have obviously generated a lot of anger amongst many members of their group."

    The Liberal Democrat group now has 21 councillors - their highest total to date - while Labour have 24.

    Neil Woollcott comments over on his blog:
    I am not necessarily convinced that is a true defection. Does the Liberal Democrat values really reflect Councillor Martin's values or is it a point scoring exercise against his old guard?

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Wednesday, 15 July 2009

    Nick Clegg in Twitter-only interview: 4pm today

    From the Independent:

    Twitterers and readers of the Independent are to interview Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on Wednesday, in a question and answer session delivered purely through Twitter. It will take place live on Wednesday July 15th at 4pm (BST).

    So we're looking for Twitterers around the world to join with us to help put questions to Mr Clegg - we are working with Tweetminster, the estimable company that focuses on UK politics and brings news and commentary together with its Twitter service (of which, more soon), and we will launch the first ever (well, so far as we know) Twinterview with a major political figure. The idea is to bring politicians and citizens closer, using the mechanisms of the web to open up new channels between them. So please ask your questions and get your followers and fellow twitterers to do the same.

    To ask Nick Clegg a question simply tweet your question to @IndyPolitics with the hashtag #tweetclegg . Questions will be filtered by @IndyPolitics and answered by Nick through his account @Nick_Clegg. Tweetminster (@tweetminster) will be re-tweeting all the questions and answers too. To follow the Twinterview make sure you’re following all the accounts involved (@IndyPolitics, @Nick_Clegg and @tweetminster).

    You can start sending your questions in now and also tweet them in live during the interview.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Tuesday, 14 July 2009

    Nick Clegg at Reuters: the highlights #askclegg

    Nick Clegg received hundreds of questions yesterday during his "Ask Clegg" event with Reuters. It was an online version of the Lib Dem leader's Town Hall meetings, where members of the public were invited to ask Nick any question they liked.

    These were received in a variety of ways, including via the Reuters website, on Twitter and even from Christian Payne (aka @Documentally) in the back of a London cab:

    Lynne Featherstone was fielding questions from Lib Dem grassroots members, from the HQ at Cowley St, and has written about it on her blog. Jo Swinson was interviewed on her use of social media in politics.

    You can see photos from the day and there's even a caricature by Matt Buck.

    Looking forward to getting the on-demand version of the videos, and when those are ready I'll post them here.

    The verdict overall was that Nick answered a good variety of questions, if in a little too much detail for the genre and sheer number of questions submitted. Many of those who'd put questions via Twitter also tweeted afterwards that they were pleased with the answers, and the hashtag #askclegg was trending in third place yesterday lunchtime.

    An interesting experiment, another way to engage with voters, and worth doing again in the future.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Brian Coleman was wined and dined before awarding contract

    Such hospitality - it's astounding!

    Not only did Asset Co treat Brian Coleman (London Assembly Member and Chair of the London Fire Authority) to three dinners and a Harvey Nicks hamper before the LFA awarded it a £12 million contract - but also Mayor Boris Johnson continues to give him house room at City Hall.

    After his huge taxi bills and refusal to publish his expenses at the same time as the other Assembly Members, Coleman has outstayed London's welcome - but when will Boris do something about it?

    Adam Bienkov at Tory Troll has the story:

    The London Fire Authority have awarded a £12 million contract to a company that lavished hospitality on its Chairman Brian Coleman.

    Asset Co and its chief Executive Mr. John Shannon took Brian Coleman to dinner on three separate occasions.

    On a fourth occasion, Brian Coleman accepted a Harvey and Nichols hamper from Mr Shannon at an estimated value of £350.

    The relationship between Coleman and Mr Shannon only came to light because of a Freedom of Information request placed by this blog earlier this year.

    Unlike the London Assembly, the Gifts and Hospitality registers for members of LFEPA are not available online.

    The Asset Co contract is for a force of reserve firefighters, to be used in the case of industrial action and major incidents.

    Members of the authority say that the contract was awarded on a purely competitive basis, and that Asset Co were agreed upon on a cross-party basis.

    However, London's Fire Brigade union are not convinced.

    A LFBU spokesperson said yesterday:

    "AssetCo’s wining and dining tactics might appear to have paid dividends for them, but I have no doubt that many of the volunteers, being ex-firefighters themselves, will refuse to participate when they realise how they will be used."

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Open sewer cover is texting teen's downfall‏

    Every now and again you come across a blog post that has everything. Lucky finds - I love 'em. No such happy happenstance for Alexa Longueira, 15, who fell down an open sewer cover in New York while texting on her mobile phone. Workers had removed the cover before going back to their truck to get cones to put around the hole.

    From POPFi:

    The sewer is a horrifying/fascinating place. On one hand, everything we flush down the toilet ends up there, which makes the sewer horrible and gross. On the other hand, everything anyone else flushes down the toilet ends up there, which makes it a fascinating haven for alligators, giant pythons, and ninja turtles. Personally, I would never want to explore the sewer, but Alexa Longueira got the chance to when she fell down an open manhole in New York this weekend while tapping out a text message on her phone.

    Now, maybe we should cut Alexa some slack because she was preparing for the world texting championships, but I kind of doubt it. Odds are she was like everyone else who texts while walking, completely wrapped up in the message she was typing out with her thumbs. It’s so easy to take things for granted (like the fact that there won’t be a giant gaping hole in front of you) while texting that it’s not a surprise she fell through the sewer grate.

    I hadn't even realised there was a world texting championship (Might just limber up me thumbs in time for next year...)

    Better still, I hadn't realised that New York has its own manhole cover abbreviation language.

    UK readers be warned, however: studying sewer drain covers too closely can get you into deep, er... water...

    Monday, 13 July 2009

    Nick live online now in virtual Town Hall Meeting #askclegg

    Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg is taking questions live now at an online social media event at Reuters.

    Watch here, but most importantly, put your questions to him!

    You can do this at the Reuters website, or via Twitter - remember to include the hashtag #askclegg in your tweets so that they will be picked up and passed on.

    I'm at Lib Dem HQ with Lynne Featherstone MP, chair of the Liberal Democrat Technology Board, and we'll be passing on questions from grassroots activists gathered here.

    You can also ask questions in the comments thread below - until 2pm today.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Friday, 10 July 2009

    UPDATED: Facebook disables Tom Brake's account

    Tom Brake has now managed to get in contact with Facebook who have advised him that his account was automatically suspended when their system detected an unusually large amount of traffic to and from his account.

    Clearly, a social network originally set up for networking amongst university peers needs to evolve to cope with new types of users and their networks, balancing communications amongst large groups with safeguards against spam.

    Facebook say they are working hard to get Tom's account back up.

    Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, has had his Facebook account disabled just hours after he used it to organise a large public demonstration in his constituency.

    Tom, who last year became one of the first MPs in Britain to offer his constituents regular online advice surgeries, is widely noted in the media for his use of the internet to engage with the public.

    Hundreds of people gathered last night in Wallington town centre to protest against the axing of the N213 night bus service. They were mobilised largely through the Save the N213 Facebook group which had grown to over 2,000 members - Tom Brake was one of the administrators.

    This morning he found that his account had been disabled and that he had been removed as admin from several groups, including "Save the N213."

    Tom said:

    “Much of my casework now comes through Facebook – the bizarre and heavy-handed decision to disable my account only hours after a protest organised through the social-networking site, severely disadvantages my constituents who rely on the net to contact me.”

    “I’ve sought to use Facebook to keep local people informed about my work on their behalf, and I’ve seen an overwhelming response to this way of engaging with people.”

    “I’m surprised and disappointed that in this high-technology era Facebook believes it’s appropriate to delete the accounts of elected representatives without warning, who are seeking to engage with the public.”

    “The N213 protest illustrates the power of social networking sites to mobilise people quickly and effectively as part of a campaign – the event was a huge success, but Facebook’s decision to withdraw my account is a setback to the campaign, and to my constituents.”

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Thursday, 9 July 2009

    Join Nick Clegg online for The Great Debate

    News from Nick Clegg of an exciting online event next Monday:

    On Monday we can change the way we do politics. Every week I travel around the country to meet people in their local town halls and listen to their views. Anyone can come along and ask me (just about) anything and in return I get a pretty good picture of how people across the UK feel about politics and how they are being affected by the recession.

    Next week I am going to do another of my public Q&A meetings, but this time it is going to be live and online so that you can ask me your questions from home, your work or wherever you happen to be online. There will be no script and no special invitations - just get in touch and ask a question on subjects that concern you.

    The one thing that keeps coming up again and again is the state of our politics and how we can clean it up. Many people say they would like to see action taken against MPs who seriously abuse the system. But currently voters have no power to sack those MPs who have been found guilty of serious wrong-doing. I want to change this and make politicians more accountable and politics more transparent. I am keen to hear your ideas.

    This has never been done before so, on Monday 13th July post your questions and let’s discuss how we can clean up politics and fix the British economy.

    Nick Clegg

    For full details, see the Reuters website.

    At the same time, Lynne Featherstone MP (chair of the Lib Dem Technology Board) will be holding a discussion with grassroots activists at Lib Dem HQ, and feeding their questions back to Nick. I'll be there throughout, covering the event for Lib Dem Voice.

    Jo Swinson MP (who regularly offers the finest twitter coverage of Prime Minister's Questions, and has campaigned for coverage of Parliament to be available on YouTube) will be taking part over at Reuters, discussing her use of social media in her work.

    Join us online on Monday 13 July at 1pm!

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Tuesday, 7 July 2009

    Brian Coleman in "mad, bad and sad" expenses smokescreen

    London Assembly Member Brian Coleman is refusing to publish details of his expenses, despite the Mayor, his advisors and the other 24 members of the Assembly agreeing to do so voluntarily.

    Apparently a graduate of the Anthony Steen Charm School for Politicians, Coleman has blamed bloggers for being interested in how taxpayers' money is spent:

    "I won't do it voluntarily. It's none of the public's business. They have coped well without knowing this kind of detail for more than 75 years. They are not entitled to drool over our personal lives. I'm not going to help the mad, bad and the sad, the bloggers on the internet. I'm not pandering to mob rule. It undermines democracy to suggest that all MPs, all politicians are the spawn of Beelzebub.

    “Politicians with lower expenses tend to be the politicians who do least work. Those with higher expenses are the ones who do most work.” [London Evening Standard]

    Hard to see how "the most work" extends to running up a £378 taxi bill, mostly as a result of asking a cab to wait from him with the meter running while he attended a banquet.

    Even Mayor Boris Johnson is said to be "disappointed" at Coleman's lack of transparency.

    See Adam Bienkov's analysis at Tory Troll on why Brian Coleman is an expensive liability for Boris.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Saturday, 4 July 2009

    The Ashdown method: MP in 14 steps

    How do you become an MP?

    MP also stands for Military Precision, so it's no surprise that Paddy Ashdown's campaign to become MP for Yeovil was long on discipline and short on creature comforts.

    The Guardian Politics Blog reviews Ashdown's autobiography A Fortunate Life, or at least chapter 10 of it:

    If you want to become MP you should get a safe seat. But if that doesn't happen, and your only option is to campaign in a constituency where your party doesn't seem to have much chance of winning, then you should definitely take some inspiration from the remarkable story in chapter 10 of Paddy Ashdown's autobiography, A Fortunate Life.

    Ashdown was enjoying a successful career as a diplomat (and spy) when, in the mid-1970s, he was afflicted by the desire to become an MP. Nothing particularly unusual about that. But Ashdown wanted to be a Liberal MP, and he wanted to represent Yeovil, a seat where the Liberals were third in the October 1974 election, more than 7,000 votes behind the Tories, who had held the constituency for most of the 20th century. Any normal aspiring MP would have given it a wide berth. But Ashdown gave up his Geneva-based job, moved to Yeovil in 1976 and set to work. He was eventually elected to the Commons in 1983. Chapter 10, which describes how he got there, is the longest chapter in his book and the best description of a successful grassroots campaign I've read in any British political biography.

    How did he do it? See here for the Guardian's précis (including the roles of technology, rhubarb wine and "Clarissa"); you can also order the book here.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Thursday, 2 July 2009

    Bercow: deputy speakers should be elected

    John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, today told the House that his new deputy speakers should be elected by MPs.

    From the BBC:

    In a statement, he told MPs he wanted two deputy speakers from the government side and one from the opposition side.

    He is believed to be concerned that following his own election by secret ballot last month the three deputies should also be elected.

    Mr Bercow indicated he had consulted party whips, who normally appoint the deputy speakers, about the plan.

    It is thought that Mr Bercow is looking to implement the changes - or to start the process of change - after the summer recess.

    Electing the deputy speakers could raise a question of political balance - traditionally the Speaker and his three deputies have been chosen to reflect the strength of the various parties in the Commons.

    The three current deputy speakers are Conservative MPs Sir Alan Haselhurst and Sir Michael Lord, who were both among the MPs defeated by Mr Bercow in the contest to be Speaker, and Labour's Sylvia Heal, who did not stand."

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Monday, 29 June 2009

    Bexley Conservatives throw out Ian Clement

    Ian Clement may have resigned last week as Boris Johnson's deputy mayor, but his troubles are far from over.

    From the Bexleyheath and Crayford Conservatives' website:

    At a meeting held on 25th June of the Bexleyheath and Crayford Conservative Association Executive Council, a unanimous decision was taken to immediately suspend the Association Membership of Ian Clement in light of recent reports in the press about his conduct.

    The process of formally terminating his membership has begun. By the terms of our constitution, this will require a special meeting of the Executive Council, whereby fourteen days notice must be given to Mr Clement.

    Last week, the London Assembly's Business Management Committee heard that Boris Johnson had been signing off Ian Clement's expenses since April.

    Mike Tuffrey, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly said,

    Serious questions remain about why Boris Johnson personally approved these claims when staff knew there was a history of irregularities. The Mayor now needs to come and explain himself to the Assembly.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Inexperienced officers in protest frontline - never again, say MPs

    An inquiry by MPs into the 1 April G20 protests has concluded that untrained police officers must never again be placed in the frontline of public protest.

    From the Guardian:

    The conclusion from the Commons home affairs select committee inquiry into the G20 protests of April 1 follows admissions from senior Metropolitan police officers that some inexperienced officers, who were clearly quite scared, used "inappropriate force".

    The report by the cross-party group of MPs says they "cannot condone the use of untrained, inexperienced officers on the frontline of a public protest under any circumstances".

    The inquiry also calls for the police to seriously consider whether they can continue with the use of tactics such as kettling – containing protesters behind cordons for a sustained period of time – and the controlled use of force against those who appear hostile without first holding a public debate over the future of policing public protests.

    The report includes sections on Relations with the Media, Communications between Protesters and Police, Use of Close Containment, The Use of Force and The Use of Tasers. It does not comment on the death of Ian Tomlinson, instead summarising the policing of the G20 protests as a "remarkably successful operation" and making only oblique reference to "a few high-profile incidents."

    The report also says that, given the use of untrained and inexperienced officers "in such a highly combustible atmosphere", the operation's success was down to luck.

    You can read the full report here.

    Also see Libby Purves in the Times on how policing civilians is a subtle and unresearched science.

    As the Committee Chairman Keith Vaz said,

    The basic principle that the police must remember is that protestors are not criminals - the police's doctrine must remain focused on allowing protest to happen peacefully.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Monday, 22 June 2009

    Ian Clement quits as deputy mayor of London

    Ian Clement, the deputy mayor of London, resigned today following the misuse of his corporate credit card.

    Ian Clement is the third of Boris Johnson's deputy mayors to resign or be pushed since Johnson came to office in May 2008.

    From the Guardian:

    The mayor's office announced that Clement, the deputy mayor for government and external relations, resigned earlier today following the discovery of further "discrepancies" less than a week after published receipts detailed how Clement had used the card for personal items over a matter of months.

    The exact nature of the "discrepancies" have not been made public. But it emerged separately that Clement claimed money back for a business dinner on 5 November 2008 with the Tory leader of Barnet council, Mike Freer, which appears not to have taken place.

    Freer's office issued a brief statement today to confirm that on the day in question he was at a funeral in Inverness.

    Clement's departure brings to three the number of deputy mayors who have resigned or been forced to quit since Johnson came to office in May 2008, alongside two other mayoral appointments.

    Today's revelations are particularly embarrassing since Johnson came to office on a promise to clean up the mayoral regime, cut waste and deliver value for taxpayers' money.

    When Boris Johnson proclaimed, "The more deputy mayors the merrier" at his first Mayor's Question Time, was he talking just in terms of sheer turnover?

    "I may have sprayed a few titles around," he said. Did he expect to need a few spares?

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Sunday, 21 June 2009

    Arrested for requesting a policeman's badge number

    From the Guardian today, shocking footage of two women being arrested at Kingsnorth climate camp in Kent last year.

    The women had asked police officers who were not displaying their badge numbers, to identify themselves. They were arrested for "obstructing a police officer."

    The video, made by police surveillance officers, shows an officer holding one woman by the neck and the other woman being laid face down on the ground before having her legs bound.

    Emily Apple and Val Swain were held in custody for four days but all charges against the women were later dropped.

    They have complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and investigators will review the video as evidence.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Friday, 19 June 2009

    Which party's winning on the web?

    PR Week has a piece comparing the online strategies of the UK's three main political parties. With a nod or two towards Obama's use of social media, the article presents a report card on each party, compiled by their panel of experts.

    Each party is examined on its approach, key players, leader and the involvement of MPs and grassroots.

    The Conservatives are found to have "attracted the most plaudits so far," while Labour's "command and control mentality" is said to be hampering their efforts.

    The verdict on the Liberal Democrats is that our "overall understanding of social media is impressive" but that grassroots efforts could be strengthened by better design/integration and more effective public engagement. Special mentions are given to Steve Webb and Lynne Featherstone, while it's thought that more can be made of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

    Although funding remains a critical issue, [Mark] Pack must be replaced. The decision to split his job into three is structurally sound but may result in less intellectual vision.

    The party also has to pay more attention to the basics of functionality and design, and it needs to integrate its tools better. Meanwhile, a focus on local activism should not obscure a continuing requirement to engage with the general public better.

    Simply put, the Lib Dems need to be more tenacious and adventurous online.

    Is this a fair picture? Are we outward-looking enough with our social media efforts? What should our vision for the future be?

    You can read the full PR Week article here.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Friday, 12 June 2009

    How to opt out of the mobile phone directory

    A new directory enquiries service is being launched on 18 June. The 118 800 database has millions of private mobile phone numbers, including those bought from various companies' marketing departments.

    From the service's FAQ page:
    How did you get the mobile numbers?

    Our mobile phone directory is made up from various sources. Generally it comes from companies who collect mobile telephone numbers from customers in the course of doing business and have been given permission by the customers to share those numbers.

    Your mobile phone number may be on the database without you realising it, and children's numbers may also be held, particularly if a parent is managing the account for them.

    If you don't want to be contacted via the service, it's up to you to opt out. This will take up to four weeks to take effect.

    There are three ways to opt out:

    • Visit the 118 800 website

    • Text the letter E to 118800 from your mobile phone

    • Call 0800 138 6263 (although, not surprisingly, this number is currently experiencing high volumes of calls).

    Read more on the privacy issues at the Register.

    Wednesday, 10 June 2009

    London commuting during the tube strike

    I love this interactive map from the BBC, to show how London commuters travelled during today's tube strike.

    You can add your coloured "pin" to the map, to show the mode of transport you used. At the moment "walking, cycling or scooter" are lumped together, as are various types of public transport.

    It would be much more useful to show these separately - sure: walking and cycling are both foot-powered, but are very different ways to travel!

    The facility to upload photos is a nice touch.

    This is one of the first times the BBC have done a map in this way - they'd welcome your feedback here.

    UPDATE 11th June:

    Silvia from BBC Have your Say saw my blog post and tweeted to say thanks. Which was nice.

    Tuesday, 9 June 2009

    Londoners urged to "Bike the strike"

    From the London Cycling Campaign:
    "Tube strike? Don’t stress, cycle," say the London Cycling Campaign.
    LCC is urging commuters to beat the stress of the possible tube strike by cycling to work next week.

    Cyclists are being encouraged to band together on Wednesday and Thursday to form 'BikeTubes', groups of like-minded commuters cycling from tube stations to central London.

    "Biketube" routes have been chosen for an enjoyable, low-traffic ride, so it's a great way to get started.

    See the Biketubes page for route details.

    Thursday, 28 May 2009

    Voters sceptical about Cameron's talk of reform

    In his speech at the Open University this week, salesman Cameron called for "Progressive goals through Conservative means" as he merely rearranged the contents of his political shop window.

    Analysis by PoliticsHome shows that voters aren't buying David Cameron's rhetoric about "massive, sweeping, radical distribution of power."

    "Do you think that if David Cameron became Prime Minister, he would carry through such a radical redistribution of power, or would he be more cautious than this?"

    This was the question put to non-aligned voters as well as supporters of the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour.

    "Overall, a strong seventy per cent majority felt that Cameron’s actions in office would be more cautious than his recent speech suggests.

    "Under a quarter (twenty three per cent) reckoned that he would carry through with such a radical redistribution of power.

    "The only group who felt that Cameron would live up to his words on gaining power were Conservative supporters, and even these only by the slender margin of fifty four to forty four.

    "Non-aligned voters - often looked to for underlying attitudes free of partisan bias - were strongly sceptical. Seventy two per cent felt that Cameron would not be so radical as Prime Minister.

    "Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters showed an even stronger conviction that Cameron would show greater caution than his speech suggests. Almost ninety per cent of these groups were sceptical about Cameron’s calls for reform."

    Today Nick Clegg has announced detailed plans to cancel all leave and change politics for good.

    Join the campaign at

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Monday, 25 May 2009

    Mike Gapes snubs anti-knife crime petition

    Mike Gapes, Labour MP for Ilford South, recently refused to sign a petition organised by the Miles Not Knives Campaign.

    Campaign organiser Danny O'Brien who was running a stall in Ilford town centre said,

    "During the afternoon I saw Mr Gapes walking past my stall and I asked if he would back our knife campaign by signing the petition. But he told me "No" as he never signs petitions and just carried on walking not even showing any interest in the campaign.

    "I was very suprised that somebody who works for my town could just walk past. I will admit that I did shout out to him that I bet he was quick to sign for his expenses."

    You can read the full story at Knife Crime Blog.

    Seems like a strange policy for an MP -

    Does this mean that Gapes didn't sign the petition that he presented, for King George Hospital?

    Friday, 22 May 2009

    Redbridge Conservatives have lost their grip

    Conservative Councillor Keith Prince last night lost the vote to become Leader of Redbridge Council, throwing the Tory group into disarray.

    Three Conservative councillors resigned from their group, reducing the total number of official Conservative councillors to 31 out of 63. This means that the Conservatives no longer control Redbridge Council.

    From the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian:

    BITTER infighting among Redbridge's Conservative group has spilled over into a full-blown political crisis, effectively leaving no-one in charge of the council.

    At a dramatic meeting at Ilford Town Hall (Thursday), Tory leader Cllr Keith Prince lost a vote to become the new council leader, minutes after his Conservative colleague Cllr Alan Weinberg left the post.

    Cllr Prince lost the election by just two votes after fellow Conservative councillors Mark Aaron and Geoffrey Hinds defected from the party to become independents, while a third, absent Cllr Robert Whitehall, resigned.

    Two more Tories, Cllr Brian Waite and Cllr Glenn Corfield, did not show up to the vote because they were "ill".

    In the final tally, 28 councillors voted for Cllr Prince and 30 against.

    Liberal Democrat group leader Hugh Cleaver said,

    "Undoubtedly this affects the Conservative group's ability to govern."

    Cllr Robin Turbefield, acting as Conservative Party spokesman, had some especially revealing comments on last night's events:

    "We had a very democratic election within our group but it didn't go the way everyone wanted, and there are some people who have been disaffected by the change of leadership.

    "It's very upsetting for us. It makes politicians look bad. We've already got the MPs expenses and now this. It looks like we can't organise our own place."

    Thank you, Councillor Turbefield, for summing it up so well.

    Lynne Featherstone asks: who should be the next Speaker?

    Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, is asking readers of her blog for their views on who the next Commons Speaker should be:

    I just don't want it to be the traditional kind of same old same old that went before. If there was ever an opportunity for change and reform - this is the start of it.

    Read more at Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Ordinary voters have lost touch with Conservative MPs

    Two startled Conservative MPs have been speaking out against the reporting of MPs' expenses:

    Conservative MP Anthony Steen has expressed his dismay at the public's interest in his lavish expense claims for his country house.

    The MP for Totnes in Devon has claimed £87,000 over four years for his second home. ("Some people say it looks like Balmoral," he offered in his defence.)

    On yesterday's World at One programme on Radio Four he was indignant:

    Do you know what it's about? Jealousy. I've got a very very large house.

    In a breathtaking display of narcissism, he kept on digging:

    We have a wretched Government here which has completely mucked up the system and caused resignations of me and many others. It was this Government that inroduced the Freedom of Information Act and it's this Government that has insisted for the things which has actually caught me on the wrong foot - which, if I'd been cleverer, it wouldn't have done... What right does the public have to interfere with my private life?

    Enjoy the audio clip from the BBC.

    This morning's show on Radio Five Live heard Conservative MP Nadine Dorries say that cornered MPs are "terrified" since the Telegraph exposed details of their expense claims, in an act of "journalistic fascism."

    Today in her blog, Dorries calls the media interest in MPs' expenses "McCarthyite witch hunts."

    Just brilliant. Political satirists: you are out of a job, when Steen and Dorries do it so much better.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Tuesday, 19 May 2009

    Speaker Michael Martin to resign

    Sky News reports that Commons Speaker Michael Martin will resign this afternoon, over the MPs' expenses scandal.

    Martin is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons at 2:30pm today.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Monday, 18 May 2009

    Three "saintly" Liberal Democrat MPs

    The Telegraph has canonised three Liberal Democrat MPs (for what that's worth) because they have not made claims for second homes:

    Sarah Teather's balance sheet has a column of zeroes, as does fellow London MP Lynne Featherstone's, here.

    David Howarth, whose Cambridge constituency is a significant commuting distance from London, is also listed.

    It's worth noting that none of the Liberal Democrat MPs from London constituencies claim an allowance for a second home, but it's still good to see the Telegraph including Lib Dems in their praise.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Sunday, 17 May 2009

    European Parliament uses social networks to promote elections

    The Eurovision Song Contest was last night but, Eurovoting and Eurovisual fans, you can still get your entertainment fix. (You'll have to bring your own music though):

    From The Register:

    The European Parliament is treading bravely into the world of social networking in order to get the kids involved in the exciting world of European politics.

    Bureaucrats have created profiles on popular social sites including Facebook, MySpace and photo sharing site Flickr. There will also be ad-word campaigns and banner ads on MySpace.

    Elections run from 4 to 7 June, and the primary purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness of those dates as well as improving young people's understanding of the European Parliament and the work of MEPs.

    A YouTube channel has also been created.

    The YouTube channel includes a short series of videos called "At the polling station" - these major on the speed and ease of voting, rather than the purpose or politics of the European Parliament. Short and almost non-verbal, they seem to be aiming for viral appeal. The "screaming" one is a bit much, though.

    On the other hand, anything featuring both pedals and polling stations gets my vote:

    For parties and policies, you'll need to look elsewhere. The European Parliament's 2009 elections page has links to the different political groups (including ALDE - Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe).

    The same page features an ongoing poll: "So far what is your favourite EP online tool?" No doubt as robust as any online poll of this type (D'Hondt, anyone?), Europarl's MySpace and Flickr pages are currently trailing behind the 2009 elections page itself (though this could be self-fulfilling):
    The European Parliament's Twitter feed is not being promoted so far and it's not clear whether this is an official account. At the time of writing, it only has 8 followers and 15 updates.

    You can, however, follow the MEPs who are on Twitter, via Europatweets. It's like the UK's Tweetminster, but with added je ne sais quoi.

    All entertaining stuff, but in the last European elections just 18% of people aged between 18-25 voted. Will the use of social networks have a significant effect on voter turnout, especially among young people?

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Thursday, 14 May 2009

    Big Brother star to stand for Lib Dems in Totteridge

    There are two by-elections in the London Borough of Barnet on June 4th, in Totteridge and Edgware wards. The Liberal Democrat candidate for Totteridge is former Big Brother contestant Jonty Stern.

    From the Barnet and Potters Bar Times:

    SELF-CONFESSED teddy bear and hand-puppet obsessive Jonty Stern, from 2007’s Big Brother, has been chosen as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Totteridge in the upcoming by-elections.

    Jonty, 38, is a passionate vegetarian who shares his flat with his collection of 50 stuffed toys.

    He is also a keen history and Dr Who fan, speaks seven languages, and collects old coins and money.

    But he claims few of the hobbies and interests for which he is known will feature in his election hustings.

    Instead he will focus on road safety, sheltered housing warden services and connecting to young people.

    "The main thing that drew me into this was keeping Barnet's roads as safe as possible," he said.

    "I was very glad when I found out the Lib Dems shared my view. This borough is one of the worst when it comes to road accidents and deaths and the policy on road bumps needs revising."

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Tuesday, 12 May 2009

    UK's electronic police state ranks world's 5th

    The UK (England and Wales) has been ranked the world's 5th electronic police state, by US internet privacy firm Cryptohippie.

    Their report, "The Electronic Police State" lists 52 states, with England and Wales only out-snooped by China, North Korea, Belarus and Russia:

    "The usual image of a “police state” includes secret police dragging people out of their homes at night, with scenes out of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s
    USSR. The problem with these images is that they are horribly outdated.
    That’s how things worked during your grandfather’s war – that is not how
    things work now.

    An electronic police state is quiet, even unseen. All of its legal actions are supported by abundant evidence. It looks pristine.

    An electronic police state is characterized by this:

    State use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.

    The two crucial facts about the information gathered under an electronic
    police state are these:

    1. It is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial.

    2. It is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized for use in prosecutions.

    In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email you send, every Internet site you surf, every post you make, every check you write, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping… are all criminal evidence, and they are held in searchable databases, for a long,long time. Whoever holds this evidence can make you look very, very bad whenever they care enough to do so. You can be prosecuted whenever they feel like it – the evidence is already in their database."

    For the full report, see here.

    Hat-tip: Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

    Sunday, 3 May 2009

    When swine flu met Twitter. Or, the long (curly) tail.

    It's been an interesting week for anyone with a message to spread. For me, it's summed up by this headline:

    "Swine Flu Name Debated by Industry Groups"

    It caught my eye (not only for all the shouty caps - that's just the way Americans present their headlines) but because Industry Groups, sorry, industry groups, were even debating the name at all. Hang on, is it even up to them?

    From US site Marketing Daily:

    "Swine flu may not yet be a pandemic, but can the same be said of marketer and media reaction to it?

    "Indeed, the avalanche of news stories and Web chatter referencing "swine flu" has rankled the image-conscious National Pork Board. Several days after assuring consumers that they could not contract "swine influenza" from eating pork, the industry group... declared that the outbreak should now be called by its scientific name, "Flu H1N1." "

    Other organisations have tried to defend the reputation of pigs by naming the virus "North American Flu" and "Mexican Flu". The European Commission, with a cosmopolitan shrug, calls it "novel flu virus."

    Naturally, individuals have their own ideas for naming and discussing the virus-

    Neilsen wire found on 28 April that "swine flu" was referenced in nearly 2% of all tweets. The following day it reported that nearly 6% of "blogs, micro-blogs such as Twitter, web news and forums" were related to "swine flu."

    If you want your info neatly on a plate, it won't happen on Twitter. Twitter, if you like, offers a virtual running buffet of news, opinions and randomalia. There's misinformation and gallows humour mixed among the rational reassurance and useful advice.

    For example, "H1N1" may be the official name for the virus, but "parmageddon" will outlast it. (Closely followed by aporkalypse, snoutbreak and armagammon)

    Yes, reader, the sifting's up to you. The implication for news consumers is that it's not enough to go to one or two "newspapers of record" to get the definitive line. In fact, those very outlets are now being accused of making matters worse, by sensationalising or scaremongering. And industry groups might be caught on the back foot when it comes to defining a problem or solution.

    With some initiative and know-how, you can map and track anything from swine flu to #uksnow. Why not your own local issues? You will know them just as well as anyone else, if not even better.

    The implication for anyone with a political message is that you should add your voice to all the others - don't complain that the media are biased. You are one of those media.

    It's a big, noisy fray. You will and should be challenged. But never underestimate the power of the long (curly) tail.

    "People fix society, if you let them"

    Please read this. Weep at its simplicity and common sense. Then join me in carrying its writer Becky Hogge aloft down Whitehall.

    From the New Statesman:

    You cannot fix society with computers. People fix society, if you let them. That means freeing nurses, teachers, social workers – and their clients – from the relentless tyranny of Whitehall’s cravings for ever more information. A benevolent state must have a human face, not an unblinking screen. Technology can help, but only if it is despatched by those at the front line. It is a perverse truth that in an age where the bottom-up, decentralised, so-called “network of ends” that is the internet has demonstrated its primacy, the state continues to deploy digital technology from the top down.

    The Liberal Democrats, in setting up their Commission on Privacy and in speaking out about police action during the recent G20 protests, have become the go-to party for action on the continued erosion of civil liberties of which the database state is one part. The Tories, with their promise to scrap the ID card and the controversial children’s database, ContactPoint, will attract many younger voters in the metropolitan liberal belts come the next general election. Labour must shed its fear that the personal data issue is toxic, must wrest control of the debate from Whitehall and must act now. Social justice must not be cast aside in our flight from the tyranny of the machine state.

    You can read the whole article here.

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Labour peer claims £100,000 for unoccupied flat

    Labour peer Baroness Uddin has named a flat in Maidstone, Kent as her main residence and claimed around £100,000 in Parliamentary expenses for it. This is despite the flat being empty and Baroness Uddin living in Wapping, East London - just four miles from the House of Lords.

    From the Sunday Times:

    Residents from the five other flats in the same block as Uddin’s property all say they have never seen her there. They could see through the windows that the bedrooms were unfurnished.

    Yvonne Adams, who has lived next to the flat for three years, said: “I can’t emphasise enough how no one has lived there. They just haven’t. I know that for a fact.”

    Adams said she went on to her rear balcony every day and had never seen anyone on the balcony next door. Until recently, there were piles of leaves on the balcony and sheets over the bedroom windows had fallen down. “There has never been a stick of furniture in there,” she said.

    Last weekend, hours after The Sunday Times had challenged Uddin about her “main residence”, the baroness’s BMW 4x4 car was spotted at the Maidstone flat and members of her family arrived.

    A plumber who went into the flat to help the family with a broken boiler said: “It looked like they were just moving in. They told me they were just moving in.” By Sunday night, curtains covered the windows, a light was on in the hall and a mat was placed outside the front door.

    ...Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat frontbencher, said: “An empty property can’t be a peer’s main residence. The Lords authorities must check the facts of this case and investigate.”

    Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

    Tuesday, 28 April 2009

    Bump the Prime Minister's Resignation Petition

    Hat tip to Justin McKeating of Chicken Yoghurt fame - he points out that the petition on the Downing Street website for the Prime Minister to resign is now in the top five most popular, so it's now reached the front page of the site.

    The top five list is prefaced with the words:

    "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to…"

    "Resign" says it all in just one word, but gosh, how awkward for Gordon if that word made it to the top slot and neatly completed the sentence? (Currently 4619 votes off the top slot...)

    UPDATE: Now trailing by 4451...

    Successful wind farm to be nuked?

    A successful wind farm close to the Lake District national park is one of the sites recently approved by the Government for a new generation of nuclear power plants.
    From the Guardian:

    One of the oldest and most efficient wind farms in Britain is to be dismantled and replaced by a nuclear power station under plans drawn up by the German-owned power group RWE.

    The site at Kirksanton in Cumbria - home to the Haverigg turbines - has just been approved by the government for potential atomic newbuild in a move that has infuriated the wind power industry.

    Colin Palmer, founder of the Windcluster company, which owns part of the Haverigg wind farm, said he was horrified that such a plan could be considered at a time when Britain risks missing its green energy targets and after reassurance from ministers that nuclear and renewables were not incompatible.

    In a masterful understatement which belies the local anger and bewilderment at the lack of early consultation, Matthew Clayton of Triodos Renewables, the company which owns three turbines on the site said:

    Government afraid of technology offers to protect the public

    The Government has launched a consultation on their plans to keep a record of all our "communications data" - that is, the time and recipient of each email, text message or phone call we make, the websites we visit and the place from which we do this.

    Although the Government has climbed down from its plans to establish a central database of all communications data, it proposes to make communications service providers hold it instead, for a whole year. Then "public authorities" and "investigators" would be given access to it for their purposes.

    The title of the consultation document itself is an irony-free piece of doublethink: "Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment." In this the author has tried to establish a false common enemy. It implies that it's us and the Government against Technology, against Change itself. "We'll protect you," can then run the argument.

    For all the mentions of balance in the document (7 of them, in fact) it's hard to present a balanced choice once the frame has been set.

    No wonder they want to tip the balance: the Government is worried that the pace of technological change is running away from them faster than their salami-slicing tactics of hoarding up every last piece of data about us can keep up. Methods of communication are improving and increasing so mass surveillance is getting cumbersome and expensive.

    Note the use of words like "degrade" in the foreword, which make date stamps on our text messages sound like some kind of weapons-grade data plutonium in the war against the bogeyman: