Pirate Party UK – 5 years old today

About four years ago I blogged about my first year as a member of the Pirate Party. Two years ago I blogged about the three year anniversary of the founding of the Pirate Party.

As I seem to be in the habit of blogging odd-numbered anniversaries, it is that time again!

Today the Pirate Party UK is 5 years old.

PPUK's official registration date - pefonline
PPUK’s official registration date – pefonline

Let me first deal with predictions. I predicted that the 2013 or 2014 conference would be huge. Well I’m wrong so far on that. The 2013 conference was still an intimate affair. Noticeably at this equivalent point in time the 2012 conference had already been scheduled, unlike the 2014 one which is still to be arranged. I suspect at this point the 2014 conference isn’t going to be huge. But there are a few reasons for thinking it might be the biggest so far.

I also anticipated a period of external quiet as we focused on building internal structures and rapid growth. We haven’t managed this. We have had problems attracting volunteers, with further problems in organising and utilising them. It is very much worth noting however that in the past two-and-a-bit months we had attracted the most volunteers ever. The bulk of these came from high profile campaigning during the EU2014 elections. We have had a dedicated person to deal with incoming volunteer requests, finding out where volunteers were best used and then passing them to the corresponding next points of contact. I worry that the second step of utilising the volunteers and turning them into regular active members of the team is still not the efficient process we need it to be.

From a personal perspective, I’m still a Governor. One of only three of the original group elected. I’m currently, reluctantly, heading up the social media team. Reluctantly because I’d like to pass this on to someone else to help expand the pool of people doing essential work. I am also, in the vaguest and weakest possible sense assisting with leading the Press team, which has been a bit of a mess for some time. If I make a list of priorities at some point in this blog post, getting the Press team sorted out with a new pro-active and efficient Press Leader will appear very highly upon it.

What has happened (in no particular order) in the past 2 years…

Snowden

The Snowden revelations have been a huge wake up call. For those who thought online civil liberties were irrelevant and/or not at risk, the leaks about NSA and GCHQ activities have blown this issue wide open.

It is in the digital online space that we have now seen the most significant attack on our privacy and rights has taken place. No longer can anyone argue that digital online rights are a second class concern, rather they should now be placed strongly at the front of the civil liberties we should be fighting for.

The Pirate Party hasn’t been alone in advocating for these rights, but it has been at the forefront and will continue to do so, showing how relevant and necessary the Pirate Party is.

PPI

After several, arguably incompetent and disastrous, PPI General Assemblies and a continued lack of progress from PPI in providing any benefit to its members, PPUK’s leadership believed PPI to no longer be fit for purpose and not only a waste of valuable time but also a liability.

With that in mind PPUK members were offered a vote to change the relationship with PPI. The options were to drop from full to observer membership, to leave completely, or the status quo. The members voted to continue to hold full PPI membership, though the vote was close.

This led to a renewed vigour in the relationship with PPUK officials seeking to fix several of the glaring continuing issues within PPI: namely having no control over its finances and not providing a useful role in getting Pirates together for collaborative work.

After significant investment of time and effort form PPUK’s side these efforts have largely fallen flat and there is fresh belief that if offered a straight vote between staying a member of terminating membership that PPUK members would vote for the latter.

Porn Filters

Last year the government got a bee in its bonnet about the necessity of filtering all internet connections due to their sudden knee-jerk ‘fear’ that children might be exposed to pornography. This led to heavy government pressure for a ‘default on‘ porn filter to be provided by ISPs.

This inevitably led to a confusion about adult filters actually covering a wide range of subject matter and not just pornography. Inevitably we then also saw the fallout with indiscriminate web blocking preventing access to certain charity’s websites (arguably blocking access to NSPCC’s website could do far more harm to children than not blocking porn) and even the website of the filters’ greatest advocate.

It will be no great surprise that this transparent effort to get all ISPs to provide a nice easy way to censor what their customers could access was opposed by PPUK. who’d rather leave parenting to parents and provide internet users with all the information they want and may desperately need.

Needless to say there was much opposition to these filters and they have been found to be largely unpopular with their intended audience with, in some cases, as few as 4% opting to enable them.

Manning Sentencing

The case against Manning leaking material to wikileaks dragged on and eventually had a result. It was disappointing, but not a surprise, to see a lengthy custodial sentence. Manning was sentenced to 35 years. Time served was credited against this with a further (pitiful!) reduction of ‘112 days in recompense for the harsh conditions of his initial confinement’.

As the news was released PPUK Leader Loz Kaye was actually being interviewed by Russia Today and was able to give his view on the sentence, which amounted to a clear attack on whistleblowers.

Changes in Leadership

While we have had a continued strong core in the Party leadership we have seen changes in some positions within the NEC. The regular churn of Treasurer continued with Shaun Daley resigning last year and Sam Clark stepping in as Finance Officer.

With regular full NEC elections due to clash with EU election work these were brought forward to the end of 2013. We saw the Party Secretary (Leanne Cooke née Ainsworth) and Nominations Officer (Phil Cooke) both stand down at this time.

With a view to including Deputy Leader as a fully elected NEC position ‘some time soon’ we included an elected but non-voting position of Deputy Leader in this election. This position was strongly contested and eventually won by Sephy Hallow.

With Sam standing for and being elected to Treasurer, Ed Geraghty being elected as Secretary, and Jason WInstanley being elected as Nominations Officer we had a new NEC with a good mix of regular faces (Loz and Andy respectively continuing as Leader and Campaigns Manager), new faces (Jason and Sephy), and new-to-the-NEC* but well established faces (Sam and Ed).

*not new to working with the NEC, but rather new to holding a voting NEC position for the first time

Regrettably after six months in post both Jason and Sephy have resigned. All NEC positions are high-stress and the breadth and volume of the work is not to be underestimated. It isn’t a surprise, given the nature of volunteers, that we can’t keep the same NEC for a significant length of time – but it is something we need to significantly address by taking as much advantage as we can from those who do volunteer.

We have in the past been bad at leveraging such offers of help. We do now have in place a better process for initially engaging with volunteers and steering them into the departments they can assist. I think things still fall down at that point with next steps still being ad-hoc and inconsistent.

On the Board side of things we have also seen regular steady turnover and currently have three vacancies. I’m pleased to be able to say that I am still on the Board, and even did a 12 month stint as the Board Chair.

NHS Care.Data

Earlier this year the government began a process to release NHS medical data. This was branded as NHS Care.data with information be be made available to the public via a leaflet to every home.

The communication about this roll-out was disastrous and completely mishandled. The concept of collating anonymised data and sharing to organisations who can data-mine for medical research purposes is laudable and beneficial. However the scheme as designed did not take sufficient care to fully anonymise data (tagging your record with date of birth, gender, and full post code is hardly anonymous) and information on how to opt-out was limited. The important information leaflet sent to every home didn’t even have an opt-out form leading some to design their own.

With this being an important privacy issue PPUK provided information about the scheme and actively campaigned to highlight issues with the implementation.

We were pleased to see that due to mounting concerns Care.data was delayed and hope that this doesn’t come back in the same form and slip in under the radar.

This is something to keep our eyes open for in the coming months.

Local Elections

With the fickle winds of fate Loz had the opportunity to contest quite a few local elections in Manchester (2012-11-15, 2012-05-04 2013-10-10 2013-12-05, and  2014-05-22).

We held our first ever local election in London (Mark Chapman). This gave me my first opportunity to get fully involved with an on-the-ground campaign from leafleting, to attending the count.It was a fascinating and rewarding experience and I highly recommend everyone to have the experience at some point. It really does reinvigorate one’s sense of the importance of the democratic process. Unfortunately it does also show how seriously disjointed the average citizen is from the political processes.

New Web Platform (NWP)

One of the highest profile changes for the Party has been the long-awaited change in our website. This year we finally switched over to our New Web Platform (NWP) which has seen many improvements, not least on the back-end swapping a confusing undocumented django set-up for a more mainstream drupal setup. The system is now far more integrated, press releases can be added to the system as content items and then get magically emailed to those subscribed to receive them. The one disjoint between the old system and the new one is the forum. We don’t have any replacement for the forum in the NWP, though the old one is still available on the legacy website and will eventually be available directly via NWP (though the user database will not be integrated and will require a separate login).

EU 2014

We (Maria Aretoulaki, George Walkden, and Jack Allnutt) contested our first European Elections in the North West region (both 2012-05-22).

The European Elections were a stark contrast for me. I was able to get heavily involved with that (at the same time as being involved in the local election in London), but in an online perspective only in my capacity of leading the social media team for the Party.

It was an amazing and tiring experience. I was shattered by the end of it, and knowing that others put even more time and effort in was frankly inspiring/horrific (take your pick). The back-office work to manage the reddit IAMA was intense and it was great to be part of that. We also ran our largest ever continuous social media campaign to date – another pleasure to be part of.

May was a busy month for social media.
May was a busy month for social media.

If we zoom in to May…

The closer to election day, the greater the activity. Until it went totally nuts.
The closer to election day, the greater the activity. Until it went totally nuts.

TTIP

TTIP is another one of those 4-letter acronym secret deals that, if you listen to proponents, will make the world a better place.

The obvious question is, who for?

If agreed this would be the biggest free trade agreement ever. If agreed it could boost the EU’s economy by £120 billion and the US economy by £75 billion over 10 years.

Sounds fantastic.

On the flip-side, recent reports suggest that the deal will end up focusing on non-conventional ‘trade barriers’ like cutting the regulations around fracking, Genetic Modification, and finance whilst tightening laws (e.g. copyright) that harm innovation and culture.

The agreement could also bring worrying legal processes like ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement‘ (ISDS) making it harder for governments to protect the interests of their citizens and legislate to protect the environment and workers.

Read this PPUK review of TTIP for more details.

Net Neutrality

With Net Neutrality under serious threat in the US it was refreshing to see the EU take an opposite approach.

In April 2014 the EU took a strong stance in favour of Net Neutrality with MEPs voting to establish Net Neutrality in the EU as part of the Telecoms Single Market Regulation.

It turns out the UK Government wasn’t so keen on this and trotted out the crazy argument that Net Neutrality would prevent them being able to block child abuse images.

This still doesn’t make sense to me.

Here’s Loz being interviewed by RT on this very issue!

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers

Bursting onto the scene from nowhere was the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) bill.

In April 2014, after CJEU ruled data retention laws were unlawful in their current state, one could be forgiven for thinking some sense had prevailed. The lack of response from the Government could even be seen as tacit admission that wholesale and indiscriminate retention of ‘meta’ data for all citizens was unreasonable.

Not so, it turned out.

Then in July, with little warning, the Government decided to table emergency legislation. With this having been agreed behind closed doors by the Government and opposition the process through parliament was ridiculously short on scrutiny and completely lacking in democratic character.

In one short week the legislation was passed and signed into law.

This was no way to legislate on such an important issue. The Government stressed that there were no substantial changes to what they regarded as already permitted, but the very nature of the rush leaves that in doubt. Already there are multiple challenges that suggest DRIP is incompatible with human rights.

VCAP

With the Digital Economy Act’s full power still to see the light of day those in the copyright industry had to make alternative plans. Thus we saw Vcap announced.

This is a scheme to send ‘education’ emails to those ‘caught’ engaging in online piracy. The plan is to send a series of letters, and if this doesn’t change behaviour… nothing. On one level this could be seen as a mini-victory, and indeed was incorrectly hailed by some as the decriminalisation of online piracy.

This is far from the case, and when these toothless warning letters make little change to the behaviour of ISP’s customers I am concerned how the copyright industry will act. It would not surprise me if they tried to claim access to the details of all those to have received ‘education’ emails.

With their being no judicial process involved to send these emails, to receive one of these emails and, no doubt, be added to a list somewhere, is a serious attack on privacy. This assaults the very basic expectation of being treated as innocent until found guilty by fair and transparent judicial processes.

 

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