Transcripts of Something New videos, podcasts, speeches, etc

  • Hello, and welcome to this inaugural Open Revolution podcast. I'm the host Charlie Thornberry and I'm joined by my long time friend, and current candidate standing for Parliament in next year's election, James Smith. I'm hoping to bring you updates from James' campaign in Horsham on a weekly basis until the election which is May 7th next year, 2015, and to give you some insight into James as a candidate and his proposed policies.

    However, in the first couple of podcasts I thought we should just get to know a bit more about James himself and what is behind his decision to stand for Parliament. So, James, welcome to the podcast.

  • Hello, thank you for having me.

  • A pleasure. I think, in the next episode we're going to delve a bit more into your biography and, you know, something a bit more about yourself as a person and your bona fides. But, I guess, the question I want to ask first is, why are you standing for Parliament?

  • Yeah, good question. It's about choice, I think. So, I've been interested in the way the country's run for a long time, you know, taken an interest in politics and the decisions made by government and I came to a conclusion a while ago that there was nobody offering a choice that I wanted. So there was nobody actually speaking for me, offering a future that I wanted to see. And I think that's the case for a lot of people.

    You know, you see a lot of discussion on social media and people saying "This is wrong", "That's wrong", all these things. But you don't necessarily see a lot of solutions and you don't see people engaging further. So I thought "Well, democracy is a good thing, it's the best system we have, certainly. But, it only works if you participate", so if there isn't an option that you actually want, what you really need to do is you need to provide that option. So that's really... that's the idea.

  • So you're, for want of better words, you're getting your hands dirty and trying to provide something, presumably not just for yourself as well because you're going to be doing it for other people.

  • [Laughter] Yes, I hope to have more than one vote.

  • And when did you decide? I mean, we're recording this on the 29th July, it might not be released for a few days yet, but it's the 29th July now, it's 10 months away from the election. When did you actually make the decision?

  • So the actual decision to do it was probably about the end of May, beginning of June which is when I thought "Okay, I'm going to have to actually do this", sat down, had a conversation with the wife and explained what I was thinking of doing, and find out whether she was okay with it. We'll still find out whether that's the case! But, yeah, that was probably about when I properly decided and then maybe I don't know, 3 or 4 weeks after that I actually announced it to the world.

  • Sure. And I'm curious, what was the... so you go from a binary state, you go from a state where you're not actively deciding that you are not standing for Parliament. The next minute, you are standing for Parliament. What I wanted to know was what was the trigger? What pushed you over the edge as it were?

  • I'm not sure it is a binary state, actually, and I don't remember a particular trigger. It was more a slow, coalescence of "this is what ought to be done". It's something I've vaguely considered at some point I might do for years, you know, just being interested in the process. You sort of think, "Oh well, maybe that's something I could do". But, there was never any serious thought behind it.

    But about a year ago probably, I just... I can't remember; I read some things, you know, reached a point in my mind of thinking "Well, actually, someone needs to do this", I came to that conclusion that there isn't the option, that the narratives that we're offered are wrong and they're not varied enough so we don't have a functioning democracy. If everyone agrees, you don't have choice and so you don't have a working system.

    So, it was about at that point I thought, you know, I came to the conclusion that I know a lot of people who are very engaged in politics and democracy and government, but I don't know any that are actually actively engaging with the system itself. I know a lot of people who are working around the edges on transparency, on accountability and things like that but not who are actually engaging in the system. And I came to the conclusion that you have to do that, about a year ago and I've spent the last year thinking more and more about that and it arrived at the point, at the end of May, where I thought OK, I actually ought to do this.

  • You thought I can't take this anymore, I can't take this anymore.

  • Yeah, well I can't sit there just saying things should be better anymore. You actually have to do something, otherwise you just sit there moaning.

  • And now this is something I personally need a bit of clarification on, and I hope people who are listening either they also need the same clarification or they're a little bit better informed than I am. You're standing as an independent but as part of a wider movement. Can you describe to me a bit of the organisation of that though? As much of an organisation as there is, and where your place in this is, and are there other people standing under the same banner, how does that side of things work?

  • Sure, sure. The best way to explain is probably with a bit of history of the intervening year which I just sort of spoke about. So, this post I wrote a year ago said we should all be getting more engaged and we have the technology to start coming up with ideas and come up with a platform and do something proactive. And so a few of us actually started doing that, and this is what it's all grown out of really. We started building a thing called the Open Politics manifesto where what we would do is rather than just moaning about something on Twitter we would say well this is, you know, what's the policy we would put in place instead?

  • Would you say you have something in common or is there an element of influence from the Occupy Wall Street movement that happened in New York a couple of years ago. Obviously there were actually physical demonstrations downtown in New York, but as you seem to be describing there's a lot of actually coming up with policy that was agreed upon by the participants without there being an actual leader or something like that. Is that something that has influenced the Open Politics network?

  • It's certainly an influence. It's not probably a major one. What it probably is is that they've both grown out of similar things. So the way I've covered it is more through... so I'm an engineer, I've worked in writing software for a living and I've worked many years with open source software which is software where all the source code to create it is freely available for anybody to look at, to edit, to collaborate on. So I'm used to this very collaborative workflow, and applying that to the idea of policy is kind of where I came at it from, if you like.

    There are certainly things in common with what was done with Occupy and things like the group decision making they try to do and so on. Though, I'm not sure of any translation into definite recommendations that happened there. But, there was a lot going on so I'm sure there was some stuff.

    So, yeah, we started collaborating on these policy ideas and came up with a way of, you know, proposing a policy, holding it up for inspection. So somebody else would say "OK, that's interesting, but have you considered this?".

  • It's almost like peer-reviewing.

  • Absolutely, absolutely right.

  • You're saying we a lot. Is this you and a pet? [Laughter] How many are there of you?

  • It's a small project with only, I don't know, we've probably had around 20 contributors by now. As with any online engagement, there's a long tail of participation. The core is probably written mostly by about 4 or 5 people, currently. We're trying to build participation in that, because we want much broader, much more diverse participation. That's what it's all about, doing things collaboratively.

  • I suppose one of the issues with collaboration is that you're obviously British and you're standing for British Parliament, and the Internet being what it is, I presume there's some filter or if not, something active in place, a hope or a wish, it's British at this stage at least.

  • I think a lot of things are not necessarily exclusive to Britain. So, a lot of the stuff around communications regulation for instance. We've touched on surveillance, on internet freedom, things like that. That's international. Anybody could propose something on that. The likelihood of somebody suggesting something workable on British democratic reform is less likely, internationally, although there are probably some very talented and clever people who know all about it who know much more about it than I do who could.

    There's no reason why the ideas have to come from just one place. And that's one of the things about that, that mode of collaboration is that open, working together approach. It appreciates the fact that there are more good ideas in the world than there are just in that limited group, so we try and bring a lot of those together.

  • And, you're standing for Horsham. Is there anyone else at the moment standing for another seat elsewhere or is it that you're actively recruiting?

  • So, currently I'm the only candidate standing on this manifesto. We got to a point when we had enough of a platform to make it worth standing on which is kind of around the same time as I decided to do so. I feel that I can stand on that. There's a lot of stuff in it I can put across and believe in. But one of the reasons of standing as well is to try and get more people to do the same thing. A lot of people think that standing for office is a very exclusive thing, don't you have to be specially qualified? Or don't you have to have worked your way up through some party structure or something like that? And it's not, at all. It's open to anyone.

  • Well, no, not if you trust people. And that's a really important thing about the collaborative aspect is that people are actually generally trustworthy and know what they're trying to say. Sometimes they need help for clarity or whatever. But, people are good.

  • I guess at the moment you've got your core participants and as you say you have to expand the movement to include others, many others, I would assume. You have a day job as well and these things don't come free. You're presumably using online tools to reduce costs. Are you requiring funding or... In terms of the political campaign side of things, have you got something cranking up on that side to help with the funding?

  • That's quite an interesting one. The whole thing up to now has been completely voluntary based. Anyone with an internet connection can get involved. Everything's been social media or done on this collaboration platform which we are using for free. So, there's not been any need for that up to now, but obviously when we get into the real campaign, yes, that will be necessary.

    There are some basic things like actually standing, you need to have a £500 deposit. Which is not too bad actually when you consider that the EU elections you need at least a £5000 deposit I think and in the London Mayoral elections it's something like 15k. So, it's actually quite accessible compared to a lot of those. And then you've got the cost of actually running a campaign itself.

    So, there are caps in place so that you can only spend up to a certain amount. But you do need to have a certain amount to spend, so at the bare minimum to run a reasonable chance of getting people to vote for you, you've got to have a leaflet through every door, and things like that. So, those aspects definitely will need funding. What I'm hoping to do is to work out proper crowdfunding arrangements for this.

  • Something along the lines of Kickstarter or something like that.

  • Exactly, so we can actually take donations from... The rules are quite strict, they have to be people in the UK, on the Electoral Roll, that is where things do get more precise for donation for campaigns. But we can democratise access to that so that you're not a candidate who's reliant on one or two big funders, which would be a lot easier to raise if you were doing it in person; you can be reliant on, you know, 1,000 small funders for instance, which is really, really good. So trying to work with crowdfunders to make that work and work out the legalities of it all is really interesting. But it's definitely something I want to do because that's something that then anyone can use to do the same thing.

  • Well, thank you very much. You've got an event happening next Tuesday, is that right?

  • We have, we're having our first public meeting in Horsham. It'll be a small affair, these things always start small. But it should be fun.

  • And where is that and what time?

  • We're having it at the Tanner's Arms in Horsham at 7:30 on Tuesday 5th August, and it'll just be a small meeting for anybody who's interested really. To come along and find out what we're doing and try and see if we can make some plans around what we're actually going to do going forward.

  • And them I'm going to try and you know, I hope to avoid the situation where you get the end of the news and they say "There were no survivors and now the cricket".

    At the end of each of these podcasts I'm going to ask you a trivia question and just for today I haven't prepared this one. What's your favourite film?

  • Favourite film, oh crikey. Well, that's quite difficult these days. Because, for a long time, it was The Empire Strikes Back obviously. But, you know, since the destruction of all that was good in the Star Wars universe, it's much harder. I don't know. The only one that made me feel anything like that recently was Pacific Rim which was just incredible. There were people whooping in the cinema, it was amazing. But some of them, the Lord of the Rings films, if you take those as... can I have those as a film?

  • No, you can't. Pacific Rim it is and you've also slated The Empire Strikes Back so that means...

  • No, no, no, no. I've slated George Lucas and I don't think anybody will disagree with me on that one.

  • Well, thank you very much for listening. If you want anymore information about the campaign and about James, then go to openhorsham.org.uk or the Facebook page facebook.com/openhorsham and you can follow James with his Twitter handle @Floppy. If you want to, if you want a question to be asked in these podcasts, please pose it to James at @Floppy or on the Facebook page with the hashtag #OpenHorsham. Thank you very much and hope to speak to you again soon. Goodbye.