Transcripts of Something New videos, podcasts, speeches, etc

  • Hello and welcome to the Open Revolution podcast, and a very happy New Year to our listeners. In this podcast, we're getting to know James Smith and the Something New party during his campaign for the General Election in Horsham which is actually happening this year - I can now say this year - and without further ado, hello James, how are you?

  • Hi Charlie, I'm fine thank you very much. I recovered from the holiday.

  • Very happy New Year to you.

  • Happy New Year, yes. Happy New Year to everyone else as well.

  • Yes, and we're both taking refuge from our infants, who are refusing to sleep.

  • Yes, mine's running round the house.

  • It's very much like inviting a barbarian into your house and then saying, "No, no, you can stay."

  • You just wait, yours is only what? A month or so old now?

  • Exactly. Yeah, two months now, so yeah, crikey. So, how have you been James? Did you take a bit of a break over the Christmas period from campaigning, or were quite busy?

  • I did, I think, you know everybody's got other things to concentrate on over Christmas so it was a bit quieter. I took the time to try and do a bit of reading, catch up on a few things, but obviously children are around so I didn't actually get much done at all, I just played with them. So that was nice, it was nice to concentrate on the family for a little while before the madness of 2015 descends on us.

  • Exactly. And you got things kicked off last week with another meeting, didn't you?

  • Yes, so we had a meeting in a local pub, last Friday night, which was really good. We had a few people come along, lots of really good conversation, again loads of really good feedback on the whole thing really. Hoping to carry that on and build on it in the next... what? Four months?

  • The clock is ticking. Well, without further ado, this is going to be another supplemental podcast, we're not going to be looking at the Manifesto this week. James, you gave a talk a couple of weeks ago, as part of the ODI. We're going to actually incorporate that talk into this podcast in a couple of minutes. Can you just give us an idea of what the talk was about, who it was to and what was it in aid of?

  • So, every week, at my office, the Open Data Institute, we have a Friday lunch time lecture which is free for anybody to come and attend, it's on a subject, or various subjects all around data, and information, and what people do with it. And the one just before Christmas, we were running an open data Christmas Carol. So, there were three short talks done by people who work at the ODI. The ghost of open data past, present and future, and I managed to wangle the future part, which is good, because I think about that quite a lot.

  • That seems like the plum one. You must have really pulled some strings and called in favours to get the other two...

  • No, I just replied to the e-mail first.

  • I see, okay. So you don't have photos of people, that's good, okay. So what we're going to do is we're going to listen to that now and then talk about it afterwards.

  • So, we've heard from the ghosts of past and present, and that means I get to be the ghost of open data future. Or, more accurately from Dickens, the ghost of open data "yet to come," which there's plenty of if the lists of unpublished data sets on ? [Laughter] is anything to go by. In A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Christmas future is described like this: "When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee, for in the very air through which the spirit moved, it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. The ghost took Scrooge into his own future, and showed him a vision of despair and misery." Maybe the ghost had it right. The future is indeed a dark and scary place, we live in a time of converging crises, where climate change, economic instability, population growth and many more issues threaten to make the future a worse place to be.

    But looking at the future like that, isn't really a good approach. As Scrooge demanded of the ghost, "Good spirit, assure me that I yet may change these shadows you've shown me by an altered life." Fortunately then, here we can diverge from Dickens. Because when we look at the future through the lens of open data, it's very much the opposite of ghost's gloom, there may be some mystery, but there's plenty to look forward too. We're right at the beginning of the open data journey, and we can easily see a bunch of ways it might help people in the very near future. Perhaps it'll let Tiny Tim get access to better healthcare. We can help Bob Cratchet get his work done more efficiently and get home earlier to his family. And, you never know, Scrooge might find, as so many of our members and start-ups here do, that open data gives a competitive advantage. It might even help him make more money, which would make him, if not happy, then at least less grumpy.

    Beyond that, we can imagine that if data is freely available, and properly machine readable, then we can use that technology to combine that data in new and unexpected ways, to gain new insights, to use our resources more efficiently, and to find new areas of innovation and advancement. And, of course, open data isn't just about first world problems. The biggest impacts will come when we take what we've learned and help apply it all across the world. It's not just about people in the rich world finding a school with the best exam results, it's about people in the poorest nations being able to find a school with a toilet. There will be backlashes. Some will find open data threatening to their positions. If we expose inefficiencies, a misallocation of funds, or even wrongdoing, there will be those who use their power to stop us. At the moment, we're trying to convince everyone that open data is a good thing. Soon, there will be opposing forces trying even harder in the other direction. But, we will win. Because, as OpenCorporates say, people won't choose open data because it's open, they'll choose it because it's better.

    But, as often the case with these things, the true revolution lies not in the technology. The tech, the data, they're all part of it, but it's not the full story. The revolution is open. Those of us who work in open, whether it's open source, open data, open science or open content, are all pushing at a new way of working. A new way of thinking. As we so often remind ourselves at the ODI, it's not about data, it's about culture. Open teaches us to accept new ideas, to trust in other people, and to be more accepting of experimentation and failure. It gives us new ways to work together, to collaborate to solve bigger and bigger problems. Those problems we face are huge, and the ghost of the future, if we let it, could show us plenty of terrible outcomes.

    But the open revolution will help us face that, take the best ideas humanity has to offer, and combine them to overcome whatever the future throws at us. Open helps us share information, so that everyone can have access to the sum total of human knowledge. It also helps us expand that knowledge by bringing evermore information out from the darkened corners of our world, into the sun light, where we can see it. OpenCorporates are a great example of this, showing us all just how companies and banks structure themselves to avoid inconvenient national regulation. Open can help us learn in new ways, that can adapt to the challenges of the future, rather than being educated to roles of the past. We will learn much more from each other, not just from a special few. Open can spread decision making out from the ivory towers, so that we can all have a say in how we organise ourselves, how we use our resources together. Open allows us all to be creators, not just consumers, whether it's writing for the web, publishing data about our activities, or taking part in the new manufacturing revolution using 3D printing data from I Can Make. We all have the ability to create, remix and improve. Open is a ladder onto the shoulders of giants that lets us all stand there and reach higher than we ever could alone.

    I also believe that open is the thin end of the wedge that helps us build better societies. If we can accept that everyone has something to give, then perhaps we can even rebuild community, kindness and respect, we can rebuild the public realm, the commons to which we all have a right. Perhaps this is idealism. But what's the point to looking to the future, if you're not going to try and make it better? After all, the ghosts didn't show Scrooge the future so that he could just accept it, they showed it to him so he could change his ways and help create a better future, not just for himself, but for everyone around him. We have the same chance as Scrooge: to choose the future we want. I want a future that's bright, that's optimistic. I want a future where we can all work together to make humanity better. I want a future that's open. [Applause]

  • I think, on listening to that - obviously I've seen you do a little bit of public speaking - but actually in the course of this podcast, we've managed to avoid talking about your personal philosophy. And I know that was very much about open data, certainly towards the end it sort of opened out, and there were things there that could be applied to your personal politics. Would you say that's true, that's coming pretty close to your personal philosophy?

  • Yeah, definitely. That's kind of why I wanted to do the future speech because I could talk a bit about what we wanted to do with data but then I could also about what I think is the real power which is the open approach to things in general, and that's very much my personal way of going about things and it's a really important part of what we're trying to do with Something New and with the campaign. So yeah, definitely.

  • The thing that strikes me is when we talked about various items on the manifesto and your approach to things. I think it's going to be... my spin on it is that it's very technocratic. It's almost a scientific approach to government - the best ideas in theory will win out - and it would hopefully operate on some sort of meritocracy. Is there another way to express that in terms of a political vision - I think it's fair to say you're not particularly politically conservative, you're also not a Communist. Where on that spectrum do you lie, if it all?

  • That's a really good question. We came up with a really nice answer to this on Friday actually which is that asking whether we're left or right here is a very twentieth century way of looking at things. We're trying to go forwards from that to take the best parts from all the political thinking so far, from all of the ways we've tried to do things so far, and move forward. So, we might take the social conscience stuff which more traditionally belongs on the left, with the ideas of decentralisation and so on that come from the right perhaps. And move forwards into the future using technology, using the new ways we have to communicate.

    I think I understand where you're coming from saying it could be looked at as technocratic and certainly it's coming from a technical point of view, as far as I'm concerned, but it's really important that it doesn't become a technocracy, ruled by those with the most technology, that's really not what we want. We can use the technology to give everybody access, to give everybody a measure of control, a measure of input, in a way much more than they have at the moment, so we can work together much more effectively using that technology. And we have to use that technology for good, you know we could use all this technology for very many less good outcomes, I think we've got a responsibility to do something right with it.

  • Would you say that you've got potentially a little bit of a messaging problem? At the beginning of your answer there you said left vs right is a 20th century view on things, and I would largely agree with you, however the problem is the voting public probably have that very same view, and if you can't conveniently be categorised on that spectrum, does that not just sort of cause crossed eyes and then a bit of a, you know?

  • Yeah, we've got a huge amount of work to do. Absolutely. The way politics is talked about at the moment, the way government and democracy is talked about is in this very narrow way of a particular spectrum, where do you lie on that spectrum, or even a very small range within that spectrum. So yes, we do have a lot of work to do to show people that there are other ways of thinking. Fortunately, we are not alone in that, there are a lot of other people that are doing that, there's a general movement, I think, across the world, that's starting to put across the idea that there's other ways of doing things and people, even within the sort of Westminster politics bubble, there's things appearing showing that it doesn't have to eaxctly be the way it's always been.

  • Can I just ask, are there people currently in government, or in any of the parties, that you see as a potential recruit for Something New? Someone that kind of starts to slightly embody some of the ideas you're talking about? Or is it that you sort of need a clean slate? Will they all be up against the wall when you're in charge?

  • [Laughter] No, I think there are some really good people in Parliament at the moment. You know, everybody goes in there with the best intentions and tries to do the right thing. I believe that people generally are always trying to do the right thing, even if it's something I fundamentally disagree with. They're doing what they think is the right thing, so there are some people that I definitely would have in a heartbeat, yes. But probably not too many, I think we need fewer career politicians and more normal people, if you like.

  • Are you suggesting fixed term politicians, so you can only go in for two election cycles or something like that?

  • Yeah, I think that would be quite good. I can't remember whether that's actually officially in the Manifesto already or whether it's pending. But yes, that's definitely a thing. Especially if we start electing other chambers, like an elected senate or House of Lords for instance, you'd definitely want to do things a bit differently.

  • Well, slightly echoing what you said before about you have a lot of work to do, I believe you've got a call out for volunteers. What sort of roles are you looking at to be filled for you campaign? A whole laundry list...

  • A whole list of things. We need a bit of everything. We need people who're going to... I mean locally here I need someone to help going to run the campaign, to get all the administration jobs done, we need people who're going to stand out on the streets handing out leaflets, we need people making noise on social media, we need people sharing and generally getting the message out there, we've just got to get a lot of people involved. We also need to make a lot things, we need to be making videos we can share, more audio, images, all this stuff that people enjoy sharing online that's what will get our message out. Yep, we need a lot of that. So yes, we've got a bunch of volunteers.

    One of the things that's really hard actually, that I found really difficult about bootstrapping this, is that even finding the time to get volunteers involved when they've said "Yes, I want to do something" is really hard. Because actually bringing somebody in is really quite difficult and I'm now trying to find a way to get myself out of being the block on that and actually try and shove everyone into one place and hopefully things start to happen and we can just guide. So, just letting go, not even letting go, just getting out the way, I think is always a good way to let things happen.

  • I was going to say something pretty cruel then. Because, basically, that's the management philosophy of Hitler. There was a thing that he sort of fostered called "Working towards the Fuhrer" and so he'd give out contradictory orders to people who then competed against each other to meet what they imagined his whim to be. And he very rarely gave direct orders or wrote any orders down, he just let people guess what it is that he wanted. I'm not going to, I'm cutting this from the...

  • No, don't actually, that's really interesting, I've not heard that. What I would like to think of it more as letting people's own creativity and ideas come out. But yeah, that's very much the philosophy of the whole open thing, the whole collaborative thing, is that loads and loads of people have really good ideas, the world is full of really good ideas, let's use them, let's not force them through some funnel.

  • I suppose that's sort of embodied with the Manifesto whereby it's just totally open and anyone can contribute to make changes and it's opened up to peer review and everyone can use it.

  • The one thing we need is more and more contributors, and more and more diverse contributors as well. What still really annoys me that I'm approaching middle aged white male, it's really irritating. So, you know, we need more people from more backgrounds adding their ideas, otherwise it will end up not being that represents a wide spectrum of people, and we want it to be something for everyone.

  • You also have a full roster of town hall meetings on your schedule, what's your next one?

  • Yes, we've got the main sequence of meetings is now kicking off. We've got one a week until the election, starting next Tuesday 13th at 8:30 in a little village where I used to live, called Rudgwick which is the smallest ward in Horsham constituency. So we're starting there and working our way up to the big ones. I have decided that meeting in pubs is a lot better than meeting in halls. I think people are a lot less worried about coming along to pubs, so we're going to meet in The Fox Inn which has some very nice beer in Rudgwick, next Tuesday.

  • Great. And then I'm going to end as I always do on the softball trivia question, although this isn't really a softball trivia question. I was just, on the back of listening to your talk back then, I was just curious, who's the politician, and I mean specifically politician, that you most admire and living or dead, past of present, is there someone who's you know, Churchill, Stalin, presumably not the Fuhrer?

  • I was going to say, I thought you were going back there. I think, this is for a lot of people going to nail my colours pretty strongly to one side of that 20th century spectrum, but the one guy I always would love to hear more from and which I had heard more and would love to have time to read more would be Tony Benn. I think he was an extremely good politician with a lot of ideas that I find very appealing. And, you know, he was extremely eloquent, he was very good at getting his point across, and I think a man of the people. I saw him once in an audience live in Horsham in the theatre here and it was fantastic, so, yes, probably him.

  • Okay, that's a good answer, I like Tony Benn. I mean, obviously Communist, but... [Laughter] Thank you very much for listening. For more information about James' campaign, go to or you can read the Manifesto at and indeed contribute to the Manifesto. If you have any questions, please ping them to @havesomenew with #OpenHorsham and we'll get those questions asked for you. Thank you very much for listening and thank you James, goodbye.

  • Thank you very much, bye!