Ken – speaking his mind

Iain Dale has a roustabout interview with Ken Livingstone. Here’s a snippet:

“…although there will be mistakes, a real, massive devolution would start bringing good people back into local government, but there’s got to be financial change as well. 97 per cent of all tax collected in Britain is collected by Gordon Brown. When I told the Mayor of Moscow that he said: “That’s worse than Russia under Stalin”.”

The whole thing is nice astringent stuff – well worth a read. (Hat Tip: Andy Sawford)

How to get techies to give you what you want (while Doing The Right Thing at the same time)

Here’s a bit of music made using assistive technology to cheer you up. It was sent to me by my old mate and colleague Amanda – the best usability consultant and website project manager that I’ve ever worked with.

What’s this got to do with local democracy? Well, I’ve worked with a large number of local authorities / voluntary sector / membership organisations that aim to promote a greater standard of inclusive policymaking / responsive communications / organisational interactivity.

A well designed set of interfaces is fairly critical to the success of projects like this. Un-useable interfaces … well … don’t get used.

If you are a non-techie, and you are going to work with techies on a web-project in this area, you have to understand the very basics about accessibility. It helps you to avoid the classic cause for IT project management failure: You tell the IT department what you want. They don’t understand you properly and give you something that they think will do, without disrupting their wider set of objectives. They are behaving rationally in doing this – it usually means that they get a slice of your budget to put towards their pet-project.

Even when they do understand what you want, it’s often not good enough…

Left to their own devices, they will give you something that they can deliver saying “I think this will just about do the job.”

For this reason, I’ve found that a discussion of web accessibility between the technical staff (who are often – unnecessarily – the gatekeepers on projects such as this) and the people who are doing the including / communicating / interacting is usually a very valuable way of getting everyone on the same page for the following reasons: Continue reading

MPs websites – politics on the rates?

As there are a couple of good posts in the mainstream political blogosphere touching upon the qualities that are needed to promote an effective representative democracy, today is a good day to start a blog on the subject. This post will focus on the most topical:

Both Puffbox and Spartakan are chewing over the fact that Labour MP Paul Flynn has had his parliamentary allowance docked for misuse of the weblog that he has established under that same allowance.

This scheme was set up in March 2007 with the express purpose of promoting a public understanding of Parliament. To my mind, it raises a number of questions that I will seek to answer here over the coming weeks and months. They are as follows:

  1. Do we over-fetishise political neutrality? Are the rules that preclude politicians from doing politics on the rates entirely sensible in this day-and-age? And do rules that are designed to stop this from happening actually pander to a highly anti-democratic and centralising agenda?
  2. Is this the old ‘Eunuch in a harem’ problem? Is there not something slightly distorted about going to people who are morbidly, obsessively and fanatically political people and saying “here is a budget that you can use to communicate with millions of people with an efficiency that you wouldn’t previously have dreamed of – as long as you don’t use it for political purposes?
  3. If you give an elected representative tools to communicate politically, are you necessarily giving them a political advantage? The public are increasingly turned off by political huckstering, yet politicians seem oddly keen to do it. Giving them the space to do it really effectively a bit like giving them a shorter rope and a longer drop?

I will return to these questions shortly – particularly the first one.