Registering to vote

You have until the end of today (20 April) to register to vote for the 2015 General Election. Go and do it now.

Really.

To vote in UK elections, you must be over 18 and on what is called ‘the electoral register’. And even if you decide in the end not to vote on the 7 May, if you don’t register today you lose the option of doing so.

You never know what a local candidate or political party may do or say in the next few weeks. Even if you are normally politically apathetic, there is a chance someone will say something so incredible or outrageous that you feel obliged to go make a mark on polling day. Or you may just want the chance to spoil your ballot and scrawl all over your piece of paper, to stick it to the man.

But if you don’t register today you won’t get that opportunity.

I’ll be honest, it’s very unlikely your vote in the general election will do much. Even in this close election, many seats in the country are safe seats, where a party holds a significant majority.

On the 7 May, there will also be local elections – where you get to choose local councilors. And this is likely to have a much more significant impact on your local area than the national elections. If you aren’t on the electoral register, you won’t get an opportunity to vote in the local elections either.

There are all sorts of other ways you can get involved in the election if you so desire – contact your parliamentary candidates in the run up to the election to tell them about the issues that you care about, and asking them what their views are on these things. When they are busy trying to get your vote is one of the best times to convince a politician that they should care about the same things you do.

Or you could go to a hustings and meet the candidates for your area.

But all this may be far too much to think about right now, seems far too much like getting involved. And doesn’t have a deadline of just a few hours away.

So go and register now. Because you should go and mark a paper on election day – even if you just scrawl across it that the entire system is broken and politicians are all corrupt bastards. Which they aren’t. Not all of them, anyway.

And there is a lot more we can all do to be actively involved in the politics of our country, but making sure you are at least able to vote just in case you may want to in 3 weeks time is the least of those things!

So register. Now

MPs and second jobs

I’ve seen quite a lot of calls for MPs to be banned from having a second job over the last few days.

And I’m sympathetic to a lot of it, and would be strongly opposed to any parliamentary representative of mine not working hard to represent the constituency, or deal with issues they said they would work on if elected.

But what actually is a second job? If we are to ban them, we need to come up with some kind of agreed definition. And I’m not sure I know what one is.

Does an MP have a second job if they are a doctor during periods of Parliamentary recess? How about if said MP has no family/child care responsibilities and writes articles or a book during late evenings, having been in Parliament or working on either parliamentary or constituency business for 10 hours or so that day?

Does an MP have a ‘second job’ if they are a Minister? In many ways, surely this is worse than having an outside part time job that takes place during recess, as said MP is no longer able to vote against the Government party line, as well as having a (very) significant portion of their working time taken up with Government business rather than constituency business.

While there clearly are examples of MPs who take the mick – before we can talk about banning anything, we need a much clear idea of the shades of grey that might or might not be considered acceptable.

The Politics of Hack Days

One of the big values of a hack day is taking datasets away from their original owners, and getting a bunch of tech-focused people to play about with them. You remove the preconceptions that the owner may hold about the data, and see what happens when a different group of people uses that set of information.

One of the big values of a hack day is taking datasets away from their original owners, and getting a bunch of tech-focused people to play about with them. You remove the preconceptions that the owner may hold about the data, and see what happens when a different group of people uses that set of information.

The direction taken in a hack day environment is a function of those present in the room, and the datasets provided. Both knowledge and values guide what an individual or group thinks to do with a given data set, and decisions are made about what other data sets are used as comparison or in combination, what context these data sets are placed in, what assumptions (both conscious and subconscious) are made, and how any outputs are visualised or understood.

If we want to produce non-partisan outputs, we need to balance as far as possible the political biases in the input provided – both in terms of data and expertise. And this means that the decisions made by hack day organisers in terms of who is providing guidance and which data sets are provided or pointed to shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Campaigning organisations are driven by particular political objectives, and this informs the questions they ask, and the data they chose to collect and subsequently release. We can’t (and shouldn’t) collect all data about every person, group or organisation. Even organisations which are attempting to be non-political will make value judgements about what is (and what isn’t) important data to collect. And this effect will be much stronger – both subconsciously and consciously – in datasets produced by campaigning organisations. Those with strong political objectives and ideologies will also suggest different things to do with a specific dataset.

Therefore, if you run a non-partisan high-profile hack day focusing on critical analysis of Government, it might be prudent to not have this event partly sponsored by a right-wing small-state lobby group, unless you balance this. It might be wise to ensure you have an equal and opposite force with similar prominence in the room, providing guidance and datasets.

I’m not saying exclude guidance and datasets from those with strong political ideology. In fact, to ensure disruptive outcomes, you want to ensure you have many strong views in a room.

However, if the aim of your hack day is to produce something useful and informed by the widest amount of information available, you want to ensure these influences are balanced and diverse.

It can’t be that hard.