Parliament: more global, less local (part 4)

In the first three parts of this series (1, 2, 3), I have suggested reforms to make the British parliamentary system better equipped for what could be an especially turbulent period in our history. I proposed: greater devolution; a slimmer, punchier House of Commons; and a House of Lords with a mix of elected, co-opted and politically-appointed members.

Now: some thoughts on elections, which are – as things stand – the epitome of everything people hate about the public sector (inconvenient, confusing, dingy, etc). With a little redesign, we could make them so much more entertaining, user friendly, and festive: fit for the modern media age.

Consider. We live in the age of live. The online revolution has destroyed many business models, but it is driving the value of one-off events through the roof. Rock stars release albums to promote their live shows (ten years ago, it was the other way round). Sky’s business model is based on the capture of live sport, especially football.

Master manipulator, Derren Brown, understands this better than anyone. His recent series was structured deliberately as a series of events – designed to provoke and gel together a stream of frenzied media and online coverage.

To be sure, a British general election is gripping, but almost inspite of itself. We’ll soon be having the first British general election of the Twitter era, but as always the results will dribble in the middle of the night (thus ‘were you still up for Portillo?’).

That didn’t matter a jot in the print era – and television has learned to make the most of the bad timing. But it’s surely wrong for the new media age. When we next go the polls, most of the British public will be asleep when we get to the climax.

So I suggest:

  • A Democracy Day every two and a half years – with a general election in June and a mid-term in November.
  • All elections – Westminster, devolved government, councils, European parliament, referenda, etc – will be held on one of these days (by-elections would be the only exception).
  • Voting would be as easy as possible, with polls open throughout the week before, and voting could be made compulsory (with a ‘none of the above’ option, of course).
  • Democracy Day would be a public holiday – with polls closing at 6 o’clock.
  • Sunderland would then do its usual party trick and gets its result out within the hour. The rest of the action would then unfold across prime time; even in the closest years, the result would be clear before the nation went to bed.
  • The TV audience would be huge; Twitter and its ilk would go berserk (think of all the local coverage from counts); while election parties and victory rallies could happen at a sensible time.


Tweets from the summit table

Sweden took over the rotating EU presidency in July, and has already raised eyebrows by its decision to allow Twittering during meetings of senior eurocrats. Yet few state secrets will be revealed, judging by early posts. One reported that the “meeting went well although I think I was the one who enjoyed the cinnamon rolls the most.” Such behaviour is apparently standard in Sweden—one minister recently updated his Facebook profile during a dull cabinet meeting, only to receive a reply within minutes. “Shouldn’t you be paying more attention to the discussion,” said the message, which turned out to have been sent from the other side of the table, by Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt.

– From Prospect

Twitter’s urban roots

Courtesy Jack Dorsey

Courtesy Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey has been talking to the LA Times about his early sketch (from 2000) for STATUS, a service that would eventually be launched as Twitter.

What’s interesting is that urban resilience was a core part of Twitter’s inspiration:

Twitter has been my life’s work in many senses. It started with a fascination with cities and how they work, and what’s going on in them right now. That led me to the only thing that was tractable in discovering that, which was bicycle messengers and truck couriers roaming about, delivering packages.

That allowed me to create this visualization — to create software that allowed me to see how this was all moving in a city. Then we started adding in the next element, which are taxi cabs. Now we have another entity roaming about the metropolis, reporting where it is and what work it has, going over GPS and CB radio or cellphone. And then you get to the emergency services: ambulances, firetrucks and police — and suddenly you have have this very rich sense of what’s happening right now in the city. 

But it’s missing the public. It’s missing normal people. And that’s where Twitter came in.