A sketched picture of James' head

James Smith

Building a better future out of code

Answering back

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There are a few of common reactions I get from people when I tell them I’m standing (though by far the response is positive).

I’d like to put down my own responses to them here. Note that the questions aren’t direct quotes from particular individuals, they are a kind of merged version of many times I’ve been asked the same thing. I’ve tried not to caricature them, but they are simplified; apologies if anyone feels I’m putting words into their mouths.

Why Bother?

Voting doesn’t change anything, so neither will standing. And even if you get in, you’ll have no power.

That’s a pretty damning indictment of our system, right there. If voters have no power, and even elected representatives have no power, isn’t it time to change that? Thing is, these changes take time and effort, and unless you’re going to literally start a revolution out on the streets, what other routes do we have other than voting and standing? No seat is safe if people vote for a different option. It won’t be easy, but it is possible if we work together. I know that’s optimistic, but what’s the alternative other than fatalistic disengagement?

In the end, my response to “why bother” comes down to this. If your ideal roadmap for the future doesn’t include people that you agree with in government at some point, then what is your roadmap? Will you be out on the streets in violent revolution, or will you be running the underground in a police state? Or are you waiting for the established wealth and power of our political class to voluntarily change its mind and go in a direction you like?

We can work around it!

We can fix this with technology. Encrypt everything, work around government interference, make it impossible for them to spy on us.

I’ve heard this one a number of times in the surveillance-related conversations I’ve been in, and I disagree wholeheartedly. So, encryption is great, and all these privacy-protecting things are wonderful; however, I don’t want to live somewhere where it’s necessary to use them to protect myself from my own government. I don’t want to end up in an encryption arms race against well-funded domestic intelligence agencies, who at the end of the day can come round and arrest me if I’m using suspicious anonymous routing software. There are places like this in the world today, and I have no desire to see the UK turning into one of them. It would, quite frankly, be a shitty way to live.

Why Horsham?

Horsham’s a very safe Tory seat, you’ll never win there. Why not stand somewhere else?

This one’s easy. I think that the parachuting-in of candidates by central parties is a terrible thing for voter engagement. The idea of candidates working their way up through marginals, then being rewarded with a nice safe seat once they’re at the upper end of the party is one of the really bad aspects of our system at the moment. We actually propose in the manifesto that candidates must live or work in the constituency they want to stand for, and have done so for a while beforehand.

So, because I live in Horsham, that’s where I’m standing. It’s the place I’m a part of, that I call home, and that I care about. Is that enough of a reason? Yes, it’ll be a hard fight, but what isn’t?

Why Francis?

Why are you standing against Francis Maude? He’s one of the good guys!

This comes along a lot in the Open Data and civic technology worlds. First, I’d refer you to my above answer - I’m standing for a better way of doing things, not against Francis in particular.

I quite agree that Francis has done good things during his time in government. His creation of GDS and the work around gov.uk has been excellent, and I’m quite sure that the transformation agenda currently going across the civil service will lead to great things. From what I hear, he’s incredibly engaged in these things, and for that I thank him.

Also, his dedication to government transparency is to be lauded (and continued in future). I probably wouldn’t have the great job I have now at the ODI if Francis hadn’t given his support to the organisation during its formation, so I have that to thank him for as well.

However, and I’m being realistic here, if I take Francis’ seat in 2015, then it’ll be a sign of a much larger shift in British politics, and it’s quite likely that he wouldn’t have been in his job any more anyway. The likelihood of the rest of the establishment remaining unchanged, and me just taking out the one good guy in government is very low.

Of course, while he’s done good things in the area of online and transparent government, he’s been heavily involved in much of the austerity agenda, has made statements about reducing the rights of teachers and others to go on strike, and many other more traditional Tory policies which I don’t like.

The government’s digital and transparency agendas will continue; we shouldn’t get too attached to the person running them.

Apologies (sort of)

However, I do feel for those who will probably have to have awkward conversations about why one of their own is running against a key figure in government; if I make your life difficult, I can only apologise.

All I can say is that both my current employment and my choice to stand are a natural parts of my own personal trajectory, and that nobody should see it as some conspiracy of a radical think-tank trying to take over the country. If it was, I imagine they’d be rather more effective, anyway. ;)


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