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Cameron wants techies to open up Parliament

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Tory leader David Cameron would welcome some key technological changes to the way that Parliament makes its business available to the public.

That is just one thrust of proposals for modernising government, which he set out in a speech to the Open University in Milton Keynes, yesterday.

Starting with the contention that "We do need a new politics in this country. We do need sweeping reform," he went on to talk of lack of control by the public, mirrored by a lack of responsibility on the part of those in power. He was scathing of what he described as "an increasingly Orwellian surveillance state - symbolised by the simultaneously ineffective and intrusive ID cards scheme".

He expressed his concern that lack of interaction between government and those governed was leading to alienation from the political process, and was adamant that the system needs to reconnect through major structural change.

Two details of his programme suggest that he is beginning to get the message that IT is not just a means to an end.

First, he appears to accept criticism levelled by mysociety, that Parliament is too busy trying to re-invent the wheel to put in place nimble systems that allow the public to interact with the business of government. Over the last few years, Parliament has put up a worthy guide to published legislation. This is updated regularly, providing a resource for those who want to keep an eye on the legislative process to do so.

However, according to the Tory leader: "The way bills are published online today is stifling innovation and blocking democratic engagement."

In the space of time that it has taken government to review and think about setting up greater access to parliamentary business, mysociety has been responsible for a range of open initiatives from "TheyWorkForYou" to "WhatDoTheyKnow" which have greatly aided public input at all levels of government.

Expect more open source initiatives, coupled to schemes that allow large (online) petitions to inject publicly inspired topics into real debates in the House of Commons.

Cameron is also prepared to reject the existing block on allowing parliamentary clips to be shown on YouTube. This ban, which has been the subject of parliamentary debate in the past, is most notable for the way in which it is ignored.

Objectors claim that selectively edited clips could be used to make parliamentarians look silly. The Civil Service also objects that its staff should not be required to moderate any comments put up in response to officially posted clips, as this takes them into the realms of party politics.

It’s a good start – but a small one: perhaps the time has come for techies to submit their own ideas to Mr Cameron as, for once, a senior politician might just be listening. ®

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