11 June 2009

The Source Code of Power

Tom Watson is that rare thing: a net-savvy MP. So his decision to step down as minister means that our loss is all the greater. Maybe, though, he'll be able to do good from the sidelines - writing articles like the one in yesterday's Guardian, which contains the following memorable metaphor:

Our voting system is the source code of the power wielded by MPs. It bestows the authority of the people on their representatives. Yet few MPs can claim support from more than 50% of their electors. AV enables ­preference (ranked) voting, ensuring an MP can claim authority of a majority of their voters. AV also allows voters to protest – through the support of small and single-issue groups, while also choosing to support a larger party, if they so wish. Unlike some other voting systems, it allows the retention of a geographic link between MP and electors.

I can't agree on the AV (alternative voting) - I think it's got to be proportional or nothing - but what's really interesting is Watson's own explanation of why source code is much on his mind these days:

Changing the voting system is not the only solution to parliament's waning authority. I recently left the daily grind of ministerial life having had 18 months immersed in conversation with the UK's digital pioneers. I'm convinced that our economic future is dependent on developing a set of economic and regulatory arrangements to hothouse our digital natives – the under-30s for whom the internet is not a new technology.I hope to spend my time on the backbenches arguing for a digitally enabled democracy. There are technologies that did not exist when Labour was elected in 1997, that if adopted, will allow a new Speaker to lead parliament into a new age of transparency and accountability.

"Digitally-enabled democracy": that's really heartening. It suggests the kind of discourse that goes on among geeks here and many places elsewhere *can* feed through to the corridors of power, and change the way things are done there. If we keep plugging away, maybe the geek really will inherit the earth.

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