This post is about three things. First, I am making public a series of policy papers I've written over the last few years for Tory and Labour politicians and advisors. Second, I am stating my personal political beliefs for the record. And third, I'm letting people know that I'm no longer involved with advising anyone in Westminster, partly due to the dull tribalism.
That Obligatory Caveat
The views expressed here are me speaking as Tom Steinberg, not as the director of mySociety.
Over the last five years, I have been lucky enough to be asked to provide advice and guidance to policy makers both in central government, and on the doorstep of it. I've seized upon these opportunities to point decision-makers towards uses of digital technologies that are more usable, user-centered, democratically-strengthening, transparent and open. I have done this for many people across different parties, putting my own politics to one side in the name of getting things done.
Earlier this year - April/May time - I quit my last role in Westminster (Transparency Board) putting a neat cap on a five-plus year relationship.
Today - several months later - I am publishing all the policy papers that I can find that I wrote over that period for Tory and Labour MPs, Ministers or party operatives.
I am putting them up for several reasons
1. Because Tom Watson asked me to.
2. Because they may be of interest to some sector specialists - I think there are some decent ideas in there, and probably some stupid ones too. And this is a chance to make public a whole host of things I have advocated in the past so that I can find them myself.
3. I want to make it clear that I have been willing to give advice to people from across the political spectrum, but that I have not given out electioneering advice to anyone. In particular you will see I wrote papers for both Labour and Tory party operatives in the run-up to the 2010 general election, including one solicited by Ed Miliband himself.
A Few Regrets, and a Public Declaration
I am too British to dwell on the things that I think went well in this time, but I am British enough to ponder the things I regret:
- I regret that in order to influence Tory policy before the 2010 election I was obliged to let my name be used by that party. I would much rather have given my advice privately, but it wasn't an option if I was to have an impact on the new government. This was not a decision I enjoyed making.
- I regret that I seem to have allowed the impression to arise that I must myself be a conservative, who was trying to get the Tories elected. I'm not, and was not. I've never voted for a conservative party either in the UK or the US. I am a left-of-centre moderate who doesn't talk much about his personal politics because I don't enjoy the abuse you get when you do. Plus, the great majority of the technological advice I give is equally valid for governments of the left and right. If someone could put this on my Wikipedia page, that would be nice.
- I regret I couldn't either achieve any meaningful reform of the way the UK government's trading funds are regulated, or make any progress on the creation of a meaningful right to data.
- I regret the fact that I turned down money for the advice I was asked to give over the last couple of years, so I could assert independence of thinking. Silly me.
- I regret the fact that this publication of papers will upset some of the people who I wrote these papers for, just because the expectation of secrecy is so strongly felt throughout Westminster.
How can someone with declared political views run a non-partisan organisation?
Non-partisan institutions can be - and indeed usually are - run by people with political views, as long as their politics doesn't distort the workings of those institutions. Virtually every NGO in the world is run by people with considerable political feelings, often part time political activists (which I am not). My own moderate left-of-centre views are clearly so hard to percieve in the running of my organisation that I appear to attract mainly left-wing critics.
My Policy Papers
So without further ado, here they are:
- 'The Power of Information Review' - This was already public but it was big, paid, and marks pretty much the start date for me as a regular advisor. It was a civil service contract, with the ultimate recipient being the Labour minister Hilary Armstrong.
- 'Ideas for the Chancellor' - Some ideas on participation for Gordon Brown (when chancellor).
- A short, unnamed paper for Labour minister Tom Watson, on job data and government website feedback.
- A piece on getting better access to transport data for Labour minister Tom Watson.
- A paper on why structured Bill data would be a good thing for Parliament to do, for the Labour PPS Chris Bryant.
- A paper on other digital reforms Parliament could implement, such as better email handling, for the Labour PPS Chris Bryant.
- I was asked by Ed Miliband for a paper to feed into the early part of the Labour manifesto writing process, so I wrote him this paper on 'How to be on the citizen's side of the Internet Disruption'.
- The second already-public document on this list - about a technology platform for publishing MPs' expenses, for the Committee for Standards in Public Life (contains cross-party members).
- Then the Tory party asked if I would be their advisor, and I wrote them four interlinked papers on ICT reform at the heart of government. These were for various advisors, but ultimately all this was directed at Conservative MP and shadow minister Francis Maude.
- A technical architecture paper for Conservative MP Grant Shapps about Housing Swaps data.
- After the election I wrote a paper for Rohan Silva (then a Conservative Special Advisor) about what I thought should happen to the No10 Petitions site that mySociety had built for Tony Blair.
- For other Transparency Board members, civil servants and Tory advisors I wrote this last paper on the Right to Data. This is an idea I care about quite a bit.
End note. Finding old papers is really difficult and time-consuming - I've done lots of trawling through sent mail from years ago, and I'm not at all sure the above is definitive. If you have a paper I wrote for you, and you want me to add it, please send it along.