“Let’s prod the beast, and see if it’ll move”

In last week’s Spectator there’s an article by Peter Lilley. It is subtitled thus:  “Today’s MPs are no longer scared of the whips. Instead, they are scared of their constituents. That’s a good thing.”

The piece heralds the role TheyWorkForYou has played in helping constituents hold their MP to account.

Good.

It’s ten years since we* started building TheyWorkForYou – a decade’s lag between cause and effect.

Back in 2003 our aim was to force MPs to remember who they worked for. As in, us. Not their party. Not the whips. Not the executive. But us, their constituents.

For Stef and I, the motivation came from having prodded the parliamentary beast while using the web to educate MPs on the importance of sane digital legislation.

As the TheyWorkForYou ‘About Us’ page  puts it:

For all its faults and foibles, our democracy is a profound gift from previous generations. Yet most people don’t know the name of their MP, nor their constituency, let alone what their MP does or says in their name.

We aim to help bridge this growing democratic disconnect, in the belief that there is little wrong with Parliament that a healthy mixture of transparency and public engagement won’t fix.

Hence this website.

It took a while, but job done, I reckon.  The beast moved.

Early sketch of TheyWorkForYou, then using working title of EasyParliament

Early sketch of TheyWorkForYou (working title was EasyParliament)


* “We” were a bunch of about a dozen volunteers. Most of the legwork was done by the likes of Francis, Phil & Matthew. The charity mySociety kindly took over the site in about 2005 and has since expanded the concept internationally.

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Three reasons why Anno NTK is a bad thing.

In an elegant ruse to excuse themselves from writing any further instalments,  Danny, Dave and Lee have just launched Anno NTK.

Each Friday afternoon, this will deliver a 15 year timeshifted copy of the ‘Nasty. British. Short’  geek newsletter, NTK, which originally ran from 1997 through to 2007ish.

Anno NTK is a Bad Thing, for three reasons.

Firstly, it’s all much too fey and fashionable.  NTK would have ruthlessly taken the piss.

Secondly, their ruse is sufficiently elegant for people to refrain from giving the NTKers a hard time for giving up in the first place.  I remain pitiless in my scorn. Quitters.

Thirdly, its arrival has required me to delve into the dark corners of my emailarchive to fix various urls on assorted esoteric webservers. Tracks once carefully covered then should remain thus, while joy shared then should once again be celebrated.

(Respect to Demon for keeping that last webserver running for 17+ years. Please don’t send me the invoice.)

Found while searching my Gmail archive for a long lost chart…

…I’d forgotten I wrote this. It was done for a booklet given to all senior managers attending a BBC Leadership conference at a posh Salford hotel in Feb 2007.

Learning to Stop
Tom Loosemore
Project Director BBC2.0

We should have closed most of the websites on bbc.co.uk long ago. I believe the reasons behind our failure to do so are institutionally lethal.

Granted, we’ve built a handful of spectacularly successful, much-loved websites, of which we should be rightly proud. But our busy webservers also play host to thousands of smaller sites, most of which actively damage the BBC brand. A third of our websites score so poorly in terms of quality that a commercial business with similarly poor perception would go bust within a year. Yet we leave them up.

This failure comes with hidden costs, over and above the money we spend on these sites. Firstly, they damage our reputation for quality. Secondly, they confuse our users – we have six climate change websites. Finally, the resources they suck up restrict our freedom to exploit better opportunities.

And the more I’ve tried to understand how we let bbc.co.uk get so bloated, the more I catch whiffs of what I fear is an institutional malaise. We don’t stop doing anything unless confronted by hard, external constraints – the scarcity of spectrum as represented by a schedule, or a Foreign Office demanding Arabic TV but refusing to pay for it.

We could get away with this attitude with RPI +1.5%. That left enough slack to keep doing everything we’d always done, and also develop the new services our audiences were demanding. That luxury has gone.

Unless we learn to stop we will under-invest in future services – our best hope of staying universally relevant amid the most profound revolution in media consumption since Marconi, if not Gutenberg.

It is hard to stop doing things. It’s hard to deal with the fallout – from staff, unions, irate opinion formers, a frothy press and audiences angry at having their service closed.

But it’ll be harder still to explain to our grandchildren why we failed one of the few civilising institutions Britain has left.

Let’s be brave enough to stop.

What a sanctimonious, pompous prig. I’d forgotten how angry I was with the BBC by the time I left.

The conference was most memorable for late night whisky with Tony Ageh & Will Lewis. IIRC Tony insisted to the then Editor of the Telegraph that it was the latter’s public duty to become BBC Director General. Funny. The rest of the shindig was usual bollocks.

Back to the powerpoint.