From donkeys to democracy

Tony Samphier
25 March 2010

To say that prospective parliamentary candidates are traditionally not very candid is a huge understatement. For decades, they have relied on the “if you stick a big party rosette on a donkey it’ll get elected” rule of the old politics. Too often, a bit of biographical blurb listing how many school governorships the candidate has amassed, is the best you get.

But, post expenses scandal, and now with more revelations about overseas jaunts and cash for influence, public acceptance of the traditional political game is wearing thin (another understatement).

This won’t be new to OurKingdom regulars, but what is new about this election is that it has been billed as the “e-election” where the internet takes charge.

Of course, readers will have different takes on the e-election claim. But, combined with the implosion of the Westminster (mainly) boys club, there does seem to be an opportunity to use the internet to get parliamentary hopefuls to be more open about policy and, as a result, achieve greater accountability.

Though there are some good examples of this emerging, the Democracy Club being one, and fantastic campaign “pledging” pressure going on, which is different altogether, there seems to be room for much more of this kind of thing.

Hence a new non-party web initiative – DEMREF 2010: Candidates for the General Election tell us where they stand on democratic reform.

The idea of DEMREF 2010 is to create a web-based platform where voters can scrutinise and compare the views of their candidates in order to help make an informed choice on polling day. It is a very simple constituency-by-constituency listing with each candidate as a separate pdf document that can be easily downloaded.

DEMREF 2010 asks candidates for their views on fixed-term parliaments, free voting, the electoral system, open primaries, voting age, recalling MPs and House of Lords reform. Candidates can also add their own favoured reforms.

To date hundreds of candidates from all parties have put themselves up for voter scrutiny by posting their views on DEMREF 2010 and the number of participating candidates is increasing daily.

But DEMREF 2010 needs the vast majority of candidates to take part by the time the election is in full swing in order to meet its objective of helping to achieve greater openness and accountability.

Candidates wishing to be featured on DEMREF 2010 should email tony.samphier [at] or call 0208 761 8155.

Crucially, voters wishing to encourage their candidates to openly state their views on DEMREF 2010 should simply email the name of their constituency to tony.samphier [at] and a reminder will be sent to the relevant candidates.

For sure, DEMREF 2010 is a tentative, imperfect stab at e-accountability. But it does have a chance to make a little bit of difference.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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