Conference fringes are something you learn to dread as an MP (at least a Lib Dem one where there are few of us to go round a lot of meetings) as you dash from place to place always late and always scrambling to find the right notes (if any) for that session. But they can turn out to be really interesting when there is a good group of engaged people who can carry on the discussion after in some (not sleazy) hotel bar.
Last night, I spoke at a fringe organised by the Centre for Reform (a “Lib-Dem leaning” thinktank!) and at which James Crabtree of VoxPolitics (they of blogging event in the House of Commons fame amongst much other work) was also speaking amongst others. We were joined by other Lib Dem e-democracy folk after and conversation turned to the regular topic of “how come there is lots of talk on the internet and democracy front but relatively little action”. This is one where there is great deal of frustration which I share about the difficulty of getting things moving.
Two points come out of this.
1. James talked about wanting to find a way to support people to make the tools we need for politics. I couldn’t agree more and had been thinking along similar lines though in a much less defined way. I want to engage with James and his co-conspirators to see if I can help with this. If done in the right non-partisan way then I also think that some of the Lib Dems I know in this area would have a lot to bring to the table.
2. I strongly feel that change is going to come from outside the traditional political institutions and not from within them. This may represent my personal frustration at how hard it is to move the “establishment” from years of experience. But it also seems to me reasonable to suppose that if you want to change politicians then a very good way to achieve this is to change the environment in which they live. They (we) are interested in survival to a very high degree so will respond to evolutionary pressures if they are strong enough. My prime example of this happening is FaxYourMP.com which most MPs do take seriously even if they moan about it (only 6 out of 659 still refuse to accept items from this email to fax gateway which was setup entirely outwith the Parliamentary structures).
One of the other areas raised by another panellist was the lessons of the Open Source movement for politics. This is a topic for another day as it is something which I feel is of real significance.
Methinks I will return from conference once more with enough new projects to fill another year and then some…