As the UK gears up for its general election next month, a new party is flying the flag for the “geek agenda”.
The recently-launched Pirate Party UK has copyright reform, free speech and open data at the top of its list of priorities. With many net-savvy people feeling disenfranchised by last night’s Digital Economy Bill approval, the time could be right for a party with strong web freedom policies to pick up votes.
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Earlier this week I met up with Pirate Party candidate Tim Dobson (you can see a full video interview below). I was curious to see how a party with a silly name and wholeheartedly ‘geek’ policies hoped to appeal to mainstream voters.
At just 19, Dobson is one of youngest people running for Parliament this year and could potentially become Britain’s youngest MP. He’s one of 12 candidates being fielded by the Pirate Party in the general election. Enthusiastic about digital rights, copyright reform and the open data revolution, he certainly has geek credentials but what about his wider policies?
Dobson tells me that outside of its core policies, the Pirate Party lets individual MPs shape their own proposals on wider issues such as crime, education and tax. Although broadly liberal in his outlook, Dobson doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as such and calls on voters to talk to him about the issues that concern them so that they can work out the best policies between them.
This ‘open’ approach to policies coupled with Dobson’s young age could put him at a disadvantage against more experienced candidates with well-defined manifestos. However, he is running in Manchester’s Gorton East constituency which contains a high proportion of university students and low-income families who may feel disenfranchised by established politicians and take to a fresh face who is open to having a discussion with the public rather than just following a party line on every issue.
Will people vote for ‘Pirates’?
The biggest stumbling block for the Pirate Party could well be its name. Voters may well think the party is either a novelty operation that likes dressing up as Captain Jack Sparrow or some kind of criminal organisation. Neither is true of course, and Dobson describes the party’s name “A blessing and a curse”. He hopes people will see the Pirate Party as the “Sensible party with a silly name”.
What about the Digital Economy Bill?
The Digital Economy Bill controversy could well spur voters to support the Pirate Party. Dobson has this morning sent me a statement in which he says:
“I find that the way that the Government has pushed this blll through, despite massive amounts of vocal opposition, absolutely disgusting.
It is shocking to see MPs wander in during the debate, with no clue as to what is actually going on or what has previously been covered and make uneducated and unqualified statements about a digital environment they have no idea about.
However, I am enraged by the MPs who ignored the debate, didn’t listen to public opinion and then showed up at last moment to vote their own the party line.
Whilst some MPs went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the transparency of this bill, the MPs who allowed the bill to escape any sort of real debate and scrutiny have disgraced their parties, constituents and the country.”
I grabbed a few minutes to shoot this interview with Dobson at the Social Media Cafe Manchester event this week.