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How the Labour Party Can Win at Digital

Yesterday, Tom Watson MP launched the Labour party's new digital initiative to explore ways improve the party can interact with members, supporters, and voters.

This is most welcome. A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes not just to make it happen, but to ensure the findings can be acted on.

As founder of Represent, an open civic platform moving us beyond petitions towards a modern, internet-age democracy, I'd like to share six key ideas.

1. Talk about ideas and solutions, not parties

"It starts with user needs," says Tom in the launch video, getting things off to an encouraging start.

He continues, "What do you need to make your experience of being involved and engaging with the Labour party better in the digital space?" Ah. Well. Here's the problem: I don't know of any needs that require me to engage with the Labour Party.

There are many things I'd love to change, I have plenty of values opinions and ideas I'd love to share with politicians and businesses to improve the world, but like many others I suspect that party politics might be part of the problem. Don't get me wrong, I'm no anarchist, and I would dearly love for political parties to be part of the solution; but experience suggests they are led more by ideology than evidence. (More on that later.)

At elections we are presented with all-or-nothing manifestos. Why can't we vote for policies if we want to? Or even vote for the principles which the policies must follow? Why is it always about what parties think people want, and not about what people have asked for?

How can Labour reinvent what parties mean, and ensure they truly work for us?

At Represent we've flipped it to put people first. You vote once a week (or as often as you like) on topical issues, as well as questions which show your fundamental values and opinions. You can see how you compare to your friends, neighbours, and fellow citizens; and we build a detailed picture of the world we all want, and publish anonymised results and insights publicly, in real-time.

This means decision makers everywhere - from all parties, in the EU, at the UN, businesses, organisations, even foreign governments - can align their goals towards people's goals.

This is why a digital revolution in politics can be so exciting. We have the opportunity to create a world in which everyone's values are heard where they need to be; which empowers people to lead and participate in change where, however, and in as much detail as they choose.

2. Be led by evidence

We need evidence based policies which draw upon the expertise of those who understand the follies and wisdom of that which already exists.

Consulting large numbers of people is no longer difficult or expensive. Digital technology makes it ridiculously easy for any group (health workers, teachers, residents on a floodplain) to raise, discuss, and vote on issues.

And because it's digital, we can analyse to sort by consensus, show correlations and consistency between issues, or show trends by location or age. This lets a government test new ideas where there's most support, accurately tailor policy, and make rapid progress by engaging citizens in change.

3. Harness public expertise

Since there would no longer be any excuse to neglect evidence and expertise, can we do more than just listen to it? If we are happy to learn from and trust them, why not let us delegate our votes to them, too? Why not use digital technology to empower more people within the decision making structure? And if delegates also want to stand for election they'll already have support.

This is known as delegative democracy and is being used to great effect in other parties around the world. It will be making its debut on Represent this spring, in time for the May elections.

4. Use digital to help us help ourselves

As well as willingly sharing our values and lending our expertise, please make it easy for us to participate. If I think that school pupils should have more sport opportunities, then show me how to volunteer to help make it happen. If I think that new local development is an eyesore, point me towards the planning department.

Digital can help us organise to solve our own problems where we can, and help us use existing policy more effectively where we can't.

5. Challenge us

Modern life makes us think we really can have whatever we want, with no trade-offs or hidden costs. We are rarely challenged to prioritise the things we care about, or explain ourselves when we want two things which contradict with each other.

MPs fume at the contradictory petitions filling their inboxes. A smarter democratic platform would make it easy for all sides to vote and debate issues, share and vote on ideas, and present results as a single constituency dashboard. If we are treated like adults we will make decisions like adults.

6. Let us help.

Naturally, Represent does all this and more. We are data geeks who want to help change the world, who believe in open data and powerful APIs. Represent is open to anyone, immediately, and works for MPs and citizens alike. We'd love to work with you, too.

Perhaps we might start with the London Mayoral elections and encourage Sadiq to join the other mayoral candidates and thousands of Londoners already using Represent to make London the world's first truly democratic city?

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