A little experiment in open engagement Co-op Party style

I’m going to try this, I don’t know if it will work but we’ll give it a bash.

Yours truly also happens to be heavily involved in the Co-operative Party, sister affiliated party to the Labour Party. Although not much is picked up on in the press, in recent years a great deal of Co-op Party policy has found it’s way into Labour Party policy and been implemented. It’s even been pinched by the Tories and passed off as their own.

Last year the Co-op Party became the first political party in the UK and possibly the world to pass a motion in the support of open source software. It wasn’t world changing and didn’t hit the headlines but I know because I wrote it. It was passed at the Annual Conference last September and to be precise, was written by me in October 2007 after having been a delegate to the previous year’s conference, picking up on a few things and having a think to myself.

So here we are this year and the Walsall Co-operative Party has the opportunity to submit another motion to annual conference. I won’t go into all the procedural ins and outs but basically we have to agree on a motion or motions on Monday 2nd February to fit into the time-scale for getting it through to national conference in September.

So instead of this being the usual small group of people I’ve decided to open it up and see what, if anything comes in. I know it’s short notice but spread it about a bit and we’ll see. You can either leave it in the comments section or if you’d like submit via the contact section.

I’ll need them for the meeting on Monday evening (7.00pm), I promise to raise them all for consideration. I can’t promise that they will be supported or that through the process they won’t be edited or refined but here’s a little chance to take part in the party political policy process.

Any motions should in general have a co-operative theme or be concerned with issues that the Co-operative Party concerns itself like social justice and mutuality.

2 thoughts on “A little experiment in open engagement Co-op Party style

  1. No good reason not to go FOSS but the government seems to love Microsoft.

    Re Co-Op Party: What meaning do their motions have if they just follow the Labour whip? How is the Co-Op Party really separate to Labour? This isn’t to say I don’t support the Co-Op Party (I’m a big fan of cooperatives), but I find their role curious.

  2. @Joe With the party political hat off I think the attitude towards FOSS at Governmental level is complex, multi-layered and in part, time determined.

    The first problem is that there is no real overall IT strategy. There’s arguments for and against of course but we have a system whereby each department effectively does what it wants in terms of implementation so there’s sort of diversity (although in practice this is usually backbone server side stuff as the desktop end user is almost entirely Windows based).

    Architecture wise there’s a lot of proprietary customised coding underpinning a lost of system in particularly the area of databases where private firms have been brought it, paid lots of money and built something that sometimes works or not as the case may be.

    Web servers and CMS’s are different and increasingly more so. If you go for a hunt around various departmental websites and trace what kind of server they’re running on then there’s a right old hotchpotch mix, even within the same sites where you can get anything from Microsoft IIS, Apache’s to some weird, wonderful and sometimes archaic Sun servers. Again in the CMS’s they’re using for presenting data there are good moves in the use of FOSS.

    In the case of web servers there’s not so much of an issue because you’re going to be employing techies to do a job they’ve got the requisite knowledge to do and for the vast majority of people who use those portals, what server or CMS the site’s are run are irrelevant to a large extent.

    That’s not quite so easy when it comes to uses in other areas. Although you get nobheads like Osborne doing the whole Open Source thing to look hip, he doesn’t understand the real practical implications of such a massive task and at worst you risk alienating people against FOSS much in the same way that you would in an individual context.

    A lot’s made of the cost of licensing but it’s not the real problem or main cost motivator. Training is by far the most difficult problem to overcome and that’s where there’s also a generational problem.

    It’s OK to say, right we’re now going to start using FOSS but if the staff you’ve got have IT skills that amount to “I know how to use Word/Excel/Internet Explorer and a few other things I can find when I click the ‘start’ button” then the real problem becomes apparent.

    This is an area where it’s likely to get worse before it gets better because for people of my age who’s IT at school consisted of very little because computers weren’t prevalent through to using various systems over the years and perhaps a bit of natural flair for adjusting and learning anything put in front of me because I know how the damn things work beyond a GUI. People in the <25ish age group are going to have been spoon fed Microsoft applications and system because of how they’ve sown up the market for schools and people who are older who may not have done that much at school and have to re-skill in work or at night-school with have done a CLAIT or ECDL which is little more than how to use Microsoft Office.

    There is of course some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of this in that increasingly the advice to schools has been to not sign up to the new Microsoft Schools Programme and to seek alternatives and we are seeing some interesting uses of Linux emerging. That said, the driving force behind that seems to be more about the cost of upgrading equipment to handle Vista (which may disappear with Windows 7) and interoperable problems with the latest Office format. (I am wondering when anyone’s going to notice when the EU mandates the ODF as the community standard and that the majority of systems we’re running don’t support it).

    Then you’ve got the infrastructure problem in terms of the networks and servers. Much as I hate to admit it, a failing in the FOSS area is e-mail servers. It ain’t perfect but Microsoft Exchange does scale up well. FOSS solutions are good up to a few hundred users after which you’re going to have to factor in specific staffing to keep them managed properly and we are talking of user bases in the thousands.

    Then of course you’ve got all these proprietary (mainly database) systems knocking around that have at great expense been bashed into something that will work (sometimes very badly) with all the Windows clients and you can’t just then suddenly make them work with a different end client OS without even greater expense which is probably not what any Government particularly fancies doing right now.

    Where the real solution lies, is not specifically in FOSS (although in most cases it will go hand in hand) but in the implementation of open standards across the civil service.

    That means XML’s, ODF’s, database structures like MySql that are easily portable and the like and anyone wanting to do work building any system for the Government should be mandated to use them.

    Once that’s out the way and unless Microsoft start building apps that support the standards then the next level should be the migration of desktop apps across, the obvious being a move towards OpenOffice that does support the standards and should be minimal in terms of retraining accounting for it’s similar user interface to MS Office.

    The final migration should be as OS level but ultimately within the timescale you’d be talking to implement such a policy we could well be in the territory of where the OS is almost irrelevant and we’re using server side remote access applications and the civil servants desktop becomes little more than an intranet/internet portal at which point you suddenly realise you’ve spent X billion pounds migrating to something that is now redundant.

    On the whole we’re heading in the right direction slowly but way behind Western continental Europe (Eastern’s a different matter).

    However that doesn’t mean that some departments aren’t really going the wrong way, (what the MoD were thinking with Windows for Warships is beyond me) especially when the US military is in the process of shifting its command and control systems over to Linux.

    As far government in general is concerned, the problems are more protracted at local level than national and the simple reason is, the ‘Man from FOSS’ never pops round to show you his latest shiny that he promises will solve all your problems. The ‘Man from Microsoft’ does. He might even put on a bit of a spread for you too.

    On the Co-op Party it’s a bit complicated. As regards the whip, all Co-op MP’s are also Labour MP’s. This is on account of when the ‘socially progressive’ movement was getting really going it was decided that it would be counter-productive for the Co-op Party to field Co-op candidates against Labour ones as much of the principles underpinning both parties were shared and so the Co-op Party became a sister affiliated party of Labour.

    So in the case of when a candidate stands, they would be described as the Labour & Co-operative Party candidate. Which is fun trying to sort out with an local governmental elections office, I know.

    So as in the case of locally or nationally elected candidates they are always Labour and follow the Labour whip. Was also true of European until the introduction of the regional PR system but this arrangement isn’t legally possible so they have to be just Labour then.

    Within the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) there is the Co-op MP’s group who meet in their own right to try and promote Co-op principles and policies.

    In regards to how it is separate. The Co-op Party is registered as an entirely separate political party, has it’s own constitution, units of operation, structure and procedures. At these various levels it may plug in to levels of the Labour Party so for example a Co-op Party branch may affiliate to Constituency Labour Party units that share it’s geographical area and send delegates to that unit (as long as the delegate is also a Labour Party member within that CLP) to represent the Co-op Party.

    On motions, the Co-op Party does formulate it’s own manifesto which is separate from the Labour Party manifesto when it comes to elections. I can’t think of a time when it has specifically contradicted the Labour Party manifesto but in effect candidates stand in support of both.

    In practice though, it is more subtle because you find Co-op policies filter into the main Labour manifesto and policy in Government. This works to varying degrees but you can often spot it if the Minister or whatever is also Co-op.

    For example, there have been distinct themes of Co-op solutions filtering into education policy which amusingly the Tories tried to pinch off the Co-op Party a couple of months afters it was launched by Ed Balls who is of course a Labour Co-op MP.

Comments are closed.