A Cautionary Tale: Lessons from UK poverty campaigners

I’ve got a new post up on Political Dynamite, asking if international development campaigners need to learn lessons from UK poverty campaigners.

Do pop by and have a read.

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Future of No10 petition site kicked into long grass….again!

So Martha Lane Fox has today delivered her review of digital provision in central government and the future of the No10 petition site still remains unclear.

 

The site, which has seen 5 millions people take action, was taken down ahead of the May general election, and ever since its future has remained uncertain (I’ve argued this might not be a bad thing but it’d be good to know one way or another). For the last few weeks it has displayed the following message;

November 2010 – The overall future of all HMG digital comms and engagement is bound into the Martha Lane Fox review, which will be announced imminently. The future of e-petitions will be part of that review.

But a decision is going to be hard when the report which was released today says nothing about the site, e-petitions or how the government can use digital media to engage directly with citizens on public policy issues.

I might be missing something (another report from Lane Fox perhaps), but it seems that the Coalition Government is keen to continue to kick the future of the site into the long grass.

So much for a ‘new way of doing politics’.

Does campaigning work?

WWF try to answer the question

Protest in the media (again)

The British media seems to have re-awakened an interest in protesting. Last week the Guardian had a go at listing the 10 best protests in history.

While the BBC World Service has been airing ‘Marching into History’ which is described as;

For hundreds of years the protest march has been a means of voicing passionate concerns.
Whether protesting at injustice, challenging inequalities, fighting for better conditions or showing solidarity for fellow workers – demonstrating has been a way of focusing public anger.
While some mass demonstrations have ended in victory, others have led to retreat, defeat and sometimes tragedy. Defying the authorities can be a dangerous business.
In this two-part documentary, Michael Goldfarb examines the protest march as a force for change

The first part is available to listen to here, while the second part will be broadcast on Wednesday 24th November at 09.05 GMT.

Protecting the right to campaign

Whatever campaigning tactics you or your organisation use, we should be grateful we live in a country where free speech is protected and the right to campaign upheld.

That’s why campaigners of all styles and viewpoints should be concerned about the erosion of campaigning space, much of which happened under the last government.

This film made by campaigners from People and Planet shows what happens when they recently tried to collect petitions in a busy Birmingham shopping centre, while the accompany post details a number of recent examples where activists have been asked to ‘move on’ for campaigning in public spaces owned by private companies (often shopping centres or other similar spaces in towns and cities).

The  government has plans to introduce a Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill into parliament in the coming months and I’ve argued before that this bill should remove some of the worst bits of legislation the reduce campaigning space in London and around the UK, but we need to do more.

I’d strongly encourage you to add your name to the petition that 38degrees are running which wants to “Reclaim the right to campaign” and asks you to “support the right to protest in areas which are freely open to the public but which are privately owned, such as the walkways of shopping centres.”

You and your organisation may never plan to make use of the opportunity, but we should stand alongside other campaigning organisations who do to ensure that we keep the maximum possible opportunities to exercise the opportunity to campaign in the UK.

Getting action on climate change

Jonathan Powell’s in his excellent book, The New Machiavelli, shares a great example of how a tactic worked to get action on climate change  from the UK goverment.

In June 2006, Gordon organised a session with Al Gore and a screening of his climate change film in Number 11 and was terribly upset when no minister would come because it clashed with a meeting of the Cabinet environment committee.

We changed the time of the meeting, and the ministers all came to the screening and then went straight on to their postponed meeting. In a fit of post-film euphoria, they agreed to raise the target for the cut in carbon emissions from the 4 million tons we had been contemplating to 10.5 million tons.

Are top ministers avoiding meetings with NGOs?

Tom Watson has shared a treasure trove of information about who’s getting meetings with the new government on his blog

Publishing documents previously available only to those with access to the House of Commons library. It shows who advice is being sought and who’s being locked out.

The first few months of a governments matter, because they set the tone, it’s a time when departments are being bombarded with requests for meetings, so only those whose views are really wanted are invited in.

The information from the three of the ministries of state (No 10, Foreign Office and Home Office) makes for unhappy reading for civil society groups, despite the focus on the ‘Big Society’ their hasn’t been a lot of space created for meetings with representatives from CSOs.

The PM has held just one meeting with civil society, a roundtable with 16 organisations to discuss the ‘Big Society’. The only other non-business or media interest was a meeting with the TUC in July and Bob Geldof to discuss ‘development issues’ in June (presumably ahead of the G8) although many NGOs will remember with horror the way the Geldof threw away the script and fell out with many involved in the Make Poverty History after the G8 summit in 2005.

Compare that to meetings with Rupert Murdoch, Phizer, Facebook and Wikimedia, amongst others that the PM has had and it shows more of an enthusiasm to meet with foreign companies and representatives of News International.

Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, seems to have done a little better, attending the same meeting with Cameron to discuss ‘The Big Society’, and also receiving petitions from ‘Take Back Parliament’ and the Maternal Mortality Campaign, along with holding meeting with The Elders, Gates Foundation and the British Overseas Aid Group (a group of the biggest 5 development NGOs).

The same patterns seems to be repeating itself across at the FCO, William Hague hasn’t found time to meet with any campaigning organisations, although he made space for BAE Systems, delegating to junior minister meetings on a whole range of issues including elections in Burma, human rights and Zimbabwe.

The Home Office appear to have done better, with Home Secretary Thresea May holding ‘Introductions’ with Stonewall, Hillsborough Family Support Group, Migration Watch UK and a large group of equalities organisations. Other minister in the department also appear to have been busy meeting with a whole range of campaigning groups, like Refugee Watch, NSPCC and Women’s Aid.

As an aside my favourite entry from the Home Office is a meeting in July that Human Rights Watch held with Baroness Neville-Jones, the purpose of the meeting ‘Discuss report no questions asked’. It raises interesting questions about how the meeting was conducted, and if a cup of coffee was offered to those attending!

Meetings held by other departments are, as yet unavailable, although Tom Watson has promised to publish them if they are. It’ll be interesting to see if the pattern of senior ministers not meeting with CSOs has been happening at other departments, and if this trend continues in the coming months.