THE PIRATE PARTY UK is steadily increasing its position in the political spectrum, aided perhaps by the actions and behaviour of the big three parties.
Taking this further is the organisation's keen eye and large ear for the views of the electorate. In the run up to the General Election, The Pirate Party is again asking the population to steer its policies.
This could put the party at an advantage in this Post-Snowden, more informed world, and cause upset at the polls.
We spoke to the party's latest prospect, Sheffield Central candidate Andy Halsall, about the crowdsourcery and its impact on the party and its politics.
Halsall explained that the response to the call for citizen input has been well received and has elicited a range of responses on several issues.
"The reaction has been fantastic and generally positive. Overall, it seems that a lot of people see this open, accessible approach as a good thing and have taken time to participate," he said.
"The breadth of discussion has been positive too. We've had many proposals, ranging from increasing parental leave, welfare reform, transport, tuition fees and election reform, to whether animals should be kept in circuses.
"The debates have been interesting too, both online and offline, with a lot of information being presented and opinions exchanged, challenged and changed."
Halsall explained that many of the external proposals mirror those already in Pirate Party policy, and that engaging with the population has got its views and politics across.
"One of the most interesting aspects for me has been that we've seen proposals that are already party policy," he said.
"People are discovering what we stand for and realise that we are far from a single issue party.
"We've had messages of support from people surprised and pleased to hear what we stand for and what we are doing to improve our positions."
This is the internet, so it has not all been unicorns and high fives. Halsall said that people have criticised the move and suggested that it will not deliver tangible results.
"I've been told that this kind of process can't work, that it is too open, that it wouldn't prevent people with ‘bad' ideas from making proposals or derailing the process, that we should emulate other parties in allowing proposals only from members as membership shows people are serious," he said.
"Obviously the only response to that, is that this works for us. Yes, aggregating the proposals is hard, it takes time, there will be some silly proposals.
"But it is worth the effort. We want this process to be open to everyone. Crowdsourcing ideas is the fundamental basis of policy creation for us. "
Halsall added that the party could just poll its current membership on the positions that it should take, but explained that this would have limited the response and missed out a lot of the electorate and its concerns.
"Running very open policy gathering processes means that we get suggestions from the broadest possible group of people. We end up with good policy in a wide range of areas," he said.
"It also means that we debate issues that people might not associate with the party in a decentralised and anonymised way to those taking part. I think that has done a lot to promote honesty, and lets people say what they think.
"That's good when we are talking about finding solutions to the problems we face today, and will face in the future."
Typically the response has been enthusiastic. Over 3,000 people responded when the party first polled the populace in 2011. Halsall said that this was more than had been anticipated, and taught the party the importance of polling a large pool of people.
"At the moment it's pretty clear that there are several themes that people are concerned about, and these are all things that have a very real and direct impact on people every day," he added.
"We've been talking about welfare, education and health a lot, but the largest single trend seems to be about reforming politics itself.
"There have been quite a few discussions about how we can improve the way politics works and how government operates in the UK. Trust and ensuring that liberties are preserved or restored is a big part of that."
Things have happened since 2011 that have changed the debate and it was tough to get people interested and engaged in the privacy and surveillance topic at all, according to Halsall.
"When we were working on the 2010 General Election, and on by-elections since, we had to work hard to discuss whistleblowing and surveillance. It wasn't something that interested or engaged people on the ground," he explained.
"Rather than being dismissed, discussion about surveillance and what it means for people every day, what it means for activists and trade unionists and what it is doing to our privacy, are topics that people want to talk about and, most importantly, want solutions to."
Halsall added that the Pirate Party is in a position to talk about all problems, and that, while other parties can be divided on topics, it is always able to find common ground. He said that party openness plays a large part in this.
"I think our openness to discussion on solutions to problems mean we will always be up to date," he said.
"As a party we've always had the internet. It has existed as a tool since we were founded, and we've always tried to make use of it when thinking about and deciding how to do things.
"It does mean we can be more agile and it means we can react quickly. Operating successfully online doesn't come without its own special issues, though."
There is more to the party than its internet efforts, then, and citizens can respond to its policy feedback through old-style methods like the sending of a postcard.
Much of this will be down to poor coverage and internet availability. Naturally this is something that the party would look to tackle.
"We need to reach people that aren't digital natives and don't spend a lot of time online. There are also issues with digital exclusion and access, something that needs dealing with in rural and deprived areas. We aim to represent everyone and need to bridge that digital divide," he added.
"We use the internet and technology alongside more traditional tools. We run vigorous online campaigns, make use of social media and technology, but you are just as likely to see us knocking on doors and talking to people face to face."
Halsall, who has run political campaigns for the party, is standing for election in Sheffield this year. He admitted that this was "fairly daunting", but added that his campaign would be ordered and fair.
"I'll be in a position to run a credible campaign and put a spotlight on important issues and how we can deal with them. I'll be running a positive campaign, because we can do better than the 'lesser of two evils' style of politics coming from the larger parties," he said.
"It's really important that I show that my party is an alternative to the major parties. That we are credible and are right on the issues from civil liberties and surveillance through to tuition fees and energy where the others are either silent or wrong. I'm looking forward to this campaign and the election." µ
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