Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Activists: Changing and Engaging

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Activists: Changing and Engaging

Article excerpt

If there was an underlying theme of the Labour conference it was: how do we kick life back into the party? The NS played its part by holding a debate on the Sunday, inviting Ruth Kelly, Angela Eagle and Polly Toynbee to share their thoughts. The results were: improve Labour's narrative (Kelly), trust party members more (Eagle) and introduce proportional representation (Toynbee).

As welcome as these ideas are, the larger problem is a general lack of engagement in UK mainstream politics. The reasons for this, we are told, are multiple. But possibly there has been a complete misunderstanding of the situation: maybe voters do care but don't want to (or even find it impossible to) engage with the system as it stands.

One man may have an answer. Tom Steinberg set up www.mysociety.org two years ago with its primary mission to build internet projects "that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives". Together with a group of like-minded volunteers who thought it would be a good thing if it were easier for people to contact their MPs, he had helped launch www.faxyourmp.com a few years earlier. It enabled citizens to contact slightly backward MPs (only a few of whom had e-mail addresses) via fax through the internet. Simple and effective, but not something the government was enabling the general public to do.

From his experiences with Fax Your MP, Steinberg knew that there were other, equally enthusiastic people out there who were interested in politics with a capital P and/or the possibilities of the internet, many of them willing to give their time, ideas and efforts for free--developers, policy wonks, think-tank fellows, techies. …

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