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I just wanted to flag again my latest post about Vodafone and the missing £6bn in tax that they have deftly dodged.

It now appears that Camden Council, facing massive cuts to funding in frontline services, is being asked by the local Green Party to end it’s contract with Vodafone.

I’m in the process of helping a group of people set up a campaign to take this slightly wider.

On budget day itself when George Osborne sets out the agenda for the next year and we start to see the effect of the imposed cuts it seems outrageous that a company like Vodafone, which has a lovely pan-government agreement to provide mobile telephony to HM Government, is allowed to avoid a tax bill of £6bn which would go a heck of a long way towards covering frontline costs in the UK.

Here’s another link to the Freedom of Information request that I published last November – detailing the pan-government agreement.  FOI request

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I’m sitting on the train on my way back from a rather fun day at the Lancaster Hotel, which you should know has some of the poshest toilets I’ve been able to frequent. I was there for Digital Trendspot 2010, an event organised by Sitecore, with break out sessions from Sitecore users including the Conservatives, Manchester City Football Club and Cadbury, among other charities and businesses alike.

The web is dead. Source:Wired

The main thrust of the keynote sessions was that within the digital world websites are dying, applications are growing and user experience and content is king. Digital technologies and hyper-personalisation, think the personalised adverts and interactions in Minority Report, are becoming mainstream with little cost to the provider, increasing the users’ experiences of the brand and resulting in the brand/organisation/charity being given that most precious of commodities, TIME. Users aren’t wanting to search websites for content, they want to do something entertaining with it.

Interesting fact – of the 44 most visited websites in the world not a single one produces its own content.

There was more to think through but one stand out thought that I’ve been left with involves mobile technology. Mobiles with GPS integration, when coupled with augmented reality, information overlaying reality either through an app or a camera lens, is going to be exceptionally powerful and we’re only starting to see the shoots of that now.

Imagine Heineken creating an application for Heineken loving football fans to be directed to the nearest pub to them which serves a refreshing pint of Heineken. Or an ethical shopping app which allows you to find out which stores don’t use child labour in the production of their clothes. Or restaurants which allow you to listen to reviews from previous visitors, all could turn the marketing world around.

A question I’m left with, is how we can use this technology within the NGO sector, especially with a focus on poor communities around the world.

People powered lobby group 38 degrees is a UK focussed organisation that helps members of the British public engage with their elected officials and campaign on issues that they are passionate about.  They use the Blue State Digital platform, the same platform as Obama used in his election campaign, and this allows individuals to send completely editable and personalisable emails direct to their appropriate Member of Parliament.  38 degrees currently has over 140,000 people who have taken action with them sending individual emails on a range of different issues, from saving 6music, to engagement with the Digital Economies Bill and welcoming new MPs to their offices after the election.

Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton, is one such MP but he has taken umbridge at the lobby group and asked them to remove his details from their system, citing that “hundreds of campaign groups like yours, flooding MPs inboxes with pro-forma emails creates an undue administrative burden.”

The initial email discussion can be read on 38 degrees‘ blog where they have published the contents of emails from both sides, including Raab’s threat of involving the Information Commissioner and resulting in Raab’s removal of his publicly funded email address from the House of Commons listings.

Google News links show that this has been picked up by many news outlets and has caused somewhat of a stir…culminating in a live discussion between David Babbs of 38 degrees and Dominic Raab on Radio 4’s PM programme.

Most MP’s have no problems with receiving emails and other contacts from their constituents and neither did Raab before the election, however he now seems to be changing his tune especially when the content of emails was on the Alternative Voting system a left leaning proposal.  On top of that it turns out that since Mr Raab entered into office the average number of emails sent to him by 38degrees has been less than 2 a day. Hardly an administrative burden.

Most email clients allow you to set rules up to automatically move emails into sub-folders and directories (hopefully not the recycle bin) for later response, however Mr Raab’s decision to remove his email address from Parliament’s directory is not only a sign of colossal arrogance and potential misunderstanding of the role he has been elected to but also an affront to democracy as a whole and the cleaner way of doing government that his party and coalition has promised.

At a time where social networking and new media fails seem to be common place, with Nestle’s PR nightmare and Apple’s iPhone issues, it seems that Parliamentarians will be looking on to see how this pans out.

More and more voters are looking towards the reality of a hung parliament (HP) as we move out of the General Election of May 6th, and with all the media, language and commentary surrounding it you could be forgiven for believing that the world as we know it will cease to exist and that the UK will grind to a halt.  But is HP really that bad or could it be a great opportunity for electoral reform…something that all the main parties talk about.

So as I see it a hung parliament has the following risks associated with it – I’m sure there are others but these are the big ones.

  1. Policy is watered down – in order to pass legislation it must become so diluted to be acceptable for all parties to agree.  This is in particular an issue where there are many parties involved of wide political difference.
  2. Risk of unstable government – internationally speaking this would weaken the role that the UK can play in major international negotiations such as COP (climate change negotiations), NATO, G8, UN Security Council.  Last hung parliament was in 1974 and lasted for 6 months before another General Election was called resulting in a Labour win.
  3. No work gets done – due to the nature of conflicting political ideologies, the party bloc vote mindset and inflated egos of some parliamentarians there is a high risk of the UK not passing any legislation, disagreements about how involved government should be in UK society and life thus the UK grinds to a standstill and the economy fails to recover.

Now that paints quite a bleak picture and I’m not naive to the potential risks of a hung-parliament.  Forgive me, I shall now refer to this situation as a coalition government (CG)…I’m a great one in believing that the language we use conveys something greater than just words.  Hung Parliament has such negative terminologies intrinsically bound to it that it seems almost irredeemable, for me a coalition government brings possibility and hope.

So the benefits that I can foresee coming from a coalition government – again I’m sure there are more.

  1. Reform of the party political bloc vote culture – all the main parties have spoken about political reform although more from a voting system perspective.  However I feel that should a CG occur there simply cannot be a bloc vote culture if the government is to be successful.  No doubt there will be some who refuse to change and this has a risk of blocking reform however MPs will need to reflect more on their constituents views and vote accordingly rather than from the party whip.
  2. Defining a politics of agreement rather than opposition – working together in coalition would create far more agreement  because differing view points are heard and listened to in the formulation of policy in order for it to be passed.  Rather than the pantomime of opposition and the consistent negativity that that brings a more positive, inclusive form of politics could be sought.
  3. Better quality of policy made – there is greater scrutiny of each policy that is discussed.
  4. Voter representation increased – coalition governments have more voices at the table providing great representation of the electorate.
  5. Increased continuity of government business – rather than the total overhaul every few years of large majority governments continued coalition governments enable progress to continue from term to term, benefiting the country and the services provided.

For all the scaremongering that is going on currently with the idea of a hung-parliament it seems to have been forgotten that much of Western Europe and indeed many other countries in the world currently have coalition governments.  They seem to have worked well in Canada, Japan, Australia, NZ, India, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland to name a few.

So from my perspective let’s try to change the lens that we use to approach the outcomes of our General Election, let’s not only listen to negativity but open ourselves to the potential for change and for hope and let’s engage with this opportunity to use our voices.

Don’t forget the deadline to register to vote is April 20th www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

a pregnant kissI had the pleasure of spending this past Sunday with some very good friends of mine awaiting the arrival of their first child.

Having seen a number of close friends starting to have kids it’s made me realise just how selfish I really am…and I like to think of myself as someone who tries to think more of others than of myself.  I try to be as generous as I can be, often to my own financial distress, I want to look out for those who are less fortunate than I am or indeed simply need someone to listen, support or encourage them…maybe with a little challenge along the way.  This isn’t to say that I’ve got the answers or indeed that I have it right and all sorted, I know, painfully, that this isn’t the case but it doesn’t stop me from striving for it.

“Marriage puts a mirror up against your own selfishness,” I recently heard someone say at a wedding, acknowledging that the coming together of two people for a lifelong commitment is not an easy road to travel.  Having been in a relationship for the past 7 months now, I already know what it is like for my own selfishness to rear its ugly head.

Thoughts along the lines of, “But I want to watch this film.”  “I’m tired and need to sleep.” “What do you mean I can’t do this or go there?”  Suddenly I sound like a petulant child of 14 rather than the *cough mature man of 28 that I like to portray. The trouble is I know that this level of self-confrontation will only increase as I become more and more involved and intertwined with relationship be that with marriage or indeed having kids.  The number of people who tell me “children change your life completely” and even one or two who love their children dearly and wouldn’t change things now for the world, suggest that had they known the changes and responsibilities that they were getting themselves into might have waited a little longer.

And so I am left with the question of just how much do I need to take a good long look in the mirror and humble myself again?  To realise that this world does not revolve around me and my ginger-self, but that I need to reassess my place and look out at this world with the eyes of a father.  A father who dearly loves his child and would do and give anything for him.  A father for whom selfishness is nothing and selflessness is EVERYTHING.

That’s a challenge…

Check out this awesome campaign from Greenpeace…it created a PR nightmare for Nestle, see NewMediaAge article here, and has sparked some real opportunities for campaigning including phoning Nestle direct.

Great stuff Greenpeace.

Head to greenpeace.org.uk to see what’s going on

If you hadn’t noticed we are in the run up to a General Election, the like of which we haven’t seen for perhaps a generation, certainly I’ve never known one quite like this in my 10 years of eligible voting.  Yet it strikes me that we often approach elections with certain frames of reference, frames that are based on our own social context, the experiences that we allow ourselves to have or the bubbles in which we live.  These frames guide our thinking, our politics and our attitudes to those around us, our friends and our families.

So what are some of my frames of references when it comes to looking at the Modern UK?

I’ve grown up in a comfortable, lower-middle class family.  My mum and dad recently went through a divorce, however for 25 years or so family was the typical 2.4 kids, Surrey, suburban model.  My parents were about 30 years old when they had their first child, me and their parents before them were in their late 20’s when they had children.  I’ve never known my grandparents to work full-time, indeed I only remember my maternal grandmother working in Bentalls in Kingston and my paternal grandmother volunteering in hospitals or hospices near where she lives.Ed Balls - schools secretary

For years if my grandparents looked after me it would be across a weekend, so when two of my colleagues heard Ed Balls speak at the Tawney Dialogue earlier on this month, 2 stats that they gleefully recounted to me totally re-framed my understanding of family in the UK.

  1. that the average age of a UK grandmother today is 46
  2. that the average age of a UK single mum is 36

I found the first statistic especially hard to get my head around.  The Telegraph reports that “40% of grandparents now provide some childcare when parents are working, and 70% look after children at other times” so when political discussions about childcare benefits discuss the inclusion or exclusion of grandparents I have to challenge my understanding that it is no longer the silver-haired lady who fits the bill.

is this a single mum?Similarly the second statistic highlights my ill-conceived judgements and prejudices.  A single mum is no longer, and perhaps never was, the teenage girl who had a one night stand or simply didn’t know how to use a condom correctly, but potentially someone who works for a global bluechip, recently divorced or separated or indeed never married.  Of course I may be painting a rosier picture here and there are I’m sure a number of families who struggle on a daily basis however it still shows that I need need to reassess my frames of reference and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The forthcoming election is going to totally redefine the political landscape in the UK, potentially with a Conservative landslide or more likely at the moment a hung parliament…we live in exciting times and for those of us living in marginal seats our voices will count even more than they usually do.

Find out about your constituency at ukpollingreport.co.uk

Canon 17-40 L LensHow do you see the world?  Do you live life through a particular lens?  One that shapes and colours or one that distorts and clouds?

When you walk down your road do you see friends, family and freedom or do you see homelessness, hoodies and fear?  Where do your thoughts come from, drives your decisions and brings colour to your world?

I live life through a lens – one that inspires me to try and live a life to the full, one of restoration and redemption, of challenge and discomfort, of anger at the way things are and an ultimate hope that life could be so much more.

Sadly I rarely achieve this life and end up living one of comfort, brokeness and something just a bit shallower than I’d like, however this is a daily struggle and I invite you to join me on the journey.

Jay

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