Munging the Grimmer Twins

Having mentioned Nick Davis’s book ‘Flat Earth News’ and his concept of ‘churnalism’ – the verbatim or near verbatim reproduction of wire reports and press releases without referencing their source – one might also note than some bloggers are by no means averse to indulging is such practices. In fact there’s a particularly fine example of this over at Dizzy’s right now…

Tom Watson becomes a Camroon? [I think he means CamEroon – U.]

Anyone paying attention to Tom Watson MP’s blog may be aware he was giving a speech called “Government 2.0” about technology and, well… and Government. This is preusmably because, in the words of his friend Sion Simon he is a “proppa blogger”.

Putting aside the entirely irritating use of “2.0” looking at his speech it would appear Tom Watson has decided to start agreeing with David Cameron and George Osbourne. Do we need more evidence of a Government that is really being led by the Opposition? First on ‘Crime Mapping’

Tom Watson – 10 March 2008:
“Just imagine if every incident of crime could be geographically tagged? It could transform community policing.”

David Cameron – speech at the Google Zeitgeist Conference, October 12 2007:
“Crime mapping is a great example [of the power of open information]. At one and the same time it enables you to hold your police force to account, get the government to spend money in the right places, and even to help choose where to live.”

Or how about standardising information across Government?

Tom Watson – 10 March 2008:
“Embedding data mash-up into thinking across all of government not just the early adopters within departments.”

David Cameron – CCA speech on setting government information free, 29 February 2008:
“We will require local authorities to publish information online and in a standardised format. That way, it can be collected and used by the public and third party groups…Setting local information free really is the future.”

Or so-called ‘Open Source Politics’?

Tom Watson – 10 March 2008:
“There are three rules of open source: One, nobody owns it. Two, everybody uses it. And three, anyone can improve it. Our future thinking must view government more like a giant open source community. So far government ticks boxes one and two, no one person owns it and everybody uses it.”

George Osborne – speech to the Royal Society of the Arts on ‘Open Source Politics’, 8 March 2007:
“Open source politics means rejecting the old monolithic top-down approach to decision-making. It means throwing open the doors and listening to new ideas and new contributors. It means harnessing the power of mass collaboration. And rather than relying on the input of a few trusted experts, it means drawing on the skills and expertise of millions.

Never let it be said that the Government have run out of ideas, oh no!
Hat Tip: To a kind and friendly email correspondent.

Dizzy’s ‘kind and friendly e-mail correspondent’, who’s given a hat tip in the small print, is actually Rohan Silva, an ‘economic advisor’ (and fuck knows he needs them) to the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, and the email from which Dizzy has lifted his information was issued from Osborne’s office using @parliament.uk email address, and reads – with the bits that Dizzy has omitted to conceal his ‘source’ – as follows:

Hi there

I thought you might be interested in how Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson‘s speech yesterday on new technologies and the internet “mashed up” Conservative Party policies, speeches and ideas from the past 18 months. (Comically, the link to Tom’s speech isn’t actually working at the moment: http://www.tom-watson.co.uk/?p=1899 – and it’s not been published on the Cabinet Office website…)

It’s well worth reading Tom’s entire speech alongside our previous key speeches on this subject, and seeing for yourself just how much of it has been purloined from Conservative Party announcements. But for those of you who don’t have time to do that, here’s a selection of some of the most obvious thefts in Tom’s speech, along with some suggestions about other Conservative Party internet related policies that he may want to borrow for his next one.

Rohan

CRIME MAPPING
Tom Watson – 10 March 2008:
“Just imagine if every incident of crime could be geographically tagged? It could transform community policing.”

David Cameron – speech at the Google Zeitgeist Conference, October 12 2007:
“Crime mapping is a great example [of the power of open information]. At one and the same time it enables you to hold your police force to account, get the government to spend money in the right places, and even to help choose where to live.”

STANDARDISED INFORMATION ACROSS GOVERNMENT BODIES
Tom Watson – 10 March 2008:
“Embedding data mash-up into thinking across all of government not just the early adopters within departments.”

David Cameron – CCA speech on setting government information free, 29 February 2008:
“We will require local authorities to publish information online and in a standardised format. That way, it can be collected and used by the public and third party groups…Setting local information free really is the future.”

OPEN SOURCE POLITICS
Tom Watson – 10 March 2008:
“There are three rules of open source: One, nobody owns it. Two, everybody uses it. And three, anyone can improve it. Our future thinking must view government more like a giant open source community. So far government ticks boxes one and two, no one person owns it and everybody uses it.”

George Osborne – speech to the Royal Society of the Arts on ‘Open Source Politics’, 8 March 2007:
“Open source politics means rejecting the old monolithic top-down approach to decision-making. It means throwing open the doors and listening to new ideas and new contributors. It means harnessing the power of mass collaboration. And rather than relying on the input of a few trusted experts, it means drawing on the skills and expertise of millions.”
—————————————————
CONSERVATIVE PARTY IDEAS FOR THE NEXT TOM WATSON SPEECH?

Along with policy commitments to standardise government information, introduce crime mapping and embed open collaboration in policymaking, the Conservative Party has a slew of other policies on harnessing new technologies to improve public services, which Tom Watson may want to borrow for his next speech.

LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR OPEN SOURCE IT WITHIN GOVERNMENT
On 8 March 2007, George Osborne committed a Conservative government to introducing a level playing field for open source IT within government procurement contracts .

Our research showed that most central government departments make no use of open source IT whatsoever, and not a single open source company is included in Catalyst, the government’s list of approved IT suppliers.

Taking into account the experience of companies and public sector bodies, it is estimated that overhauling this system and opening up procurement to open source IT could result in savings to the taxpayer of over £600m per year.

“GOOGLE YOUR TAX MONEY”
In 2006, the Conservative Party introduced legislation in Parliament, modelled on the successful Barack Obama-Tom Coburn bill that enabled Americans to “Google Their Tax Money”.

The legislation will require all public bodies to publish, in a standardised and systemised online format, every item of government expenditure over £25,000.

This will massively improve public scrutiny over government spending, and empower the public to put pressure on the government to justify exactly how it spends our money.

Unfortunately, Gordon Brown opposes the legislation, and is trying hard to kill off this bill.

BANNING PRINTED PUBLIC SECTOR JOB ADVERTS
On 4 December 2006, George Osborne announced that under a Conservative government, public bodies would be banned from using expensive paid-for printed adverts to publicise job vacancies.

This means that all recruitment advertising will be online, except where there are justifiable concerns about ensuring fair access for a specific vacancy.

According to Reed Personnel Services, £800m of taxpayers’ money is being spent each year on public sector job adverts, compared to £390m in the private sector, despite the fact that the private sector employs four fifths of the workforce.

The potential saving of around £700m from using online adverts is enough to pay for 35,000 new nurses, 30,000 new teachers, 25,000 new policemen or 30,000 new soldiers.
——————————
Links to relevant Conservative Party speeches:

November 2006 – George Osborne speech on ‘Politics and Media in the Internet Age’
http://80.69.4.211/tile.do?def=news.story.page&obj_id=133558&speeches=1

March 2007 – George Osborne speech to the RSA on open source politics
http://www.conservatives.com/tile.do?def=news.story.page&obj_id=135408

October 2007 – David Cameron speech to the Google Zeigeist Conference
http://www.conservatives.com/tile.do?def=news.story.page&obj_id=139711

February 2008 – David Cameron speech on setting local government information free
http://www.conservatives.com/tile.do?def=news.story.page&obj_id=142659&speeches=1

To introduce a degree of comedy into proceedings that exceeds not only the non-appearance of Tom’s speech on Cabinet Office website but even Dizzy’s piss poor attempt to conceal the fact that his ‘source’ is a Conservative Party e-mail circular a la Karl Rove, Osborne’s claim that Tom is nicking Tory ideas is a complete and utter load of bollocks from start to finish.

Where shall we start?

How about with ‘Crime Mapping’, which is an idea that’s been kicking around since the early 1980’s – the theoretical foundations were laid down by the work of Patricia and Paul Brantingham on environmental criminology (1981), routine activity theory, which was developed by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson and first in 1979, and rational choice theory, which was developed by Ronald V. Clarke and Derek Cornish and originally published in 1986.

This is one of those ‘tough shit’ occasions for Dave and Gideon because, unfortunately for them, I was involved in discussions with the police and other senior IT professionals from the public sector around 6-7 years ago and know the subject very well, not least as one of the other pros who attended those meeting went on to join UCL’s Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, which is where the real work on crime mapping has been taking place in the UK, although one can justifiably point to New York City’s CompStat system, which came on stream in 1994, as the first significant example of the use of crime mapping in real world policing.

So that’s one down straight away. What’s next?

What about Tom’s ‘data mash-up’ AKA [supposedly] Cameron’s ‘standardised information across government bodies’ AKA the UKGOVTALK e-GIF interoperability framework, currently at version 6.1, the e-government metadata standard V3.1 and its associated XML schema, all of which can be found at www.govtalk.gov.uk, where you will find that the website for these projects, work on which started in 2001-2 (guess who got involved in this as well) sports the legend and logo of the Cabinet Office.

Yes, strangely enough all these initiatives, which pre-date Dave and Gideon’s interest in all things webby (2.0 or otherwise) by at least 5-6 years fall under the ministerial aegis of the Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office – current incumbent, TOM WATSON MP.

What about ‘Open Source Politics’ – is that one of Dave’s ideas?

Is it fuck – the first significant reference to Open Source Politics dates back to 2003 and a story on Salon.com in which supporters of the Draft Clark campaign and of Howard Dean both claimed that their respective campaigns encapsulated the ideal of ‘open source politics’.

The worst that can actually be said here is that both Tom and Dave/Gideon are taking their inspiration from the US Democratic Party albeit that there’s is one major distinction you can legitimately make between the two ‘camps’ – Tom, unlike either Dave or Gideon, got off his arse and went ‘open source’ – with Tim Ireland‘s help – by starting up his own blog in 2003, long before either of the ‘Grimmer Twins’ had even shown up on the public’s radar let alone developed any pretensions of coming over all 2.o and claiming the credit for other people’s ideas.

What about the other kind of Open Source mentioned in the Tory’s shill – Open Source Software?

Well, a quick search on the OGC’s CataLIST website – can’t even get the name right, can you – turns up suppliers for most of the Open Source packages you’d expect with purchase options for Linux (1940), MySQL (114). Open Office is conspicuous by its absence, but then what do you expect when you can download it for free if you want it, after all when you buy Open Source you’re not usually buying the software, you’re more often buying the support and maintenance packages and other added value services that go with it, and if few of the actual front-line systems in use are Open Source well that largely down to the fact that the majority are bespoke systems and commercial developers don’t tend to give their work away for free, because there’s no money it for them if they do.

Oh, and lets not forget that on the GovTalk website you’ll also find an Open Source Software Policy (version 2.0, ironically enough) dating back to October 2004.

Now, fair enough, one of the things that Tom could be getting on with in his new job is kicking a few departmental arses on the subject of making much more use of Open Source on the desktop but then as any halfway decent tech will tell you people do have a bit of tendency to want to stick to what they know and often bitch like hell if you start installing software on their PC’s that they’re not used to. I know a few local government techs where their council went over to Microsoft Office years ago who’re still trying to root out the last of their Word Perfect heretics so its not quite as simple as the Grimmer Twins would like to make out – and please do not let me get started on the buggers who managed to swing a Mac a few years back and who wouldn’t swap over now if you put a gun to their head.

Let me ask the Tories one thing for starters – just exactly what allowances did you make for things like retraining costs and the costs of converting existing data and other files to new/different formats introduced in switching to Open Source and how much of this did you factor in to your 600 million savings calculation? You did factor those things in, didn’t you?

What about ‘Googling your tax money’ which is supposed – according to the Tory’s rhetoric – require ALL public bodies to publish, in a standardised and systemised online format, EVERY item of government expenditure over £25,000?

It ain’t going to happen, and I can tell precisely why it ain’t going to happen in three words.

MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

Yes I really, genuinely believe that a UK government is dumb enough to publish, online, every single item of Defence/Armed Forces expenditure costing more than £25,ooo…

Like fuck I do. Only a complete moron would even think of compromising national security and the safety of our armed forces by providing potential enemies with an itemised list of every single piece of medium to high value military kit purchased by our armed forces, let alone putting it up as a policy and then trying to use it take the piss out of a former junior Defence Minister.

But what the hell, Dave and Gideon just lurve open government sooooooo very much that in a few years time we’ll all be able to snarf down details of all the big money spend across the MOD, MI’s 5&6 and fuck knows what else – you gotta figure the skinny on expenditure at places like Aldermaston and Porton Down will keep the tin-foil hat crew in conspiracy theories for decades.

And that just leaves us with this business of banning expensive paid-for printed adverts to publicise job vacancies AKA Gideon’s grand plan for fucking over the Guardian’s ad revenues, not to mention the income of a sizeable number of small local newspapers who also rely on a regular weekly or fortnightly wedge from their local public sector – only this won’t apply where there are ‘ justifiable concerns about ensuring fair access for a specific vacancy’ – whatever the hell that actually means – because the Tories are soooo hot on all this webby 2.0 stuff that if you ain’t with the programme and spending half your life online then you just ain’t going to be worth employing anyway. Never mind that there are people out there with no net access for no better reason that they don’t want it and have this rather quaint old attachment to reading things like newspapers and books.

The Grimmer Twin can talk all they like about ‘Open Source’ but the bottom line is they’re nothing more than a pair of know-nothing marketroids without the fist fucking clue about what they’re talking about, especially when it comes to one of the central ethical principles of the open source movement – attribution.

Yes, as Tom said in his speech, “There are three rules of open source: One, nobody owns it. Two, everybody uses it. And three, anyone can improve it’ but there’s also a fourth rule, when you do take code, ideas, inspiration from someone else and build on it, you always, without fail, acknowledge the debt you owe to your source(s). What you don’t do is steal all your ideas from others, pretend you thought of them first and jump up and down about it when find someone else working on the same stuff as you having taken their inspiration from the same source.

If Tom’s a Cameroon then Al Gore really did invent the fucking internet because there’s absolutely fuck all in his speech that ‘belongs’ in any sense to Cameron , let alone Osborne.

Still, if you’re a Tory you can look on the bright side here – at least your party, its leaders and some of its bloggers are showing a sterling commitment to ‘green issues’ – just look at how much recycling they’ve been up to here.

  • JSM

    Highly enlightening.

    I had assumed that the whole “this amazing computer microchip thingy called crime-mapping will clean up Gotham faster than a man in grey tights” craze resulted from some insomniac spin-toadie seeing that turkey of a cop show about policing Washington DC* and piping up about it when the next day’s brainstorming session hit an awkward silence.

    (*You know the one – rugged and heroic police commissioner and small team of sterotypes talk bollocks in front of projected computer graphics that resemble full colour versions of Softly Softly’s “big-map-with-pins-stuck-in” before going off to recycle the storylines that Hill Street Blues rejected. ITV used to sneak it out about midnight, presumably trying not to think about the fact that yet again they had been too clueless/mean to acquire the next Sopranos/Wire/Homicide/etc etc).

  • Please don’t hold back. My take on the

  • Nick:

    The main cause of inertia in delivering fast net access has always been BT, who held up the roll-out of DSL for a good while in order to try and claw back their investment in ISDN, which turned out to be a dog. It was only when OFCOM got heavy and forced the issue on local loop unbundling that things started to shift forward.

    It would be nice to think that saving

  • Pingback: Podnosh Blog : High Fibre Podcasting » Archive » Is Tom Watson MP stealing or reading? The Tories think the former.()

  • tom p

    “know-nothing marketroids without the fist fucking clue about what they