Knowledge is power, so they say. The information technology revolution we are living through offers the possibility of significantly increasing our knowledge; which if used effectively/collectively can empower us to change the world. I am assuming anyone reading this will want to change the world for the better, if not I suggest you stop reading this now.
Governments across the world are firm believers in the well worn maxim knowledge is power, which is why they generally try to maximise the amount of information they have on you while limiting the amount of information you have on them. Our current government is an excellent example of this type of behaviour, currently they are pushing through an Investigatory Powers Bill (but don’t worry they promise only to use it against paedophiles and terrorists) while simultaneously trying to nobble the Freedom of Information Act (while insisting they are promoting transparency).
Below are a list of websites that enable you to gather relevant information and offer suggestions on how to use it. Maybe after reading this article you could use your powers to oppose the governments nefarious plans, but that is completely up to you. All I ask is that you use any new knowledge you aquire wisely.
They Work For You
What does your MP do all day? Does he actually turn up to parliament and vote, or does he spend most of his time being wined, dined and schmoozed by powerful lobbyists? They Work For You is an excellent tool which provides an easy way to find out, just stick in your postcode and you can find out what your MP has been up to lately. You can also search parliament records for subjects, keywords and phrases that have appeared in debates. If you register you can get email alerts every time your MP speaks or an issue you are following is brought up in parliament.
Local Authority Public Records
If you want information at a more local scale your local authority holds a wealth of information relevant to you and your community. Manchester City Council’s website has a comprehensive ‘The Council & Democracy‘ section to promote public and press scrutiny of the local democratic process. It includes information on:
- Links to live and recorded webcasts of meetings.
- Meeting Meeting minutes and agendas
- Information on councillors in the borough
- Statistics,census and budgets
- Policies, strategies and future plans
These sites are generally not very well designed and the included search tool not very useful. On my more cynical days it crosses my mind that maybe this is done on purpose to make it harder to find relevant information. If you are struggling to find what you want I suggest using Google Advanced Search, which allows you to search the whole of Manchester City Councils website by inputting the council’s URL (i.e. http://www.manchester.gov.uk) into the ‘site or domain’ box.
What Do They Know
An excellent site that allows the public easy use of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 . This beautiful piece of legislation was brought in by the last Labour government and in my opinion was their finest moment. It enshrines in law public access to information held by public authorities, some information the authorities have to publish, some you have to ask for.
What Do They Know provides an extremely useful tool to ask those questions to the relevant authorities. The relevant authorities (particularly central government) may writhe, wriggle, squirm and try every possible tactic to delay/not publish data that is embarrassing to them. So it is important to ask the right sort of questions, which the site offers advice on as well as providing information on successful and unsuccessful requests by others; they also describe what actions to take if the authorities will not release the requested information.
An excellent independent charity (website developed by mySociety) that helps you separate the wheat from the chaff and the bullets from the bullshit when it comes to the claims made by politicians and the media. The site can also help translate the doublespeak spin which the majority of politicians try to bamboozle us with these days. Full Fact describe themselves as non-partisan which gets a big tick in my book, because as Skunk Ananasie sings “everything’s political!”
38 Degrees: people, power, change
When you have gathered and analysed your information you may have identified something that you would like to change, and are prepared to stick your neck out and campaign to change it. This is an excellent time to visit the 38 Degrees website which has an excellent Top Tips section on running a successful campaign, including short videos giving advice on:
- Writing a petition, the site contains an excellent e petition tool
- How to use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
- How to write emails promoting and supporting your campaign.
- Running events to boost campaigns.
- Involving the media in your campaign.
I love the BBC, which maybe explains why the current Tory government killjoys are trying to diminish its capabilities and turn it into just another substandard, heavily biased, advertisement riddled private broadcasting company. Amongst the many magnificent offerings on its website is the BBC Academy which has an excellent journalism skills section. Two particularly useful sections with relevant information on creating online content to support campaigns are Social Media and Content Production.
UK Parliament Website
The UK Parliament Website provides everything you need to know about the workings of the mother of all parliaments in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. You can also submit evidence to upcoming Select Committee’s and Joint Comittee’s through this site.
Office for National Statistics
Another treasure trove of information which the government don’t mind to much about being made public. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the largest independent producer of official statistics in the UK and is the recognised as its national statistical institute. But beware, there can be a certain amount of spin in how they analyse and present the data. If you cant find it here you need to make a freedom of information request.
So there you have it, for what its worth. I hope there has been something of use to you in this article to aid your quest for a better world in 2016. If you have any sites that would make a good addition to this list please suggest them in a comment below. I will take this opportunity to wish you every success in your activities this year and – may the force be with you!
Article first published in 38 Degrees Manchester, 6th January 2016