Yesterday in Parliament

Yesterday I spent a fascinating few hours in Parliament (which currently on its website for some reason has a picture of Russell Brand). I got to see quite a lot of the Palace of Westminster, including some place most people never get to see, all courtesy of Denise Hudson-Lawson, who just happens to be a big wheel at Westminster. Of which more later. I had been invited to give the inaugural presentation at Parliament's Innovation Forum, and after lunch I spoke to a group of around 80 civil servants on the subject of 'Harnessing the power of social media'. I will blog later about the content of my talk and will share my slideshow in due course. It was interesting to talk over lunch with ICT Strategy Change Manager Joanna Jones and her colleague James about digital technology and to learn more about how the Houses of Commons and House of Lords are using social media in their political and governmental work. One of the best things I have seen so far this week is a group blog set up by a few of the peers called Lords of the Blog. Check it out and you will find it witty, bold and informative, and not something most people would expect from a group of people who have the reputation for being 'stuffy' and a bit 'past it'.  Twitter too is being used by a number of Members in both Houses, most notably Tom Watson MP (75,00 followers) and Lord John Prescott (128,000 followers), Foreign Secretary William Hague MP (80,000 followers) and perhaps infamously Diane Abbott MP (37,000 followers) who made an unfortunate comment on Twitter that provoked disciplinary action from her leader. Another MP to fall foul of Twitter errors was recently re-elected member George Galloway MP (71,000 followers) who confused his own new constituency Bradford with another completely different northern town Blackburn.

Just about every member of Parliament and many of the Peers have a personal/professional website, probably maintained by their staff, but never the less, affording them with a digital presence on the web. Although many realise the power of social media to broadcast and amplify their messages and views, it is evident that along with Abbott and Galloway, some are occasionally a little naive and unguarded in their off the cuff tweets. It gets them into trouble, because there is always someone watching the Tweet stream. It is a very real issue, and one I addressed in my Innovation Forum presentation. Another burning digital issue is the validity of the online petitions the government has instigated - another project that is managed by the team that invited me to speak at the innovation forum. The rules state that anyone can start an e-petition on any subject, and if and when that e-petition receives support from 100,000 or more unique signatures, it is passed to the Backbench Business Committee for further consideration, with the possibility to be debated in the Commons. Just how many get to the stage of being publicly debated by our lawmakers is still to be discovered, but every e-petition that receives 100,000 signature receives an official response. Democracy in action? We will need to wait to see just how effective e-petitions are in giving ordinary people a voice.

My day at Parliament was concluded by a personal tour around the Palace of Westminster, including a visit to Westminster Hall, a place steeped in history and over 900 years old. This grand hall is the very place where King Charles I was tried and convicted for treason and sentenced to death, and also the place where deceased British monarchs are laid in state. It is also famous for recently hosting a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama. I also got to see the Members' lobby and St Stephen's Hall, and a brief visit to the famous terrace restaurant where views over the river Thames, and the London Eye can be had under the shadow of St Stephens Tower, which houses Big Ben. It was a memorable day, and well worth the hours of train travel there and back.

Images by Steve Wheeler

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Yesterday in Parliament by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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