PirateCon – the PPUK conference

PirateCon – the PPUK conference

The Pirate Party UK had a lot on their plate for their conference last weekend. On Saturday, around 15 pirates enjoyed a sightseeing tour with lots of socialising and had the opportunity to visit a gig the conference organizers arranged in South London, where pirates celebrated into the morning hours. Nevertheless, most of them were up early enough to join the discussions at the “PirateCon 2012”.

PirateCon Logo

It was really interesting to visit this event as a German pirate – it seems, not only can other parties learn from the German party, but we also can learn a lot from our British sister – especially some pragmatism.

The organisational structure of the party, with round about 600 members, is very different from the German (or any other one I know). The National Executive Committee (NEC) is responsible for all organisational tasks and running the day to day business of the party. It is elected every two years and is authorized to assign other pirates with specific jobs or tasks. The board of the PPUK is more like a council: It is elected every five years and oversees the administration, discipline and arbitration.

The board gave an overview of the State of the Party: During the last year, the UK pirates were primarily busy with their statutes, getting them into a form that allowed functioning processes. They also had several internal elections for the NEC as well as several assignments. In May 2012, Party leader Loz Kaye won 5% in a local election in Manchester. Unfortunately, in the UK system, at least 50% of votes are required, so this didn’t bring him into any parliament.

The board reports | CC-BY Gefion Thürmer

Internal elections happen online and follow a structured process

Internal elections for the board, the NEC or candidates are held in the online voting system of the PPUK. Candidates can be selected for single elections or generally for all elections in their region. The NEC defined several conditions that need to be met before a candidate can be assigned: For example support from two other pirates, fulfilment of legal requirements (like a residency in the requested area). All pirates are eligible to vote for their regional candidates. Also, if there are not enough pirates in an area to vote for a candidate, the NEC can appoint one. This also ensures, that candidates are suitable to speak for the Pirate Party and agree with their values and policy. All candidates have to go through a telephone interview and meeting with one of the NEC members. The process was introduced by the NEC members Andy and Phil and can be discussed and improved in the PPUK wiki. Overall, the process is supposed to help find more candidates, who can then promote themselves and the party in their region.

PPUK members rarely have a political background. Primarily, they come from a technical background and want to fight for their common cause. What exactly they stand for was a big part of the discussions in several panels on the conference.

A policy is required

In a continuous process, the UK pirates want to define their policy: What do they stand for? What do these positions mean to voters in their lives? What do candidates have to say to their voters? How can these positions be developed?

Andy Halsall (NEC Campaigns Manager) collected suggestions and ideas and drafted a manifesto out of 3,000 submissions. This draft will now be discussed and then hopefully accepted by the pirates. The platform is supposed to be evolutionary, it will be changed or amended where required at every point in time for the future. The focus is set on evidence-based policy: Positions shall be right and verifiable. “We know we are right. But for the people we have to proof that we are, so they can see that – and why! – we are right.” Based on the platform, campaigns, flyers and whole election campaigns can be run, with amendments, for local requirements.

The UK pirates track exactly what they do and which impact their activities have – regardless, if they distribute flyers, set up local websites, update online content, visit or run events. Every activity is tracked and success is measured, to make future activities even more efficient. They now found many things that do not work, which helps them decide what kind of activities they spend their resources on in the future.

Campaigns Manager Andy Halsall | CC-BY Gefion Thürmer

What they lack is manpower to put all the great ideas into action. Especially the IT and policy groups urgently need support. The use of Liquid Feedback is being considered, to support the policy process – but there’s no one to take care of it so far. Currently, the whole infrastructure (from members management down to the frontend of their homepage) is dealt with by only two people.

Candidates are hard to find

Apart from support for working and organisational groups, candidates are also much sought-after – in a very obvious contrast to the German pirates, who have the opposite problem with too many applicants for too few positions. The UK pirates struggle to find enough candidates to participate in all their local elections.

In a panel with several candidates they discussed what makes the Pirates different from other parties. For example, Labour candidates will hold the same speech for all events they visit, regardless of the present target group. Finally, a candidate who stood in three elections in Scotland and Glasgow, pointed out that it’s important to not become “one of those politicians”. Politics should be for everyone!” Everyone should be able to participate in politics, therefore candidates have to be real human beings, who are not seen as “those politicians” by the voters. Especially beyond election campaigns it is important to show presence and participate in local activities to generate awareness. Political work should be concentrated on personal relationships rather than electoral campaigning. “The more you talk to people, the more they like you!” Laura – another candidate from Scotland – pointed out.

Some candidates in a panel | CC-BY Gefion Thürmer

At the end of the conference, party leader Loz Kaye held a speech about the success story of the UK pirate party and their achievements over the last year and what comes next. The UK pirates are no longer overshadowed by their bigger sister parties but can be confident and stand up in their own right. The next important date is the election in Manchester mid-November, after which they are looking at the EU-election in 2014. More than enough time to build up the platform, create structures and recruit more active members and candidates. Loz concluded: “Let’s get to work!” – with a direct response from the audience: “Can we go to the pub now?” – which we did, to finish off with the conference with constructive discussions, food and drinks.

With kind permission by the Flaschenpost.