A Pirate in Local Government – An Interview with David Elston
David Elston is a member of Pirate Party UK (PPUK), and served as their Deputy Leader from July 2015 to February 2016. He has been a member of Pirate Party UK for several years. In 2014 David officially founded the Welsh branch of the party, Pirate Party Wales. In the 2015 general election, he stood as Pirate Party UK’s candidate in Bridgend in south Wales, winning 0.3% of the vote. Following his resignation as Deputy Leader in February 2016, he was co-opted onto St Athan Community Council, as Pirate Party UK’s first representative in local government.
Pirate Times decided to ask him a few questions about his recent work on St Athan Community Council, his view of Pirate Party UK, and what he sees as some of the most exciting developments in the Pirate Party movement around the world.
Pirate Times: So, firstly, PPUK currently has no leader or deputy leader, and since the departure of Loz Kaye, the party arguably has no single ‘face’. Do you think this has caused damage to the party, and do you think it can recover?
David: Our real leadership comes from our members and the public as a whole. I suppose this is why our party is still surviving without its key spokesperson. Direct democracy is the lifeblood of the party. As long as that is flowing, we can survive and even make gains. Our membership is at a record high and other parts of the party are still very active – our IT team have been making big successes around allowing us to practice more of what we preach, for example.
Pirate Times: Unfortunately, the party achieved similar results in both the 2010 and 2015 general elections, with no real marked improvement. Why do you think this was?
David: Our vote share did increase somewhat, but a party as young as ours, trapped in the terrible UK ‘first past the post’ system, must expect that our gains won’t immediately be in vote numbers. First we need to win the public over with increasing our membership, win the media over and be seen in the press and be able to influence the political debate. On these fronts we are succeeding.
Pirate Times: Is PPUK hindered by the fact that its supporters are dispersed around the nation and not concentrated in areas of support, like the established British political parties?
David: I wouldn’t say it hinders us specifically. Our voting system hinders all alternatives. It hinders individualism by forcing you to pick the least-worst choice. It hinders real expression. I think the majority of parties and the public suffer extreme apathy because of this.
Pirate Times: As Pirate Spokesman for Wales, the 2015 general election candidate for Bridgend, and later Deputy Leader, do you feel you made a positive impact on the party at large?
David: Firstly I’d say the party has given me more than I have given it. The party has definitely influenced me very positively. I knew privacy, free speech and knowledge being free were important but I didn’t understand just how rooted these things are into so many other areas. I see the problems in education, the economy and health care all being strangled by copyright.
Secondly, as for my influence on the party? I will serve as long as I am useful and so far I seem to be useful. If I cease to be a positive influence, I can simply be voted out – that’s democracy for you. The people have the power… not me alone. I suppose on some level we all hope we will be remembered fondly but I’d rather fix the problems of today rather than worry about my popularity.
Pirate Times: Moving on, you were recently co-opted onto St Athan Community Council in south Wales, becoming PPUK’s first representative in local government. Do you think more Pirates in the UK should make an effort at a local level before trying to enter the House of Commons?
David: I think local elections are the most likely place Pirates will get elected but only if you really believe you can serve the community. We should be getting the right people in the right positions to do the right job and think of our party’s success second to that. If you can convey your first loyalty is to the people and your party second, you’ll be in a good place to run in a local election.
Pirate Times: What would you say are the three main issues facing St Athan, and how are you planning to deal with them in your capacity as a community councillor?
David: St Athan is often considered unique but I find it similar to Bridgend in many ways. For example in Bridgend you have the Towns of Bridgend and Porthcawl as two quite different areas within the same constituency. In St Athan this is replicated whereby you have the St Athan Village and then my ward of Flemingston. The Village has concerns mostly over road safety, especially around school times and areas of play while in my ward, there is a focus on crime prevention and fly tipping. It’s important to remember while each Councillor has their own Ward, you need to understand St Athan as a whole too. The Pirate approach to solving these problems was to first crowd-source what the problems were and look to the evidence for solutions, as I did in a recent consultation response to the Vale of Glamorgan Council (the bigger council St Athan resides in).
Pirate Times: Although parish and community councils tend to be relatively non-partisan, do you think Pirates can generally be more open to working with other political parties?
David: I recently gave a talk at the University of Bath where I said, surprisingly, despite what the media likes to show, more people in politics want to be your friend than be your enemy and you will find agreement in strange places. In GE2015 I found right wing and Indies were agreeing with me on a number of issues while I am more centre-left. The Pirate Party as a whole is a centralist party in the UK, meaning we can vote with the left, the right and others in the centre depending on the issue. This is incredibly freeing and it allows us to think of the best solution first and then worry about if it has a “right wing” or “left wing” label afterwards. I suppose what I’m saying is as long as you’re following the evidence, does it really diminish your objective if you find yourself voting along side people you normally vote against?
Pirate Times: Moving outside of the UK, what would you say is the most interesting thing happening in the Pirate Party movement in the world at the moment?
David: Internationally I point at a lot of Pirate successes to give workable examples to people in the UK how something as crazy as a “Pirate Party” is actually a very workable and plausible reality. I find that once a Pirate punches through, we accomplish a lot. Julia Reda, for example, is the only Pirate MEP and just look at how much she is accomplishing. Imagine what we could do with 2 or 3 MEPs. Getting the public to take the first trusting step is difficult but I think we really deliver once we get in.
Pirate Times: The Icelandic Pirate Party has been regularly polling at above 30% for their parliamentary election scheduled in autumn this year. Are you impressed by how far Pirate Parties have developed in their ten years of existence?
David: Rick Falkvinge’s videos and talks and the successes in Sweden are one of the reasons I joined PPUK and I don’t go a day without talking about our Icelandic friends. Yes I am impressed. Wholly impressed. I try to work to their example. A little way I remind myself is recalling that Birgitta Jónsdóttir doesn’t label herself a politician. I was never fond of the title myself either. She is a poet first and a politician second… A poetician. I like to think of myself as a parent first. Maybe that makes me a parentician? In the UK we are really sick of career politicians and I think the successes of Pirates such as those in Iceland are because they offer genuine people, running for government.
Pirate Times: And, finally, what words would you have for downtrodden Pirates around the world at this moment, that have continued to fight elections but failed to get elected?
David: We are going to fall over a lot before we learn to run. Each election hit you take is one we can learn from and one less fall I personally have to be prepared for. Nothing in politics is wasted and our successes are shared. I would have never been co-opted if it wasn’t for those that came before me, willing to lose an election, to raise awareness and pass on knowledge. My thanks to all of you.
Pirate Times: Thanks to David Elston for the interview. We wish him the best of luck as a parentician and as a politican.
Featured image by Pirate Party Wales, CC-BY-SA.