PPUK Bids Farewell to PPI [Guest Post]

PPUK Bids Farewell to PPI [Guest Post]
This post is a guest post from Andy Halsall, Chief of Staff for the Pirate Party UK’s Leaders Office. 

So long and thanks for all the fish.

The rumour is true. No, not that I’m joining Facebook (a dastardly lie!), but the other one, alluded in Andrew Reitemeyer’s piece about Parties leaving PPI. As briefly mentioned there the Pirate Party UK has, indeed, left PPI. That is, that the party has sent the PPI board the requisite registered dead-tree letter…  I’ve also spoken to Thomas Gaul and I know others have been in touch too.  I assume our newly found non-member status will be reflected somewhere, at some point.

It shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise to PPI, or its remaining members.  This has been on the cards for a long time. After all, we have been open about our frustrations and tribulations over the years, as much as we have been open about our support and hopes.  The crunch really is just that, no bang, no rage quit, nothing dramatic, just a conclusion that there isn’t really much we feel we can do. To paraphrase, it’s not us, it’s you.

To be clear, the issues PPI has had with finance have been embarrassing, but they are a symptom of a much bigger problem; just one in a long list, not a be-all-and-end-all. They are one of a number of reasons this move was made.

The problems with statutes, with processes, with support are all indications that maybe PPI isn’t fit for purpose, or that it needs significant reform.  Of course UK members have provided support for that reform – some volunteered, some were volunteered. They did so at a personal cost… and it cost our party, too. But it hasn’t really advanced PPI’s aims, or indeed helped our own.

That is really what this comes down to. Over the years PPI has become less and less reflective of what we believe in as a party – as an organisation PPI hasn’t been as transparent as we’d like, or as democratic. It really is about the organisation.  Not the people, not the movement, and certainly not the ideas.  We have a job to do and for now, at least, PPI is getting in the way.

It’s easy to forget where our movement has come from. Just ten years ago it wasn’t obvious that the Internet would become a political arena, now it dominates. Even though the apparatus of state mass surveillance was being assembled, few were taking it as a serious issue. While democracy was being undermined across the world, it would be years before we could build a critical mass on social media, before we could really push together for openness and support transparency.

Just a few years ago we were talking about supporting whistleblowers when it came to the NHS and trade unions. We were getting to grips with the implications of Wikileaks. We had no inkling that someone like Snowden would come along and shine such a bright light on so many dark and destructive government programmes.

After great headlines and an initial surge, the last couple of years have been difficult. In the European Parliament, we’ve lost great advocates in Christian and Amelia. Some controversy has followed success in Germany. But in a way, our success has been the most difficult thing of all – other parties have now taken on digital rights, privacy, IP, surveillance, technical infrastructure, direct democracy and even copyright reform as their issues too.

We need to see the wider political context. We have to be able to contribute distinctively on a broad range of policy. We have to be professional, credible and competent and make sure we also appear so.  I think in the UK, we are. If we are yet to make headway on that wider agenda, we have at least made headway on our core issues, like net neutrality on the European level. But now the classic problem of any new party getting involved with trying to set our mark on politics has shown itself – how much can you achieve and how much can you compromise without losing yourself?

Julia’s report on copyright could not be a better example. It is what is achievable right now – and brings up many issues we have been longing to put forward for years. But as Amelia has said, it falls short of what we actually want. Those two things don’t contradict each other in my view. We just need to be clear where we are heading.  We need to keep pushing the boundaries, just as Julia has to keep working to do what is doable.

Imagine what we could achieve with 2 or 5 or 10 MEPs like Julia. Think about how much better our societies could be with more Pirates in parliaments everywhere. We can only deliver relative to the political weight we have. It’s unfortunate but obvious now that PPI will not and can not help us build that political weight.

Despite what some have thought, PPI has never been the official “pirate stamp of approval” – if there could ever be such a thing.  There is no reason to cling on to the past. It is time to look back fondly, but move on.

Over the years UK Pirates have worked with others from across the globe. We’ve provided support and material, we have received help and shared ideas.  I was proud to see UK material reused by other parties during the European election campaigns and it was fantastic to be able to make use of stuff from other parties too. We’ve worked together on policy, we’ve shared ideas and we’ve spent time together.

That is what we should be doing. Working together where we can to advance our own aims, to meet our own needs. To scratch our own itches and share the solutions we find. PPUK has always been more of a bazaar of ideas and solutions and PPI looks a little like someone building a cathedral.  But whether you are part of PPI’s congregation, or just shopping for some camaraderie and looking to see what is on offer, PPUK will be here, doing our thing and open to working with anyone who shares our ambitions.


Andy Halsall – Picture License: CC-BY-SA

I’m currently the Chief of Staff for the Pirate Party UK’s Leaders office. I write about a range of issues and have spoken for PPUK on civil liberties, mass surveillance, security, digital rights, finance and social equality. I coordinated our international efforts until 2014, was responsible for the UK’s crowd sourced policy initiative in 2012/13 and worked with our IT and campaigns team to deliver the PPUK’s new web platform. Until recently I was the party’s campaigns officer, managing election and national political campaigns for local, parliamentary and the 2014 European Elections.