Freesteel Blog » I cannot afford to pay for PublicWhip and TheStraightChoice out of my own time and money

I cannot afford to pay for PublicWhip and TheStraightChoice out of my own time and money

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010 at 9:00 pm Written by:

So here we are at the end of the election having not raised one bean for running Nor is there a single penny available for a new improved version of, or the radical internal party monitoring project.

Due to the serious lack of substantive democratic interest in this country, the only potential funders of projects such as these is the The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust who have blown all their money on their Power2010 campaign with nothing to spare to afford one single link to at any time during their campaign. I can’t even put into words how pissed off with that project in terms of its self-serving waste of opportunities and anti-grassroots astroturf instincts.

According to the Grants Awarded page, the breakdown of money that didn’t go to is as follows:

Amount Receiver Year Description.
£410,000 POWER Inquiry 2004 Over two years. Jointly funded by JRRT and our sister Trust, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, to mark our centenary year, the POWER Inquiry aimed to understand why the decline in popular participation and involvement in formal politics has occurred and to provide concrete and innovative proposals to reverse the trend.
£105,000 POWER Inquiry 2005 Additional funding granted during 2005/6 to this project jointly funded by JRRT and our sister Trust, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. The report was released in February 2006
£553,000 POWER Inquiry 2006 Granted for Phase 2 of this project jointly funded by JRRT and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
£17,500 POWER Inquiry 2006 Additional funding granted to enable Power to organise the consultation in the UK as part of the European Citizens’ Consultation project. Jointly funded by JRRT and our sister Trust, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
£24,500 mySociety 2006 Over six months towards the construction of the Freedom of Information Filer and Archive web-based project.
£24,600 Unlock Democracy 2008 To develop VoteMatch for the European Elections.
£101,466 Unlock Democracy 2008 Over 2 years to build on the ‘Purity of Elections’ research and support a campaign for change in advance of the next General Election.
£5,000 Unlock Democracy 2008 To pilot VoteMatch London, an online voters’ educational tool.
£671,000 POWER2010 2009 Towards Phase 2 of POWER2010
£3,000 Unlock Democracy 2009 Towards the productionof a broadsheet for Local Works’ campaign for transparency of governance in the spending of public money.
£20,000 Unlock Democracy 2009 Over 6 months to develop VoteMatch for the 2010 General Election.

This table includes the £24.500 given to mySociety to establish the website to show what money well spent looks like. The website gets stronger and more important with every passing year.

On the other hand, the £1million thrown at the 2005 Power Inquiry sank without trace, and the £150k given to Unlock Democracy has produced steadily worse versions of their VoteMatch StemWijzer system which is now all but unusable.

But it’s okay. According to them, an incredible 1.3million people visited their site, and 1 million brave individuals actually completed all 30 questions on their painful user interface, filled in two pages of irritating selection criteria, to be rewarded with a crappy bar-chart.

The JRRT trustees probably swallow these numbers wholesale and form the false conclusion that this same site is better than all the others — for example the superb (and unfunded) who reported a quarter of a million completions on 2.25million page views.

Post Election

We are entering a very interesting time for Parliament watching with a new coalition, yet Professor Philip Cowley is no longer able to run his MP vote watching website, owing to lack of funding from the ESRC. Read his comments about how he eked out the money to the end of this Parliament.

With my power to get through extra-ordinarily crap websites, I have obtained some relevant links to pages of grants from the Economic and Social Research Council:

£110,940.04 Robotic or Rebellious? Backbench behaviour in the 2001 Parliament Professor Philip Cowley Start Date: 01/09/2003 End Date: 31/08/2006
£71,750.70 ESRC Placement Fellowship Professor Philip Cowley Start Date: 01/08/2008 End Date: 31/07/2009
£1,030,401.41 British Election Studies 2005-2006 Professor David Sanders Start Date: 01/04/2004 End Date: 31/03/2007
£1,505,964.12 The 2009/10 British Election Study Professor Paul Whiteley Start Date: 01/09/2008 End Date: 31/08/2012
£431,886.15 The Internet, Electoral Politics and Citizen Participation in Global Perspective Professor Rachel Gibson Start Date: 01/02/2010 End Date: 31/01/2013
£80,422.55 Constituency Campaigning in the 2008/9/10 General Election Professor Justin Fisher Start Date: 01/02/2010 End Date: 31/01/2011

So Cowley got £180k over 7 years, during which time he has written a couple of books, numerous articles, and provided good authoritative analysis of MP’s voting patterns (if not always the best explanation for the underlying reasons). He is good value, and no further money is forthcoming.

On the other hand, this £2million pumped into “British Election Studies”… what the hell is that! This is the first time I’ve heard of it! That’s real money! It’s certainly kept a low profile. I wonder if they’ve heard of us. After all, the Constituency Campaigning project says:

The study will provide an empirically based account of the style and intensity of constituency campaigning in the election; investigate the role of the parties’ central organisations in planning and managing constituency campaigns; analyse the extent to which constituency campaigns involve traditional party members as well as party supporters; and investigate the electoral effects (both short and long-term) of constituency campaigning in a new electoral context.

… so you would think that they might take some input from, wouldn’t you? But then I’m not an academic or another grant receiving entity whose instincts lie with ensuring that no other competitive force exists in the marketplace when it comes making a bid for a second round of funding. It’s not in their interest to “help out” perceived competitors in any way whatsoever — even when such behavior violates the core principles of the grant giving body.

It’s not standard practice to insert into the remit that grantees should collaborate with others in the field where possible, or provide a point of feedback for reporting performance by outside observers. The only legitimate feedback returns through the organization that got the money.

Which is a conflict of interest that nobody in the system gives a flying fig about.

I’d like to see evidence of solicitations for some proper independent reviews of the different efforts. Only then will it be possible to punch through this wall of corruption that causes the money to be spent with total ineffectiveness.


Forgot to add in photo from the Take Back Parliament For Real This Time Liverpool from Saturday.

In the wake of the Tory/LibDem coalition we have decided to protest to demand “fair votes and a fair choice”, and to say AV is simply not enough

This is a protest walk through Liverpool City Center to make our voices heard!

TIME: The protest will begin at 2pm and end whatever time we end up back at St. Georges.

Meeting Place, Steps of St. Georges Hall,
Then onto, Renshaw Street, Bold Street, Church Street, around Liverpool One, Liverpool One Gardens, The Strand, Lord Street, Mathew Street, Stanley Street, Victoria Street,
End point: St. Georges Hall.

It would be really great if you could all wear something Purple, be as creative and crazy as you like!
Time: Saturday, May 22, 2010 GMT+01:00
Host: Charlotte Murray
St. Georges Hall (Liverpool., Merseyside)
Liverpool., Merseyside L1 1JJ

The organizer didn’t show up. About 10 people did get there and eventually found one another by chance. We sat around in the sun and chatted for a bit. Then a bemused policeman wandered over and asked if we were the demonstration he was supposed to be watching.

He then asked some very hard questions, like: “What’s this protest supposed to be all about?”

I didn’t know. The whole Power2010 thing has felt so utterly vacuous and without any depth of purpose, it would have been nice to hear the organizer explain it. So I talked about my own general stuff, which is a lot easier because it has a direction. Although it is not something you march through the centre of Liverpool about. I would have marches, but they would be to the office of the local party branch meeting on the night they were selecting the next candidate for a safe seat behind close doors. That sort of place.


  • 1. Tweets that mention Frees&hellip replies at 24th May 2010, 9:39 am :

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Straight Choice, Sheryl Odlum. Sheryl Odlum said: RT @thesc: Why there is an systemic problem in how online election transparency was funded: […]

  • 2. Cllr Jason Kitcat replies at 24th May 2010, 10:13 am :

    Dear Julian

    It is very, very disappointing that funding couldn’t be found for The Straight Choice, nor – seems like everyone is happy to stand on the shoulders of a free endeavour, but not step up when sustainable funding is needed.

    You seem to have some strong views on the Power Inquiry/2010 ‘thing’ (I’m not sure what to call it anymore). Are you going to write them up? I’d be interested to read them.

    All the best,

  • 3. Hamish Allan replies at 24th May 2010, 11:12 am :

    The people at Power2010 are cretins:

    It’s ironic that they’ve made themselves the champions of fair voting systems when their own house is about as far out of order as is possible to get.

    Is there anyone I could contact at JRRT to let them know how they’re wasting their money?

  • 4. Matty replies at 24th May 2010, 1:34 pm :

    Can the public donate? Is it worth it? I would be happy to and to publicise the need for cash far and wide.

  • 5. Julian replies at 24th May 2010, 5:54 pm :

    It kind of needs money of the order of £20-£30k — not something that is easily raised by public donations, but small change in the scale of the grants that are routinely given to qualified individuals.

    The cost is about crossing the barrier between work that I can do myself for free (while I sponge off my girlfriend), and the cost of hiring a programmer full time for 8 months to get it all re-implemented with the features I want.

    If certain income streams from machine tool software had materialized I’d be simply paying for this myself.

    My time is full up with numerous other unpaid projects, because I keep thinking of them faster than I can do them.

    After 6 years of running the publicwhip site, I have very little faith in the capability of any of the grant giving institutions to do the right thing, limited as they are by pointless sets of rules of their own making.

  • 6. Cllr Jason Kitcat replies at 24th May 2010, 8:16 pm :

    We (the Green Party) received an email from the Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science requesting that our leaflets be sent to a freepost address where:

    “All material received is sorted and catalogued using an automated system
    which allows researchers to locate material by date, candidate,
    constituency and political party. The collection has proved a fruitful
    source of information on party policies, local issues, candidates and
    campaigning techniques and is regularly used by academics, the media,
    graphic designers and political parties.”

    I wonder if there’s any possibility of collaboration? Seems pointless to duplicate the basic effort going on here. I can’t find any sign of this LSE archive being available online.

    All the best,

  • 7. Peter Facey replies at 24th May 2010, 10:25 pm :

    Dear Julian

    Unlock Democracy received approximately 50,000 to develop and run Vote Match over 3 years from JRRT not the 150,000 you imply.

    And yes I think Vote Match has improved over that time through I recognise you don’t like the concept or the way we do it and yes we had over a million quizs completed.

    For what it is worth Ithink straight choice is a very useful project which I reconmended JRRT fund. If UD can help (and no I can’t give you money) we will try to.


  • 8. Chris Pawley replies at 29th May 2010, 10:13 pm :


    I think your work is really valuable. I also keep an eye on your FOI requests at

    Have you tried approaching The Lottery or how about the Nominet Foundation – they above all should take an interest in net based efforts.

    I agree that charities/trustees don’t allocate their grants well. Some medical ones are still paying for research that gets published/locked away behind journal paywalls that not even they have access to, let alone their donors or patients they purport to represent!

    Charities need to come under more scrutiny – especially as they are custodians of so much wealth. I remember reading somewhere (some Bank of England report that I now can’t track down either) that a significant proportion of the nation’s wealth (~30% iirc) resides in charities and trusts. After the COINS database I suggest this area is the next one to explore.

    An aside I remember seeing a partial list of grants on, but I can’t find it now so maybe I did dream it. Someone needs to build one in any case.

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