In the run up to conference season, the Pirate Party UK leader joins a protest in Manchester city centre, talks with international supporters, introduces a new approach to policy, and celebrates the success of a touring show for which he co-created the scoreMonday
The week begins for me as days begin for most British politicians, dealing with emails while shouting at the radio during the BBC's
flagship news programme Today. The other thing that is a fixture in my life is the daily morning call with Andy Halsall, Pirate Party UK's head of campaigns.
I suspect a lot of people's image of the Pirate Party is that it is all cryptoparties and hanging out with the politically hip. But the morning's business is slightly less exciting. Approving election material templates for the Manchester Central by-election – I'm standing for parliament – queries for the Electoral Commission, internal organisation structure. Not the stuff of revolution, but still necessary.
We are in the run up to the party conference, so this week will be dominated by that. I have to pinch myself that this is only our second ever conference – the party has only been going in the United Kingdom a little over three years. Already so much has been achieved. Even two years ago digital rights were not really on the political agenda in this country . Andy and I go through a first draft of what I am just calling 'the speech', my keynote for conference. At this stage all I am worried about is making it interesting, if people are going to sit down and listen to you for half an hour you had better have something worth listening to.
Even though we are still a small party, I already have a balancing act to do. For me it is most important to assess where we have been and set out a vision of where we need to go to for the members. But equally, I have to have half an eye on an audience outside the room who want to know what we stand for and are yet to get to know us. Most of the day is taken up with working on the draft. For once there are not too many interruptions.
Summer seems to be suddenly over in my home town of Manchester and rain thunders down in strange localised bursts. Grey clouds and sudden fragments of rainbows over the Ancoats district of the city.
Communication seems to go in similar bursts. Arranging meetings for the weekend, a press release about the Reporters Without Borders whistleblowing site, tweaks to the conference programme. It is still going on in the early evening as I head out to a demonstration in the city centre. I startle passers by hollering in to my phone "you need to add 'it's clearly anti-competitive'" about a press statement we are writing on changes to Google autocomplete.
There is a demonstration in Manchester city centre about the council's plans to spend £3.5m on an extension to the historic Central Library that will ruin a public space and be locked off in the evenings. I am not against change, but what I am against is change without proper accountability. There are some great speeches with real passion. One of the arguments that has been used for it, is that it will make us safer. I think I particularly learn something from the point one speaker makes that if we lock spaces off, we signal it is citizens in general that are the problem, not people who cause violence. If nothing else, it is a terrible indictment of Manchester council who claim it is not safe to walk between two of their buildings in the centre of the city.
On a lighter note, I enjoy carrying a large foam replica of George Orwell's 1984
through the streets. I may have positioned it above Councillor Karney's head in photo opportunities. Clearly Britain's Labour party is not as all seeing and all controlling in its media opportunities as has been alleged.
Everyone in Pirate Party UK is an activist. That is to say we all have other jobs too. For me, I also work in education and creating music. This is why I find it very odd when people who do not know my background ask me questions about our policy like "how will artists make money?", as if I do not think about that on a practical level every day.
Today I am meeting Dave and Kate from Bread Arts collective as we are working on a project proposal for a new commission. We go for a meal to discuss things further. We end up in an Indian restaurant that appears to have used a great amount of effort on the decor and forgotten to give the food any thought. The naan bread is so huge that I suspect it must contravene some kind of European Union directive. Still, the ideas flow and it looks like we have enough for three proposals, not just one. Clearly piracy has not yet rendered all composers destitute as I am able to pay for my share of the bill.
More art. During the day I have meetings at Horse and Bamboo theatre, a company I have worked for as composer and musical director since 1994. We discuss the success of the latest touring show Angus – Weaver of Grass
. Fantastic audience reactions and for us, very satisfying artistically. It is a true story of the extraordinary Angus McPhee who grew up on the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. I have worked with a Gaelic singer to create the score for the show which has been a fascinating learning journey for me. It is also wonderful to see such a thriving scene like traditional Scottish music is based on the public domain.
The evening sees more heritage and development issues. For a few weeks I have been involved with the residents' fight to save historic building Ancoats dispensary, and it is the group meeting. It is a diverse group with some people becoming active protesters for the first time. Bought in 2001 by developers Urban Splash, this local landmark has been allowed to deteriorate to the state where now the council has agreed to allow demolition. Yet there are no sanctions, and the same company is still down to build a school in the area. It is the lack of responsibility from Urban Splash and the council who should have intervened sooner that bothers me. Often the key Pirate Party issues of accountability and transparency might seem a bit theoretical – here it is practical and about the very fabric of our city.
Despite us only really planning to go in to the Manchester by-election campaign from next week, things seem to be moving of their own accord. The editor of the Manchester student newspaper tweets me about setting up an interview. All very 21st century.
I answer a set of questions from another journalist, fairly standard stuff. Then there is a question about the rise in interest in non-mainstream parties. To be honest, you would not know it to look at the make up of the UK parliament. Even so, there is a desire for change across the continent. The breakthrough of the Pirate Party in Germany and the success of Syriza in Greece show it is possible to break the mould in politics.
More phone calls about conference to end the day. Andy is down in London preparing the ground and sounds markedly less fraught than earlier in the week. This is a good thing.
An early morning start to travel down to London. Saturday is focused on meetings with international members and supporters of the Pirate Party. So many of the issues that concern us require transnational campaigning: the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, intellectual property, internet governance, media freedom to name but a few. We are in my view strongest when we are acting together.
I have a lunch meet about the next steps for a potential Pirate Party Bulgaria. I am glad and actually a bit humbled that people think I can help out. There is a real concern that press freedom is going backwards in Bulgaria. But also a determination to preserve civil liberties as the memory of cold war times is still very present. We can all learn from this.
I catch up with our international coordinator Ed Geraghty and visitors from Germany, Sweden and the United States over in Westminster. Ed is giving our friends a bit of a tour. Summer is back on again in the capital and it feels quite hot as we stroll along the South Bank in heated debate. I tell our visitors to inform folks back in their respective countries that the Pirate Party UK welcome, and the weather is always this warm.
Conference. It is good to be together with old colleagues and new friends. I open the day and hand over to Andy who sets out the really important task ahead, the new manifesto. We have been clear that we need to broaden our policy platform and have run an extensive consultation, involving thousands of people. It has real substance now, and we need to move to adopting this wider platform. People like what we stand for as far as it goes, but we know that it does not go far enough. I am very excited about this new approach to policy which really draws on the good ideas of a wider public.
The afternoon sees some really good panel discussions on economics and social policy. Very interesting to hear economist and pirate party member Harry Shutt speak setting out the state that we are in. And also its consequences, particularly in the devastating problems of poverty. There is discussion of evidence based policy and political equivalents of randomised trials. Not all of this is easy, and there are of course disagreements. But I feel that we have made a real step forward as a party. We are out of the start up phase and dealing with the matters of real substance that the voters want tackling.
Before my speech the other keynote is by Madhatter McGinnis, who heads up Scrub Club recording label. He talks about their open source approach to making music. It is refreshing to have a different perspective at a political conference, and he is a funny and engaging speaker. And also he combines my twin passions of music and activism in his talk and in his work.
I set out where we have been and where we are going in my speech. For anyone in a small party, which we still are right now, we must surely ask ourselves, is this worth doing? But just as surely, all that has happened in the little over three years since we were formed tells me yes: we are needed more than ever.
We arrive at a pub to celebrate a good day and carry on the lively debate. Then my mobile rings. It is the BBC
wanting comment for a story on downloading statistics breaking in Monday's news. So another week has already begun.Loz Kaye is leader of the Pirate Party UK