Open source becomes political wedge issue

Open source becomes political wedge issue

Summary: The Conservative Party, which has its best chance of taking power in a decade, is now using the idea of open source as a wedge issue, a way to talk about its approach to governance using popular terms like "bottom-up" and "transparency."

TOPICS: Open Source

Last year, in Massachusetts, we saw open source being used as a political football. But the underlying issue in that case was technological, the state's adoption of ODF as a standard format.

Now, in England, we're again seeing open source being used by politicians. This time, however, it's entirely on behalf of politics.

The Conservative Party, which has its best chance of taking power in a decade, is now using the idea of open source as a wedge issue, a way to talk about its approach to governance using popular terms like "bottom-up" and "transparency."

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (left) did claim there would be 600 million pounds in savings from the switch (about $1.15 billion) but his real target was the secretive Labour way of doing government's business.

He went far beyond software procurement, talking of using social networking sites to organize and promote political action, and about using the Internet to lend transparency to government decisions.

Osborne's ideas drew approval from the Liberal Democrats, the country's third party, which has been campaigning for open source software in schools. That's important, because if the next election shows no party with a majority in Parliament, a coalition will be needed, and there was a signal here that Liberal Democrats might possibly go with the Tories (as the Conservatives are called).

Our own Rupert Goodwins (right) writes that Osborne "gets it" on IT issues. But experience tells me that when a poiltician claims to "get it," you had best check carefully to see which end of the fishing line the hook is lodged. It's likely to be in you, not him (or her).

So is this a good thing or not? Is it the old political shell game, or is open source software really a winning political issue for our time? And when might we see Barack Obama or Rudy Giuliani (or Fred Dalton Thompson) at a server farm near you?




Topic: Open Source

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  • is it a circus or a horrow show

    When politics is used to make an engineering or software decision, you know its sad state of affairs.

    Politicians and bureucrats (with no technology experience) should stay out of making technical decisions.
    • How dare they?

      The evil politicians usurping the role of tech lobbyists and corporate salespeople? Next thing you know, they might start acting like they're actually in charge of government. Worst of all, they might actually take responsibility for what happens, instead of pawning it off on "unelected bureaucrats".
      John L. Ries
    • Would it make any difference to your point...

      .. if I told you that George Osborne ran a successful IT business before entering politics?
      • Ofcourse it would

        <p><b>There should be no conflict of interest.</b><p>

        Could you show me a link that has information about his IT business (not claiming he dint have a business but just dont want to spend the time searching for it).
        • As far as I know...

          .... he's just a politician selling jawbone and hot air. I was only asking if it would make a difference to your viewpoint if he had a technical background because it seemed to me that you were shooting from the hip about an individual you knew little or nothing about. AFAIK his degree was gained at Oxford and is in History.

          Having said he seems to be a smart guy. He's only in his thirties and he's Shadow Chancellor so if his party wins the next election Osbourne will be setting the expenditure of one of the World's trillion dollar economies. You don't get that high that quick by being an idiot.

          What I would be interested in finding out is whether he found out about Open Source himself or has he been lobbied with facts and figures? In any case with savings of ?600bn being possible I suspect that the merits or otherwise of open source will get a good looking at.

          His constituency is the next one to this one so I often see election posters for him as I frequently drive through Tatton. His rather sparse website is

          Sooner or later it is bound to happen that we'll get a technically aware politician. In the UK, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a chemist.
          • whats your response to

            whats your response to this post


            As the above post suggests, instead of one person in power making a decision, shouldnt the process be open and transperant
          • All such decisions should be open and transparent

            I don't expect this to be done by decree. The usual process over here is for govt to tender the work and receive bids against the tender from all interested parties. A decision is then made. It is part of the process that the submitter of the tender must not put identifible information about who they are in the tender. To do so disqualifies your bid. You put your company details in a separate envelope which is opened at the end of the bid process.

            What I would expect is that open source companies get the opportunity to bid and not be turned down immediately just because they are not offereing Microsoft software. It is, of course, up to the open source companies to show that their software can do the job and at the price stated.

            The important thing thing about what Osbourne is proposing is that it

            1) Introduces the idea to purchasing managers that there are alternatives - competition is good.
            2) It gets rid of the idea "I'll be fired if I don't buy Microsoft".
            3) Give opportunities to existing suppliers to offer a cheaper alternative, thus increasing their profits.

            Remember - he is not proposing a wholesale replacement of systems and things. It could be as simple as upgrading older office software from Office 2000 to OpenOffice or using Apache servers rather than IIS or running MySQL rather than SQL Server.
      • success in business does not mean technical competence

        <p>There are many CEOs that run technology business but are not technical people.</p>

        <p>What does this mean. <b> Nothing </b></p>
        • I quite agree

          See my response to defconvegas. To be clear, I wasn't saying that Osbourne HAD a technical background, I was asking it it would a difference IF Osbourne had a technical background.

          "If" is a small word, but it makes a big difference.
    • Since when was it not the responsibility of politicians to investigate and

      approve how the money is spent. Yes, they must get expert advice, but we are talking over a Billion dollars here. They darn well better be involved making sure the money is spent wisely. And, not all of the decisions are technical. It could be that proprietary documents might be technically as good as open ones, but, we demand that all documents are available in open formats (a political decision), so we go with the open standard.
      • As usual the shills scream...

        ... and blame the messenger when their godhead - Microsoft - looks like coming out on the short end of the deal.
        • as long as there is some merit to it

          However if it is based on politics, why do the citizens have to keep quiet. We have every right to ask questions and to get answers.
          • Of course it's based on politics

            But politics is more than competition between candidates and parties. Politics is primarily about the art of government and is definitely concerned with how tax money is spent.

            If the primary goal of decision making is to further the goal of winning the next election, then many questionable decisions are going to be made, not just about computer and software purchases, but about every aspect of government. As we've seen, the public can only keep track of so many issues, leaving politicians free to make decisions on low-profile issues at the behest of special interests with deep pockets.

            The question therefore arises, if we can't trust elected officials to make good decisions about how government should be administered (to include how taxpayer funds should be spent), how can we trust them to make good laws (about anything)?
            John L. Ries
      • Equal opportunity and being fair to all companies that bid.

        Also it should not matter what one person thinks should be right or wrong.

        What should matter is that the process is open and fair and gives equal opportunity to everyone (I said equal opportunity and not gift opportunity).
        The company that provides the best bids wins.
        No pulling the carpet under the competitors feet. A open process that is fair to everyone regardless of beliefs.
  • Good to see politicians involved in this and taking care of the money.

    We are talking about a lot of money here. Also good to see that MS does not have the politicians in their pocket.
  • OSS as a campaign theme is a charade

    I've heard some people in the past try to draw parallels between what some popular businesses are doing, like Amazon or eBay, and what OSS does. I don't think there's that much of a relationship. OSS is about creating collaboration, and building something. There are some who admire OSS for its "openness and transparency", as it's being used in this case, but I think that's a by-product of what it's about.

    Just because you use more open source isn't going to make your organization more "open and transparent". Maybe the consciousness that brought in OSS will have that influence, but the software in and of itself is not going to have that effect, unless the people who make up the organization choose to make these goals a priority. This could be done using closed-source software as far as I'm concerned.
    Mark Miller
    • I'm just surprised they're using it

      Does the average Brit on the street even know what open source is? I'll bet more know the name of Anna Nicole Smith's baby.