Is Tom Watson MP stealing or reading? The Tories think the former.

I received an e-mail today from the office of George Osbourne the Shadow Chancellor. Thanks to Rohan Silva for getting in touch.

They wanted to point out similarities between the speech Tom Watson made yesterday on The Power of Information and previous speeches and announcements made by the Conservative Party. The body of the e-mail is below, but I’d just like to reflect on this old media reflex in a new media world.

Rohan wants me to see “for yourself just how much of it has been purloined from Conservative Party announcements.”

Rohan: I’ve read and can find a whole range of already public sources for these ideas.  Books, websites, blogs, reports commissioned by government and others, these ideas are out there and both parties are getting to grips with them and talking about them. I would have to be something of a moron to believe that all the government is doing is nicking ideas from you when it is much more credible to believe that you are all reading about and experiencing the same radical shift in how we communicate and collaborate.

To accuse the other party of stealing ideas simply because you are making the same argument is very tired Government 1.0. If you really believe in the power of collaboration then get involved in a conversation online with Tom, recognise your common understanding and ambitions and get on with improving the way we are governed, not disapproving of the fact that you agree.

By the way Tom Watson has put up his thinking on how the problem of the civilserf blogger (nice creation Simon) might be avoided in the future. It’s good to see public thoughts on this – who would like to join the conversation and help improve what Tom is suggesting – George? Rohan?

Another post that relates to this is here.

Update: Mick Fealty at the Telegraph.

Dave Briggs.

Ministry Of Truth in rattled cage.

Anyway thanks for the e-mail and please keep them coming. The body of the e-mail in full:

Hi there

I thought you might be interested in how Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson‘s speech yesterday on new technologies and the internet “mashed up” Conservative Party policies, speeches and ideas from the past 18 months. (Comically, the link to Tom’s speech isn’t actually working at the moment: – and it’s not been published on the Cabinet Office website…)

It’s well worth reading Tom’s entire speech alongside our previous key speeches on this subject, and seeing for yourself just how much of it has been purloined from Conservative Party announcements. But for those of you who don’t have time to do that, here’s a selection of some of the most obvious thefts in Tom’s speech, along with some suggestions about other Conservative Party internet related policies that he may want to borrow for his next one.


Tom Watson – 10 March 2008:
“Just imagine if every incident of crime could be geographically tagged? It could transform community policing.”

David Cameron – speech at the Google Zeitgeist Conference, October 12 2007:
“Crime mapping is a great example [of the power of open information]. At one and the same time it enables you to hold your police force to account, get the government to spend money in the right places, and even to help choose where to live.”

Tom Watson – 10 March 2008:
“Embedding data mash-up into thinking across all of government not just the early adopters within departments.”

David Cameron – CCA speech on setting government information free, 29 February 2008:
“We will require local authorities to publish information online and in a standardised format. That way, it can be collected and used by the public and third party groups…Setting local information free really is the future.”

Tom Watson – 10 March 2008:
“There are three rules of open source: One, nobody owns it. Two, everybody uses it. And three, anyone can improve it. Our future thinking must view government more like a giant open source community. So far government ticks boxes one and two, no one person owns it and everybody uses it.”

George Osborne – speech to the Royal Society of the Arts on ‘Open Source Politics’, 8 March 2007:
“Open source politics means rejecting the old monolithic top-down approach to decision-making. It means throwing open the doors and listening to new ideas and new contributors. It means harnessing the power of mass collaboration. And rather than relying on the input of a few trusted experts, it means drawing on the skills and expertise of millions.”



Along with policy commitments to standardise government information, introduce crime mapping and embed open collaboration in policymaking, the Conservative Party has a slew of other policies on harnessing new technologies to improve public services, which Tom Watson may want to borrow for his next speech.

On 8 March 2007, George Osborne committed a Conservative government to introducing a level playing field for open source IT within government procurement contracts .

Our research showed that most central government departments make no use of open source IT whatsoever, and not a single open source company is included in Catalyst, the government’s list of approved IT suppliers.

Taking into account the experience of companies and public sector bodies, it is estimated that overhauling this system and opening up procurement to open source IT could result in savings to the taxpayer of over £600m per year.

In 2006, the Conservative Party introduced legislation in Parliament, modelled on the successful Barack Obama-Tom Coburn bill that enabled Americans to “Google Their Tax Money”.

The legislation will require all public bodies to publish, in a standardised and systemised online format, every item of government expenditure over £25,000.

This will massively improve public scrutiny over government spending, and empower the public to put pressure on the government to justify exactly how it spends our money.

Unfortunately, Gordon Brown opposes the legislation, and is trying hard to kill off this bill.

On 4 December 2006, George Osborne announced that under a Conservative government, public bodies would be banned from using expensive paid-for printed adverts to publicise job vacancies.

This means that all recruitment advertising will be online, except where there are justifiable concerns about ensuring fair access for a specific vacancy.

According to Reed Personnel Services, £800m of taxpayers’ money is being spent each year on public sector job adverts, compared to £390m in the private sector, despite the fact that the private sector employs four fifths of the workforce.

The potential saving of around £700m from using online adverts is enough to pay for 35,000 new nurses, 30,000 new teachers, 25,000 new policemen or 30,000 new soldiers.


Links to relevant Conservative Party speeches:

November 2006 – George Osborne speech on ‘Politics and Media in the Internet Age’

March 2007 – George Osborne speech to the RSA on open source politics

October 2007 – David Cameron speech to the Google Zeigeist Conference

February 2008 – David Cameron speech on setting local government information free


  1. Praguetory says:

    The explanation is simple. People just don’t like Tom Watson… His suggestions for civil service bloggers are the typical veiled threats this government issues to citizens and public sector workers who show up their serial incompetence.

  2. paul canning says:

    So it was a circular then? Gee, what a stretch.

    As I told the bloke, I don’t think this is what interests the general public. It’s hardly going to interest the Daily Mail and us lot are going to do what you’ve just done. Naive? Methinks so.

    Addressing online service delivery would be a better avenue.

  3. Tim Ireland says:

    No, Praguetory, *you* don’t like Tom Watson… and yet you seem perfectly happy to scream ‘personal attack’ if anyone pulls you up on your many shenanigans… like enagaging in personal attacks. Is that why you gave up blogging?

  4. Nick Booth says:

    Boys I keep an orderly house. Praguetory and Tim neither of your comments seem especially pertinent to the question of whether the e-mail I received shows an organisation which understands the social web or not.

  5. Praguetory says:

    I don’t find the Tory response to be old media or new media. Does new media involve human nature changing or mean that political parties will stop managing their brand? I don’t think so. This press release is surely about reinforcing the (convincing) narrative that it’s the Tories who are making the running on government policy (needling Tom in the process is just an added benefit).

    If I were making a point about Tom’s utterances it would be the breath-taking hypocrisy. For all his utopian guff about empowering users when push comes to shove in the real world, Tom’s only up for real open communication if he’s setting the rules. I prefer Dizzy’s ideas about how to be a public sector blogger.

    Also, it’s well known that an anonymous blog came from Tom’s Westminster office breaking his own rule number one. It sounds great in theory, but a meaningful cross-party debate involving Tom Watson is an oxymoron.

  6. Praguetory says:

    Collaborate when you can, I say, but there’s no point collaborating with people who are part of the problem you’re trying to overcome.

    I’ve used the web to assist with many campaigns to promote change within my party and am or have been involved in many cross-party campaigns. For example, I’m the only Conservative mentioned at this site. But I do have my limits.

    The idea of collaborating with a person who managed to remain silent during cash for peerages, donorgate and the MP expense scandals having previously done a youtube on ‘cleaning up politics’ is a bridge too far for me. 🙂

  7. Nick Temple says:

    Whatever one thinks of the parties involved, it seems a bizarre e-mail because there are very few similarities in the way Tom / George phrase things. It’s like me and you, Nick, reading the same report (Tom Steinberg / Ed Mayo) and then writing posts about our reflections….and even then that report contained long-established ideas about open source / data use etc.

    Not really interested in the political points: more interested that both parties engage with the agenda.

  8. Nick Booth says:

    Nick – it’s exactly like that. The questions is how to get minds focussed on solving social problems rather than scoring political points – perhaps we shuld sub contract both government and opposition to social enterprise?

  9. osimod says:

    Hi Nick
    what I meant is that I was surprised by the mysociety post which associated their “consultancy work” with the 2 speeches, making it look like they helped both speeches. Perhaps I am naive (or too Italian) but it’s surprising to see the same people giving consultancy to both parties… which is good of course as we largely follow the views of MySociety on these issues.

  10. Nick Booth says:

    I understand. That needs explaining. Under UK law a charity cannot be political – support any political party etc. mySociety exists to create practical open online tools to further democracy in the UK. To that end it is both natural and right that they should be talking to both the government and the opposition on how government needs to use the web well.

    So maybe you’re a touch too Italian?

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