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4 July 2008

Bill the minister…

A version of Bill Thompson's speech to the New Media Awards when he was asked to step into the shoes

By Bill Thompson

Tom Watson MP, Minister for Transformational Government in the Cabinet Office, was due to give a speech at the 2008 New Media Awards but was unable to attend due to pressing Parliamentary business. I got to speak instead. And this is what I said – roughly.

Over the last decade the Internet has gone from being something ‘out there’ to something ‘in here’, an essential part of daily life for those of us who use it heavily and embrace new services like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Seesmic and Plurk the way a keen trainspotter looks on with joy at new rolling stock, engine livery or even rail operators.

But it isn’t only the geeks. The Internet has also affected the lives of the digitally dispossessed and the network refuseniks, as our economy, education system, media and even political processes come to depend on the net and its many affordances.

It has been fascinating to be a judge for this year’s New Media Awards and to see the fabulous range of sites and services that have been nominated. We have some worthy winners, as you will soon discover.

I’m here in place of Tom Watson, a minister in the Cabinet Office known to many as ‘the blogging MP’. Tom has done a great job pushing through changes at many levels of government, implementing recommendations from the Power of Information Report and yesterday launching ‘showusabetterway.com’, an open competition to bring forward the best ideas for mixing, reusing and mashing up government data feeds, with a £20,000 budget for taking ideas forward.

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It’s not often you get to stand in for a Minister, so I’d like to channel Tom’s spirit – the Rochelle School is apparently on a ley line – and let you know what I think Tom would say to you tonight – to the entrants, the winners, the press, the political classes and the new media entrepreneurs assembled here.
I imagine he’d ask you to be patient but persistent. To recognised that government has habits that are hard to change.
He’d want you to acknowledge that Paul Feyerabend was right when he pointed out that a paradigm shift is only complete when the last adherent of the old model has died. And that civil servants have very good health care.

He’d ask you to keep up the pressure on him and his team to open up, take more risks and break down unnecessary barriers.
And he’d ask you to prove him right by building great tools and services on top of what’s out there, stretching the limits of the possible – and perhaps of the permissible – just like the gang at MySociety does. He’d want you to demonstrate what can be done so that he has lots of case studies and examples to use to support even more openness.

And of course he’d want you to come back and win next year’s awards with your great sites.

Thank you.

To see a video from the event please see The Official Winners page