Crowd-funding is almost an old-fashioned concept in the tech world these days, but it’s still having a relatively new and significant impact in the world of politics.
A brand new initiative is now taking the UK by storm and plans to use tech to shake up the UK’s political system in the wake of the chaos of the Brexit vote. Kicked-off by former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, who has been joined by other leading figures, MoreUnited.uk has so far gathered over 15,500 supporters inside just 24 hours.
It plans to crowd-fund money to back MPs from any political party so long as they sign up to a set of 5 ‘progressive’ principles. In practice, it will use crowd-funding to financially back MPs who face extremists/populists, especially in marginal seats where campaign finance can make a real difference. And they plan to use tech to allow their members to decide who to back. (It is not a political party and won’t stand candidates in elections).
Named after the ‘maiden’ speech in Parliament by murdered MP Jo Cox, More United’s supporters include tech entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox, Stemmettes founder Anne-Marie Imafidon, broadcaster Dan Snow, environmentalist Jonathon Porrit, historian Simon Schama, Luke Pritchard (lead singer of The Kooks), and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.
In terms of tech policy, the organisation plans to support enterprise and entrepreneurialism in a 21st century, a tech-driven economy and “making Britain the best place in the world to start new businesses.” It also plans to promote green technology.
What is brand new about the movement is that it is introducing the crowdfunding approach pioneered by the first Obama campaign, and most recently championed by Bernie Sanders, but also move the concept on.
Key organiser Austin Rathe says tech startups “understand that the internet isn’t just a way to do things faster or cheaper, it’s a way to do things that could never be done before. That same revolution will come to politics. It’s inevitable.”
He adds that organisations like 38 Degrees and Change.org “have shown us that there are millions of people who care enough about politics to take small actions around specific causes” but what “they (deliberately) don’t have is a binding set of principles that their members hold in common. That’s what makes MoreUnited.uk a movement, not a platform.”
In effect, More United is also introducing a US-style “Political Action Committee” approach to UK politics, which has not experienced PACs and ’Super-PACS” in quite the same way as the US, as political funding goes direct to political parties not to individual MPs.
PACs have been super-charged by tech platforms in recent years, because they eschew normal party affiliations and simply fund politicians that pledge their allegiance to the aims of the group. PACs have had enormous effect on US politics, largely because of the presence of big money, such as the gun lobby. With the rise of crowd-funding platforms for politics, ordinary voters are now being given the chance to enter the fray, and, to some extent, equalise the fight. It’s a brand new concept for the UK, which is leaving many struggling to get their heads around it.
More detail about how More United will operate ‘on the ground’ is likely to come. But the movement plans to use tech platforms at every step.
Speaking to the BBC, Ashdown called it a “political startup” that wants to create a cross-party movement.
“The final decisions on who we support will always be made by our members,” according to the More United.uk website. “If there are two candidates signed up to MoreUnited.uk’s principle beliefs in one parliamentary seat, our members will have final say over how we support them.”
That will mean More United having to employ a full-blown platform allowing its members to decide, and the movement has a number to choose from.
Among them, Crowdpac was co-founded by former No. 10 Downing St advisor and the first crowdfunding platform designed exclusively for political action. It employs algorithms to help its members decide who to back, drawing on a range of sources including social network analysis of Twitter and textual analysis of key speeches. It’s designed to cut across the political spectrum allowing users to create campaigns in support of candidates and issues they care about and donate to a range of political campaigns. It can also be used to stand for office, making candidates potentially independent of party machines.
However, it doesn’t give you a website or CRM. It also owns the donor relationships, which makes it a sticking point for movements that want to own the data about the supporters. So far the startup has raised $9.57 million
NationBuilder, a SaaS platform that allows political candidates and organizations to quickly build a website, supports fundraising efforts, a blog, volunteer outreach, payment processing, calendars and more. It has raised $6.25 million. NationBuilder allows non-technical people to create a branded website, blog as well as import contact lists and send email blasts directly from the site. In terms of social media, NationBuilder allows you to integrate multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts and tweet and Facebook Message from these accounts. It also has the ability to send mass text messages.
In the UK, Represent.me is an opinion-gathering platform that might be used by campaigns to interrogate its members, allowing organisers to gather data very quickly and inform their own strategy. It’s the kind of platform that More United may well look at to interrogate its members.
In the last 24 hours, More United has garnered thousands of supporters. But what will “success” mean for them?
Ashdown has said that if they get 25,000 supporters, they will launch their full-blown fund-raising drive in September.
But with well over half that number already joining, it looks like they may be launching their funding drive much earlier.