UK Pirate Party Preparing to Scuttle the Ship

grarpamp grarpamp at
Sat Oct 3 11:39:52 PDT 2020

UK's Pirate Party set to be scuttled after almost a decade at sea
Speaking to Sky News, current and former members described a party
which perhaps lacked political will.
Alexander J Martin, technology reporter
Alexander Martin

Technology reporter @AJMartinSky

Saturday 3 October 2020 15:21, UK
Pirate Party feature graphic
Image: After a decade at sea, Pirate Party UK is holding a ballot to dissolve
Why you can trust Sky News

After more than a decade of electoral failures, the Pirate Party UK
(PPUK) is holding a ballot to dissolve. It seems likely that, when
voting closes on Sunday 4 October, the party will be scuttled.

Speaking to Sky News, current and former members described a party
which perhaps lacked political will and professionalism (in one
infamous incident, members of its national executive faced being
summonsed to the High Court), but a party which also lacked the toxic
internal conflicts that can tear idealistic movements apart.

"A serious party with a silly name," as former members describe it,
the Pirate Party was never a truly significant political insurgency in
British politics. At its height in 2015 the party had 766 members, six
of whom ran in the general election, collecting just 1,130 votes. In
comparison the Monster Raving Loonies - a silly party with a silly
name - ran 27 candidates, receiving 3,898 votes.

If the Pirate Party is to sink as a political entity it will do so
having fallen well short of the shores of electoral success, and
without leaving much of a ripple in the turbulent seas of Westminster.
But its demise is a reminder that at some point over the past 10 years
a particular era of the internet quietly passed away too.

It's hard to imagine today, but a decade ago the general sentiment
regarding the internet was that it was a fundamentally democratising
force. From the Arab Spring through to the open-source-software
movement, there was an optimism that the self-propagating values of an
open society would spread anywhere that information technology would
allow them access to.

The Pirate Party even crowdsourced a general election manifesto on
social media, without any fears of astroturfing from hostile trolls.
It campaigned on a platform of radical copyright reform - reducing
copyright terms to 10 years so society could enjoy its own cultural
products. It demanded internet access for all, an infrastructure
question which major parties have subsequently adopted.

In particular PPUK was formed in response to the last Labour
government's Digital Economy Act (2010), a law that introduced
controversial powers to disconnect individuals' internet connections
if they were suspected of downloading copyright-infringing material.
Loz Laye was PPUK's leader from 2010 to 2015. Pic: Andy Halsall
Image: Loz Kaye was PPUK's leader from 2010 to 2015. Pic: Andy Halsall

Loz Kaye, who served as the party's leader from 2010 to 2015, told Sky
News that the Digital Economy Act was what "galvanised me to act
politically, rather than just writing a letter or appearing on a
phone-in on the radio," something he laughed about doing.

If the party's core supporters were easy to stereotype as nerds
hunched over laptops, Mr Kaye couldn't have been more different. A
handsome and outgoing professional music composer, active in
Manchester politics, he brought a focus on social justice to a party
which was generally focused on technology issues.

"Loz is not the person anybody expects when you're talking about the
Pirate Party," Andy Halsall told Sky News. Mr Halsall, a British Army
veteran turned IT professional, served as the party's campaign manager
during the first three years of Mr Kaye's leadership and its greatest
growth in membership and finances.

Mr Halsall, who joined the party because his brother-in-law was
standing, told Sky News how the leadership team pulled information on
how to run a political campaign "from Wikipedia and everybody else's
election manuals" and then attempted to convince activists they needed
to put in work on the ground instead of just building websites.

"It's very hard when people have the expectation that a digital-only
campaign will sway people to actually vote for you - when they think
that having the right ideas and the right position can win an
election, when obviously that isn't the case," he said.
BERLIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 05: A member of the Piratenpartei (Pirate
Party) taps on an iPhone before a press conference October 5, 2011 in
Berlin, Germany. The Piratenpartei is seeking to capitalize on its
recent success in Berlin city elections as recent nationwide polls
indicate that 8% of the German population would supoort the party in
federal elections. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Image: Activists initially focused on digital-only campaigning

The party itself was essentially pluralist and a few former members
who remain active in party politics are now members of the
Conservative Party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. "We were
generally anti-authoritarian," said Mr Kaye.

"What united us all was not feeling very comfortable in the
demonstrated political clothes. I hate the socialist cosplay of
Corbynites, I abhor the flag-waving numptyism of the current Tory
party. I think all of those ways of demonstrating politics or
political place are just fatuous," he told Sky News in a phone call.

Despite this growth PPUK never quite matched the successes of pirate
parties in Germany, Iceland and the Czech Republic.

In a way PPUK's pluralism stands in contrast to the most successful
pirate party, the Czech Pirate Party, which retains the third largest
presence in the country's lower house of parliament and functions as a
liberal third party to the country's populists and eurosceptics.

"I think if we were honest with ourselves, we never particularly saw
becoming an MP as a short-term prospect," Mr Kaye said, attributing
this to the first-past-the-post system in Westminster, noting: "It's
not like say the Netherlands, where you can have a Party for the
Animals and get into parliament."

For onlookers such as Jim Killock, the director of digital rights
organisation Open Rights Group, the Pirate Party failed to focus on
the limited number of chances it had for electoral success -
specifically the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and London,
and two seats in the European elections in the southeast England and

"In my own view, I saw too much political naivety for them to really
grasp the chances that they had," Mr Killock said.

Andy Halsall recollects: "Standing for elections was what political
parties did, so there was a default position of 'if we're a political
party, that's what we do - otherwise we're just a bunch of activists
talking about it'."

But converting its geographically dispersed support into votes in a
national campaign was difficult on such a small policy platform.

As Mr Kaye recollected, voters who he met on doorsteps and at debates
often expressed an appreciation for the party's copyright policies,
but had other issues too: "What are you going to do about the bins,
Palestine, and all the rest of it?"
The Royal Courts of Justice building, which houses the High Court of
England and Wales, is pictured in London on February 3, 2017. / AFP /
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL
Image: The NEC almost ended up fighting a lawsuit in the High Court

Despite the struggle to establish itself as a national entity on par
with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, or Labour, for a six-month
period the Pirate Party website was not only the most popular
political website in the UK, but one of the most popular of any at all
receiving more than 50,000 hits every hour.

Nobody who spoke to Sky News remembers who really started it, but just
before Internet Service Providers in the UK implemented a
court-ordered block on the website Pirate Bay for
copyright-infringement, PPUK began to host a proxy service allowing
people to access the site.

"I don't know who kicked it of, at some point we simply had a proxy
running for the Pirate Bay on party kit that we were managing, and
that was it," said Mr Halsall, who described the incident as one of
the issues with professionalising the party and ensuring that when
actions were being made and decisions taken they were overseen.

"We wanted to change the law, not circumvent it," Mr Halsall added.

Loz Kaye, who was leader at the time, told Sky News he'd talked very
little about the incident before. He said: "Essentially the point was
if you start blocking sites you start out on a slippery slope and hand
powers that perhaps you might want to think twice about to

"The question was also about free access to culture, so that was the
thinking - but it also then proved ridiculously successful.

"Because it was linked to our website, the Pirate Party website became
the most popular political website in the country. We were in the top
hundred sites in the country, ahead of major banks, so not
surprisingly this came to the attention of the BPI."

He added: "I don't mind admitting we were a little bit naive, but I
think we were all surprised by what happened."

What happened was this: Six months after the proxy went up, the
British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the trade association for record
companies, targeted the individual members of the Pirate Party's
national executive committee (NEC) with legal threats to take the
proxy down. They initially said no.

"Behind the scenes it was very hard for us to get legal
representation," Mr Kaye said. "It was hard to find lawyers, even
though some were keen, but any firm with any knowledge of intellectual
property would also potentially have conflicts of interest as they may
have acted for potential litigants.

"We were days away from being summonsed to the High Court and the
lawyers we had pulled out. That was possibly the most stressful thing
that has ever happened to me," he said.

Eventually replacement lawyers were found, but the proxy was taken down.

Although the party membership generally considered that the proxy was
justified, as NEC members were being personally targeted by a
potentially very expensive court case, Mr Kaye said: "I didn't think
it was fair to push it too far."

It was an ignominious end for an action driven by a political cause
that was sincerely believed in, but without the political will to be
seen through. Many years later, a similar fate looms over the party as
a whole.
Pirate Party UK's leadership proposed closing it down
Image: Pirate Party UK's leadership proposed closing it down

In its proposal to close Pirate Party UK, the current leader and the
chairman of the board wrote it was "with great sadness that we have
reached the conclusion that PPUK has run out of steam".

Members who are considering voting "no" to dissolving the party were
instructed to only vote that way if they themselves were determined to
help run the party, and not simply because they thought that somebody
should do so.

In the case the ballot concludes that the party will be dissolved,
members' personal records will be destroyed and the Electoral
Commission will be notified that the party has ceased to be.

Outstanding debts will be settled and any remaining funds will be
split between two charities, the National Museum of Computing and
Privacy International, fitting locations for the vestiges of PPUK.
About Sky News

    About Us
    Sky Data
    Sky News International
    Sky News Library Sales
    Site Map
    Editorial Guidelines
    Supreme Court Live
    Sky News Board

Sky News Services

    Sky News RSS
    Sky News For Your Phone
    Sky News Radio

Sky Channels

    Sky 1
    Sky Witness
    Sky Atlantic
    Sky Arts
    Sky Cinema
    Sky Sports

More Sky Sites

    NOW TV
    Sky Ocean Rescue
    Sky Academy Studios
    Bigger Picture
    Sky Corporate
    Sky Bet
    Sky News Arabia
    Advertise With Us

    Terms & Conditions
    Privacy & Cookies
    Privacy Options
    Contact Us

Sky logo © 2020 Sky UK

More information about the cypherpunks mailing list