- Public Whip
The Public Whip is a
Parliamentary informaticsproject based in Britain and loosely affiliated to mySociety's TheyWorkForYouwebsite which shares a large part of the same parliamentary parsing code-base.
It was initially developed in the summer of 2003 by
Francis Irvingand Julian Toddafter witnessing the 18 March 2003 Parliamentary Approval for the invasion of Iraq, and learning that members of parliament(MPs) usually vote according to instructions from their party's Chief Whipwho maintains a record of all acts of disobedience for future reference.
They realized that without equal access to this information, members of the public were at a severe disadvantage when it came to holding their representatives accountable on any particular vote or issue.
Initially, the software was written in
Perl(later rewritten in Python) which downloaded pages of from the online Hansard, extracted the MPs votes, uploaded them into a mySQLtable, and allowed them to be viewed through PHPwebpages.
Later that year the project was expanded to handle
Parliamentary Written Answers, and eventually everything except for the front-end webpage grew into the [http://ukparse.kforge.net/parlparse/ Parliamentary Parser] , which is now maintained by mySocietyto provide the data to their TheyWorkForYouwebsite.
One of the important lessons that was learnt during the building of these projects was never to ask for permission to use government copyrighted information such as this, because you risk not being granted it, or being tied up with conditions that could threaten the viability of the project.Fact|date=February 2007
It is widely understood that the decisive wielding Parliamentary power occurs at the moment of division or vote among the MPs. Therefore a chronology of these votes provides a good way to account for the goings on in the House. Unfortunately, the format of the record is so poor that, while it is possible for a computer to automatically determine who voted in any particular division, it is very difficult to extract a comprehensible description of what was decided. As a consequence, the description of each division has its own wiki page for readers to correct and clean up.
The website has occasionally been cited in newspaper articles, and is sometimes referred to in election material. [cite web|url=http://www.flourish.org/blog/index.php?p=119|date=
3 March 2005|title=Found this week in Bristol election leaflet|author=Francis Irving] It's also been used to provide provide voting analysis to citizens during elections.
While this project shares much of its basic
free open source softwarewith mySociety's TheyWorkForYouit remains an independent and belongs to the two founders. Francis Irvingcurrently does programming work for mySociety, most recently [http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/ WhatDoTheyKnow] , a site that provides an on-line interface to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Julian Toddhas extended the concept of parsing transcripts for speeches and votes to the General Assembly and Security Council of the United Nationswith a website called undemocracy.com established in 2007. [cite news|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/mar/13/internet.politics|title=Is it possible for geeks to fix the United Nations?|date= 13 March 2008|publisher=The Guardian|first=Wendy|last=Grossman] The work motivated following the discovery of the transcripts on-line during research into the application of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267in his home town of Liverpool. [cite web|url=http://www.freesteel.co.uk/wpblog/2006/09/the-un-as-evidenced-on-the-streets-of-liverpool/|date= 4 September 2006|title=The UN as evidenced on the streets of Liverpool|publisher=Freesteel blog]
The undemocracy.com website can be used to decode structured links from
Wikipediagiven by directly to hosted United Nations official records, which happen to be blocked from deep links by session keys and randomized URLs.
* [http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/ Public Whip webpage]
* [http://ukparse.kforge.net/parlparse/ Parlparse]
* [http://www.theyworkforyou.com TheyWorkForYou.com]
* [http://www.freesteel.co.uk/wpblog/category/whipping/ Julian Todd's blog posts relating to PublicWhip and undemocracy.com]
* [http://www.undemocracy.com undemocracy.com website]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.