The Invention of Air — rainy days and optimism

Invention of Air

About this time last year I went on a little day-trip to Birmingham with my friend Steven Johnson. It was grey and miserable and we had to go and buy umbrellas from Boots to keep dry. It was a fantastic day though.

We were on the trail of Joseph Priestly tracking down the places he hung out for Steven’s book The Invention of Air

which is out today in the UK and is very, very good. I think you’ll hear quite a lot about it next week on the radio and in the papers and so on. Steven is also doing a number of talks including this one at Nesta on Monday.

The thing that got me was Steven’s description of Priestly as a relentless optimist. And when you look at all the things he did you can’t help but be impressed. There’s something about him that just makes you smile.

Better than Socks — School of Everything Gifts

School of Everything Gifts

It’s been a while since I blogged about what we’re up to at School of Everything. I’ll try to do it a bit more often over the next few months because there’s lots going on.

The very cool thing that we’ve just launched is School of Everything Gifts so instead of buying your loved ones socks for Christmas, why not get them a lesson? We’ve already got some great gifts available including memory lessons and bread making but we’re also growing the list of what’s available every day. And let us know if there’s a lesson you’d like and we’ll see what we can do to track down a teacher for you!

Opening up an idea —

I put this idea into the 4iP call for ideas but they turned it down (maybe because I’m supposed to be running one of their portfolio investments 😉 ) so I thought I’d just put it out there to see if anybody was interested in taking it on or helping out…

Starting a political party should be as easy as setting up a company. Innovation in politics is more likely to come from a new entrant than from the main established parties.

Needs and Benefits

Membership of the main UK political parties has steadily declined since the 1970s. Disaffection with parties and politicians is at an all time high. Yet despite this, the big parties have hardly changed their structure since being formed in the 19th and 20th centuries (see for background on the slow demise of political parties in the UK and internationally).

Rather than focusing on getting more people to join the existing parties, PartyStarter will encourage and help people to set up their own political parties. It is based on the belief that innovation in the way that parties organise and operate is more likely to come from new ‘start-up’ parties than from existing parties.

While it’s unlikely that any of the parties it creates will win at the next general election, there are an increasing number of elections that are winnable by smaller parties in local, regional and European elections. And there is a small chance that PartyStarter might create a party that grows quickly and can seriously compete with the main parties at the general election after next.

PartyStarter satisfies the need of people who want to make a difference to the political system but don’t have faith in the main political parties. It will show that political apathy is because Westminster village politics is out-of-date and not because people don’t care about political issues.


It actually only costs £150 to register a political party with the Electoral Commission but the process is difficult to understand and the reporting burden grows in complexity as a party raises more money and has more candidates.

Inspired by sites that make company formation easy and understandable such as, will take you through the process step-by-step with help at each stage and automatically generate the official forms and paperwork needed for the Electoral Commission.

Once a party is registered, PartyStarter will then help you find digital tools to administer and organise your party. Whether that’s blogging or twitter, or, PartyStarter will introduce people who may not be familiar with the web to powerful but low-cost tools so that they can innovate in the way they campaign and organise.

We’re looking for £20,000 from 4iP to create a not-for-profit company, build the technology and hire a project co-ordinator/researcher/troublemaker for six months in the run up to the general election in 2010. This period will be a perfect time to launch as media interest in politics and public ‘apathy’ will be high.


Once the site is built, the costs of will be low. The code for the site will be open-sourced allowing volunteers to help improve it and people in other countries to adapt it for their own systems.

There is the opportunity to grow some affiliate relationships with the necessary services for a political party — legal, accounting and banking — with PartyStarter taking a share of the revenue (this is how company formation sites often make money). This could be part of a a paid package to cover all the administration of a political party.

Overall though, the strategy for sustainability will be to keep costs as low as possible.

Competition is currently the only site that offers help registering a political party in the UK. PartyStarter will offer a much simpler service cutting through the jargon of political administration.