Human Resources

Politicians Talk Tech: Cris Chesha, Pirate Party UK

Chris Chesha

  Role: Party Leader

  Party: Pirate Party UK

  Constituency: Machester Gorton


Times are good for the Pirate Party. In recent months the Icelandic branch has surged in the polls - a new Gallup poll has seen support for the iPirates soar to 34%, more than both the current coalition parties put together. Meanwhile in Germany, Julia Reda stands as a Pirate MEP and is making headlines for her efforts to reform copyright laws.

In comparison, the UK Pirate Party mustered just over 1000 votes for its six candidates in this year’s General Election. The result led to party leader Loz Kaye standing down and Cris Chesha being named as his successor. But what’s next for the party? Can they ever emulate their European counterparts?

We talked to new leader Chris Chesha to understand his views, discover his plans for the party and find out how he aims to follow on from Kaye’s tenure.

What do you think went wrong for the Pirate Party at this year’s elections, and what do you plan to do differently as leader?

Nothing! We set a new record for GE votes for a single constituency (in Manchester Central, beating our 2010 record by about 50%), and although we stood fewer candidates, on average we significantly increased the number of votes per candidate over the 2010 election by a third.

I don't think anyone reasonably expected a party of our size to be walking away with the keys to Number 10 this time around.

How do your political views differ from previous leader Loz Kaye?

I'm actually very well aligned with Loz; he's a dear friend who inspired me in countless ways. We've campaigned together on both Pirate and non-Pirate matters for years.

I think our main differences are what we can bring to the party. Loz was very outward-facing, and built a strong brand around being the face of the party.  Loz built a really strong image, and brought us a huge amount of credibility. For my part, I'd like the party to diversify; I'm not here to be the voice of the party, so much; I'd like the party to speak for itself, and to empower Pirates everywhere to feel like they are an active part of a movement.

When Loz spoke, he was the voice of the party membership, representing us to the wider world and making us look respectable. When I speak, I hope to inspire other people to believe in the party's goals, and start to speak out for themselves. I think things like the Snowden revelations have made that transition possible: We're no longer a bunch of tinfoil-hats warning you of the dangers; we now represent the way out of this horrible mess.

Do you think the UK Party can emulate the success that the German and Icelandic parties have seen?

I certainly hope so! Both contingents have experienced explosive growth; Iceland seem to have learned lessons from the German Pirates' initial growing pains, and are managing to stay on target. If PPUK can do the same, then there's no end to what we can achieve.

The Germans have had enormous success in bringing Pirate principles into local politics; the Icelandic Pirates have managed to create a storm at a national level. I'd really like to follow both of those examples. The unique brand of participatory democracy that Pirates bring to the table can have really immediate and visible effects at local levels. People can very quickly see the benefits of what we do affecting the world around them.

On the other hand, we also have an extremely powerful opportunity to raise our national profile. If we can harness the general feeling of unrest that the last 2 GEs have created, then we can inspire and empower a wide and diverse number of people to believe in a new-wave of politics.

How do you feel about David Cameron’s stance on encryption, and Theresa May’s efforts to revive the Snooper’s Charter?

How do you think?

What’s your view on making Coding mandatory for children? Will it help reduce skills shortages or will forcing it on kids turn them off to the idea?

The whole “get children coding” thing is a dangerous red herring, dreamt up by a government desperate to seem “with it”. Coding isn't for everyone, nor is it a fundamental skill that magically makes one understand technology. Coding is for coders, and offering kids the opportunity to try it on and see if it fits is extremely valuable, but forcing it on kids is a pointless, terrible endeavour.

Consumer iDevices work at an extremely high level of abstraction, code is a very low level of abstraction. Educating and guiding kids down through those levels of abstraction is essential to empowering future generations to maintain control of their (digital) destiny. Forcing them straight to the bottom of the stack and expecting them to fill in the blanks in between is just ridiculous, and will leave kids disinterested and disenfranchised. It's a shot in the foot.

Should internet access be a human right?

Pirate Party UK have long campaigned for free access to communications infrastructure.  People in poverty face a tremendous amount of difficulty; yes of course we should be guaranteeing people are fed, clothed and housed. But in 2015, we also need to guarantee they have reasonable access to methods of communication.

This isn't a “let them eat broadband” middle-class solution to a non-existent problem, either. In the UK in 2015, you have the jobless fighting over access to terminals in the libraries, because they need the internet to be able to fulfil their benefit requirements, or else they will get sanctioned.

I once had a complete stranger come up to me while I was working in public, and she begged me to let her use my laptop to contact her daughter. She had lost custody of her daughter, and hadn't spoken to her in weeks; Facebook was their only line of communication. She couldn't afford to connect at home, and she hadn't been able to beat the queues at the local library.

Connectivity has become a basic need; it is a fundamental requirement of participation in the society we've created; to withhold that ability from people – the ability to meaningfully participate in society - is fundamentally to withhold democracy from them.

Are you in favour of e-voting in elections?

I think that online voting is critical to reviving democracy. However, even as the Pirate Party, we've yet to see a valid and trustworthy way of achieving this, while preserving the secrecy of the ballot. (Not that we have a secret ballot now, of course...) I'm excited to see how new applications of Blockchain technology may be able to change this, but it's by no means certain yet if it can, or will.

How tech savvy would you say you are?

I'd give myself a 1337/10.

What devices do you use to access the internet/conduct work?

I find working on anything less than a multi-monitor desktop workstation pretty painful, but I do have a netbook and a phablet that get me out and about sometimes. A weak nod to good OPSEC prevents me from giving any more specific details, but there's a great deal of Free, Libre, Open Source Software going on, and everything is bespoke to my own requirements. I'm a *nix web server specialist, and in my day job I look after a fair old set of servers.

Do you use Bitcoins?

I am a vocal cryptocurrency advocate, I mine various coins, and I recently spoke at Piratecon EU about the benefits that Blockchain technology can bring to the world of digital democracy. This year, under my guidance, Pirate Party UK became the first UK party to accept donations via the top 5 minable crypto currencies (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, Peercoin and Darkcoin), I also did some deterministic hashing to get us some swish vanity addresses - Donate BTC at 1PirateFhcCaXiSxfYDJgyEYFn4SmVR1Tm !

Do you know how to code?

I typed my first bits of code over 30 years ago. I graduated in Software Engineering around 15 years ago. These days, I work mostly in script – perl, bash, php, python, etc. I haven't written any Object Oriented code in a long time. However, I have coded in pretty much every language you can think of, over the years. (Apart from BF, perhaps!)


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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