The Public Whip is a parliamentary informatics project that analyses and publishes the voting history of MPs in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Parliamentary informatics is the application of information technology to the documentation of legislative activity. The principal areas of concern are the provision, in a form conveniently readable to humans or machines, of information and statistics about:
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known internationally as the UK Parliament, British Parliament, or Westminster Parliament, and domestically simply as Parliament or Westminster, is the supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and the overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the Sovereign (Queen-in-Parliament), the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The two houses meet in the Palace of Westminster in the City of Westminster, one of the inner boroughs of the capital city, London.
It was developed by Francis Irving and Julian Todd following the 18 March 2003 Parliamentary Approval for the invasion of Iraq as a tool to record which MPs had defied their party's whip long after the information had become effectively inaccessible for reference.
Francis Irving is a British computer programmer, activist for freedom of information and former CEO of ScraperWiki.
Julian Todd is a British computer programmer and activist for freedom of information who works in Liverpool.
The Chief Whip is a political office in some legislatures whose task is to administer the whipping system that tries to ensure that members of the party attend and vote as the party leadership desires.
On 1 August 2011 Irving and Todd handed control of the site to a new team.
The project is loosely affiliated to mySociety's TheyWorkForYou with which it shares a large part of the same parliamentary parsing code-base.
mySociety is an e-democracy project of the UK-based registered charity named UK Citizens Online Democracy. It began as a UK-focused organisation with the aim of making online democracy tools for UK citizens. However, as those tools were open source, the code could be and soon was redeployed in other countries.
TheyWorkForYou is a parliamentary monitoring website by mySociety which aims to make it easier for UK citizens to understand what is going on in Westminster, as well as the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It also helps create accountability for UK politicians by publishing a complete archive of every word spoken in Parliament, along with a voting record and other details for each MP, past and present.
In 2014 the OpenAustralia Foundation launched a fork of the project for Australia's federal parliament called They Vote For You .
In 2004 the Public Whip won the New Statesman New Media Award for "civic renewal".
The New Statesman is a British political and cultural magazine published in London. Founded as a weekly review of politics and literature on 12 April 1913, it was connected then with Sidney and Beatrice Webb and other leading members of the socialist Fabian Society, such as George Bernard Shaw who was a founding director.
The site has never received a grant from any funding body and remains entirely paid for by its creators, including server costs and bandwidth.
Originally the software was written in Perl, and then later rewritten in Python. The main process downloads the daily transcripts from the online Hansard, matches and assigns IDs to the names of MPs, and saves them into XML files. These are later uploaded into a mySQL table and viewed through PHP webpages.
At the end of 2003 the project was extended to read the archive of Parliamentary Written Answers. Following a request from mySociety, the Parliamentary Parserwas expanded to include House of Commons and Westminster Hall debates, and finally the House of Lords, which are all more or less in the same format. It is now maintained by them to provide the data to their TheyWorkForYou website.
The website has occasionally been cited in newspaper articles, and is sometimes referred to in election material.It has also been used to provide voting analysis to citizens during elections.
An election quiz which advised voters of which party or incumbent candidate most closely matched their political opinions (according to the Parliamentary vote) was on the site for the 2005 General election and received over 10,000 hits.
In anticipation of preparing a version of it again for the next general election, Julian has distributed leaflets and tried out variations of the site at the 2008 Crewe and Nantwich by-electionand the 2008 Glenrothes by-election.
Francis Irving currently does programming work for mySociety, most recently WhatDoTheyKnow , a site that provides an on-line interface to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Julian Todd has extended the concept of parsing transcripts for speeches and votes to the General Assembly and Security Council of the United Nations with a website called undemocracy.com established in 2007.The work was motivated by the discovery of the transcripts on-line during research into the application of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 in his home town of Liverpool.
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