Helen Goodman MP is "Particularly Stupid"

I remarked earlier about Helen Goodman MP and her total lack of technical knowledge. An MP being a bit behind the times isn't the greatest shock - but she's Labour's Shadow Minister for Culture, Media, and Sport - that's a big deal!

This year, Claire Perry MP produced an "independent" report into online child protection. By "independent" I mean "produced by vested interests including religious groups".

It makes for pretty tedious reading, however you may get a laugh from the antics of our MPs on page 86 when they start discussing Internet filters...

Helen Goodman: I’m sorry, maybe I’m particularly stupid, but I haven’t understood how I get this software or this kit or whatever it is, this filter thingy that you click or whatever without buying a new computer and I don’t want to spend a thousand pounds just to have a filter. I just haven’t understood what I do, and you’ve been talking to us and I’ve been in this room for half an hour.

Matt Lambert: You can download any number of parental control software for free...

Helen Goodman: But I don’t know how to download parental controls. I can send an email, I can click onto Windows but the minute you talk about downloading software, my brain goes bzzzz.

Matt Lambert: Ok, I’m sorry I’m using a technical term, but if you go to search and you ask for parental controls, you will find, whichever search engine you’re using, you’ll find any number of free options including ours.

Jonny Shipp: If you talk to your Service Provider, they’ll help you, I think, mostly.

Helen Goodman: How do you talk to them?

Jonny Shipp: The service provider that provides your internet connection at home.

Helen Goodman: You mean you phone them up?

Jonny Shipp: Yes, or however you’d normally talk to them.

Helen Goodman: I don’t normally talk to them very often.

Fiona Mactaggart: The point that Helen is rather effectively illustrating is the point that, this is the point I was trying to make about being stupid, about the fact that for this best to work, particularly when children are more technically aware than their parents, they know how to get around better than mum and dad, that actually there has to be something which is really simple and which kind of delivers itself to your door...

The "particularly stupid" Helen Goodman speaks for the Labour party on matters of Culture, Media, and Sport. Which, in our twisted democracy, also means "The Internet".

I'm not saying that someone with such responsibility needs to be able to compile their own software, or rebuild a PC. But it would be nice if they understood how to install software.

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Further discussion on HackerNews.

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32 thoughts on “Helen Goodman MP is "Particularly Stupid"”

  1. I'm not sure I agree with the general thrust of this piece. The minister is speaking for millions of people when she says she does not understand how to download software. Her job is to represent all people and asking fundamental questions like this I think does illustrate the point.

    Think about it the other way around. Imagine the minister was someone technically proficient. During the above discussions they would not have asked basic questions and perhaps an extension of that would be to assume that the public generally has more technical knowledge than they actually do, even on a subconscious level.

    I speak as someone who grew up programming computers and I now do it for a job. But I am very aware that most people do not know as much about this subject as I do.

    Having said all this I hope she was taking the piss when she made out she didn't even know how to phone up an ISP!

    1. says:

      By that logic, every ministerial position should be held by someone who has at least as poor a grasp of the relevant subject as the average "I'm a Celebrity..." viewer.

        1. Mike. says:

          I don't see the problem.

          All a loving, caring, careful parent like our glorious would be leaders have to do is ask their children to set up the filters for them.

    2. Thompson Rutger says:

      Her line of thinking seems to me that parental controls should be provided by default with your computer, operating system, internet connection, what-have-you, simply because most people are incapable of doing something as trivial as clicking "next" a few times.

      Perhaps even more scarily than requiring such a thing to be provided by default is the notion that the filters should be at a higher level, outside of any individuals ability to use them or not.

  2. Steve says:

    Maybe I'm particularly stupid but why is this woman the shadow minister for something she knows nothing at all about. If I have someone potentially making policy on my behalf, I'd quite like them to have a vague clue about what they are discussing. At the very least I expect them to know what "downloading software" means and how to use a telephone to speak to their ISP.

    1. Callan says:

      I think an insane byproduct of the way our party politics/government works is that you can be in charge of any number of things from education to foreign policy to funding for arts councils without a care in the world about any of those things. This is well exemplified by "cabinet reshuffles" where on goes from deciding on education policy to diplomatic relations with no apparent justification. Not to mention the bonus insanity of the choice being between a broad ideological stance applied to these various things that the minster has no care in the world for. Crazy novel suggestion: have internet policy decided by people who know and care deeply about internet policy. Have science funding and policies decided by people who know and care deeply about science etc.

  3. DisgustedByUtterIncompetence says:

    "Her job is to represent all people and asking fundamental questions like this I think does illustrate the point."

    Nonsense, you don't have to be genuinely idiotic to understand how idiots will have trouble with something. If anything that's a terrible way to make decisions.

    She should be fired for being utterly ignorant to the most basic elements of her job.

  4. "Nonsense"

    Do you expect the Secretary of State for Transport to be able to strip down an engine and put it back together again? Do you expect the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to have a Golf handicap below 10?

    OK, I'm exaggerating slightly to make the point but to expect ministers to be experts on the area of policy for which they are responsible is unrealistic. What they can do is learn about what they need to know and ensure they have advisers who can give them the detail they need to make the decisions. In fact the snippet above demonstrates a minister doing exactly that, taking advice and learning what something technical relating to their department actually means.

    I'd love it if all our ministers were experts on their particular areas but to seek this to be the case prior to appointing them and/or firing them if they do not achieve some arbitrary level of knowledge within a set time frame is not feasible. It also, taken to its logical conclusion would require ministers to have worked perhaps for many years in the specific field they are responsible for which could lead to problems akin to producer capture where the minister is overly biased in favour of the sector for which they are responsible.

    1. Gomer Pyle says:

      You would expect the transport minister to be able to operate a vehicle, ditto for the secretary to operate a computer.

      1. Would you? Which vehicle? A train? A tractor?

        i presume you mean a car, but why? Does that mean someone without a driving license cannot be transport secretary?

        1. Famously neither Stephen Byers nor Barbara Castle held driving licences when they were transport secretary. I don't think it's a prerequisite - but it helps.

          In this case, I'd liken it to a transport secretary saying "Why can't I just put diesel into my car if it's cheaper?" or "So, you say I have to buy a ticket to get a train? Where would I get one from?"

          There's a lot wrong with the way IT professionals provide information, I accept that. But I cannot accept that someone who hopes to be a government minister would not take five minutes out of her day to understand a fairly critical part of her brief.

        2. anon says:

          If it was the transport ministers job to legislating on the way car engines where allowed to work or the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport the rules of the game of golf then I would really hope they know something about the technical or cultural aspects of that topic.

          In the same way if someone is legislating on the way the internet should function then I would expect them to have a clear and reasonably detailed knowledge about how it works.

    2. Thompson Rutger says:

      Of course there should be no timeframe to establish a competency in any given subject you are about to preside over policy decisions for. That's not the issue here.

      The issue here is any person without a competency or interest in a subject should not be a candidate for such a position in the first place.

  5. Matt says:

    Shadow minister for 'culture', 'media' and 'sport'. Well, not that she is not particularly stupid, but those 3 fields have nothing in common. How can one be an expert in all three?

    Is it expensive to have a minister for each field? Do different fields have to share the same minister the same way many people in the UK have to share accommodation, due to lack of enough residential space?

  6. says:

    Mark: I'd expect a minister for transport to be able to drive a car, and buy a train ticket. This is the equivalent of installing software, or phoning an ISP for support. (stripping down an engine would probably equate to building a PC, or installing Gentoo 😉 )

    1. Why would you expect them to be able to drive a car? There are loads of people in this country without a license. Doesn't stop them from having been a passenger in cars, buses, coaches, trains, planes etc.

      Where would you draw the line? Just an ordinary license? Advanced? Heavy goods?

      1. says:

        "Why would you expect them to be able to drive a car?"

        A large part of the UK's transport infrastructure involves roads and road vehicles. Someone who has never driven a car is likely to have a lower level of understanding of of this form of transport than someone who has.

        Out of a population of 62 million people, there are only 650 MPs. Wouldn't it be nice if they could do simple basic things like install software?

      2. says:

        There are about 63 million people in the UK, 38 million people in the UK have a full driving licence. Half of those left are too young to have a driving licence. Some are probably too old, some probably have provisional driving licences.

        It's an extremely low barrier for entry to assume that a minister for transport should be able to drive a car. It seems perfectly sensible to me.

        Likewise, knowing how to download software is an extremely low barrier to entry for a minister for media. I wouldn't expect them to know how to program but _some_ basic ability to understand a few of the issues they'll be confronted with is surely helpful.

  7. Mark,

    I think I see the point you are trying to make. The knowledge & understanding of members of the public does need to be considered. It is a very important element.

    However, I feel that someone who is potentially very influential in shaping policy around an area should have some background knowledge of it. If not right away, at least the capacity to pick it up.

    Here she appears to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding and an apparent apathy regarding the subject matter.

    When the home secretary shows a lack of understanding in UK immigration procedure I shudder but if I saw a transcript of her discussing passport control saying "when you start talking about bio-metric passports, my brain goes bzzzz"... well, I'd just want to give here a slap... or 7.

    *Note for the Met Police: This was not a real threat to slap a Minister. Please ignore*

  8. says:

    I wonder if she's affecting this ignorance to make a point, because it's a valid point. Installing filtering software *is* too difficult and/or daunting for many adults. Whether or not you believe filtering is ethical or effective, it's not accurate to portray end-user filtering as something everyone can easily set up.

  9. This is far from an isolated case. Most of the time politicians aren't very technically knowledgeable about what they manage; politics is full of lawyers rather than engineers (I realize this isn't true for all countries). One could argue that our current politicians are actually counter-productive for society.

    These people are responsible for decisions affecting literally everyone. The very last thing we want is someone ignorant holding such a powerful position. Believing that politicians needs to be ignorant (or that being knowledgeable isn't required) in order to correctly represent the masses is simply retarded. Such people can only make ignorant decisions and if we take a second to look at the world around us, this is clearly what is currently happening most of the time.

    I'd expect anyone responsible of something to be one of the most knowledgeable person about it. There's a difference between understanding your users and having no perspective and skills whatsoever. They should be educating the public about best practices, not be clueless about them. Clueless politicians like her aren't only part of the problem, they're the actual problem.

    1. James says:

      Good point. The UK system has more than its fair share of lawyers and is among the world's most adversarial, a characteristic that the media encourages.

      Rhetorical flourishes, staying 'on message', and an easiness with confrontation seem to count most in our system. Poor technical knowledge is worn as a badge of honour, in the belief it endears representatives to their constituents whose experience with maths and science was often hideous.

      It's almost as depressing as this - 77% of Labout MPs failed a basic probability test, and the man in charge of the party's policy review, Jon Cruddas, admitted being "barely numerate":


  10. Keith says:

    I agree, It shouldn't be a prerequisite to being an MP, having a wide and varied technical knowledge, but if your role involves making decisions about the internet, then you should know the basics at least, just as she should have been to at least one stage show and one sports event, being sports and culture minister.

    I mean, really, would we let someone be in charge of Health who thought Homeopathy was a good ide- oh wait...

    Putting that aside, this is the problem they had in the US - roomfuls of grumpy, out of touch old men, talking vaguely about 'this internet thing', decrying it for forcing porn and terrorism on kids, after recieving massive bribes from the pro copyright lobby, and then when they called experts in their field in to explain how it's not like that, dismissing them as 'nerds' for mentioning deep techy terms like 'webpage'.

    Until we let experts have as much of a say in debates as we do fearmongering 'won't someone think of the children' loonies, we're going to keep getting stuffed.

    As for parently software, none of it is half as effective as doing simple stuff like spending time with your kids instead of treating facebook as a babysitter.

    1. Jane says:


      If you decide to have children you'll realise it doesn't matter how good you are at installing software or 'spending time with your kids' (as you say above) - it's not what YOUR kids watch or do that's the problem. It what happens to them outside your home which you'll need to start thinking about.

      Are you aware that 1 in 3 teenage girls (16-18) have experienced sexual violence, and that the rise in this figure directly correlates to the growth in children's access to extreme online porn - which the majority of young boys now access, unchecked.

      Take a the following:
      • ‘Young Men Using Pornography’ by Michael Flood in Everyday Pornographies, 2011, ed K Boyle.
      • A qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’, 2012, NSPCC .
      • Factors at play in the perpetration of violence against women, violence against children and sexual orientation violence, 2011, Prof Hagemann-White et al .

      Yes, you can install software in your home, but you can't do it in all the homes in your neighbourhood.

      My personal theory is that once the tech-native generation grows up and has children we might have a more rewarding debate.

  11. RIIIIIIIGHT says:

    > if you go to search and you ask for parental controls, you will find, whichever search engine you’re using, you’ll find any number of free options including ours.

    Holy shit! You're telling people to just go and download AND install any old "security software" (because that's what "parental control" software is, fundamentaly) that comes up on their search results? Have you ever sat with Grandma and watched her try to do that? Dear god. The scare ware results alone are, uh, shall we say, treacherous.

    That's terrible advice.

    > Jonny Shipp: If you talk to your Service Provider, they’ll help you, I think, mostly.

    Ha! Better advice, but, ah... good luck with that!

  12. says:

    At a ministerial level you would at least expect someone to do a bit of homework especially in an area for which they are key in shaping. I think is bordering on the facetious (barring tiresome devils advocacy I suppose)to insiste that a minister should not know anything at all about their brief. So my money would be on a Transport minister who can drive, no not strip an engine down, but know the rudiments of a common vehicle such as a car. If a minister for transport were to say..'When I think of the word ignition and clutch..well I just go bzzzz' Would that REALLY inspire confidence in you as a member of the public in such a public official?


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