Friday, September 11, 2009

"Hello John. It's Gordon Brown."

Last night the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a long statement about my Alan Turing petition that included a clear apology for his treatment. Unfortunately, I've been in bed nursing the flu so it was only by chance that an amazing sequence of events occurred.

Yesterday evening I realized that I had to check my email (I'd been avoiding it while ill) because of a work commitment on Friday and so I logged in to find a message that read:

John - I wonder if you could call me as a matter of urgency, regarding your petition. Very many thanks!

Kirsty

Kirsty xxxxxxx
10 Downing St, SW1A 2AA
Tel: 020x xxxx xxxx

So, I called back. The telephone number was the Downing Street switchboard and after Kirsty told me that the government was planning to apologize for Alan Turing's treatment she then said "Gordon would like to talk to you".

A few minutes later the phone rang and a soft Scottish voice said: "Hello John. It's Gordon Brown. I think you know why I am calling you". And then he went on to tell me why. He thanked me for starting the campaign, spoke about a "wrong that he been left unrighted too long", said he thought I was "brave" (not sure why) and spoke about the terrible consequences of homophobic laws and all the people affected by them.

I was mostly speechless. The Prime Minister was calling me!

What no one saw was the work to make this happen. And what many don't realize is that the 'campaign' consisted of a staff of one: me. Although many people enthusiastically got the word out via Twitter, blogs and other means, I spent a great deal of time massaging the press, handling celebrities, and keeping the momentum to make it happen. One day, perhaps, I'll tell the story.

Most of the planning was done from the top deck of a London double-decker bus on the way to work. Amazing what you can do with 30 minutes of peace and an iPhone.

But what I must do is thank all 30,000 people who signed the petition, the media who ran with the story (especially the Manchester Evening News, BBC Radio Manchester, The Independent and BBC Newsnight) when it was still a small story. Thank you to all in the LGBT press that interviewed me and got the ball rolling in the first place. And thank you to the big names like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry who got the story out to a wide audience.

And thank you Gordon Brown. Your telephone conversation with me was heartfelt, and your apology clear and unambiguous. What a wonderful outcome!

For me, it's the end of my campaign.

But for others it is not. It's vital that Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing secure funding to keep them alive.

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If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.

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