I’m ashamed of the Digital Economy Bill

Tom Watson fighting the good fight.
I can’t praise the Digital Economy Bill and I wish it had been buried. It was a bad bill and will be a terrible act of law. I opposed the bill and lobbied people within the Labour party explaining why I thought it was a bad bill. I will not defend the Labour government on this occasion and condemn the three line whip that was applied. I think ministers were in the pocket of the music industry because that interest group was better organised, more coherent and had preferential access.

It’s tempting to concentrate on the process of legislation and note that no law should be passed as quickly and without proper scrutiny as the #DEBill was. But despite that venial sin, it’s the content of the bill that’s cardinal. Again: it was a bad bill. Section 11 to 18 in particular.

I do want to make three observations:

Our lawmakers don’t understand the web: I’m not defending anyone here but it is worth noting that many of our representatives have little experience or knowledge of (even concern for) the web. The bill was announced last autumn but it seems like much of our opposition didn’t emerge until the past few weeks. Big business and interest groups got in there first. I think that we geeks (techies, netizens, ) should have organised sooner. Part of winning the argument was about educating the legislators. Hard work? Yes. Should we have to? No. My experience with the majority of MPs I have met is that education about the internet is sorely needed. Regrettably we don’t have a Commons filled with people like Tom Watson.

We need a movement: There is no reason why a varied and huge group such as “concerned webby types” should have an organisation to express a collective voice. But we did need it. Even the Open Rights Group, to name one organisation that did good work, isn’t influential enough, even with best efforts, to make the noise we needed. I’ve seen the sort of campaigns that are conducted to persuade and inform MPs. Organisations protecting water voles have managed more coherent and influential lobbying campaigns than we managed opposing the #DEBill. Whether we like it or not, proper lobbying is influential. Some demos, unfocussed letter-writing and emails and Twitter outrage isn’t lobbying enough. (Especially when your MP probably doesn’t get the web. See point above.)

Slacktivism is just that: Twittering about how you oppose a bill doesn’t necessarily reach the people it should. Affirming on Twitter how you won’t abide by a law isn’t enough either. We need to be better campaigners and sometimes that means we need to be proficient lobbyists via traditional analogue means. I wonder if we managed as many emails and letters to MPs as we managed complaints to the PPC re Jan Moir?

The bogeyman on this occasion was, without doubt, a Labour government forcing through a bad bill on a three line whip. We let one through this time. But let’s get ready for the next one that will inevitably follow.

5 thoughts on “I’m ashamed of the Digital Economy Bill”

  1. Shrug. Vote Pirate, then. Most existing MPs (with a vew notable exceptions) simply aren’t interested in serving the public interest – they’ll be paid off with lucrative corporate directorships and what have you.

    We don’t simply need better lobbying of the past MPs – we need /new MPs/.


  2. A bad bill brought into law in a bad way. No doubt about it.

    ORG had a demo, flashmobs, lobbied MPs and Lords – we did a lot. Others like Liberty and Consumer Focus also did work on this as well. It just seemed like to many MPs were willing to hear the record company side of the debate over all else.

    The challenges for activists were the lack of time and difficulty in communicating the full consequences to citizens of all the byzantine clauses of this huge bill.

    Very disappointing that two of the city’s Labour MPs didn’t show up to the final vote and that David Lepper flipping well voted for the bill.

    Tom Watson was very impressive, and Don Foster finally seemed to find some backbone at the end.

    Points well made on slacktivism, I completely agree.

    All the best,

  3. Good post and agree with everything you say.

    I’ve got to wonder through a bit about how politics is changing. Or should be changing if more politicians were like Tom Watson.

    In ‘old’ politics you had to lobby as you had no other access to politicians. Politicians couldn’t just walk into every bar in the country and listen to what people are saying.

    In ‘new’ politicians this is changing. Conversations are more public (and it’s not just twitter) and politicians can get a sense of what people are thinking now. Or at least they would if they new how to use the internet. My MP, Martin Linton, won by 163 votes last time, had 247 people check if he showed up for the debat (he didn’t). Obviously not a good way to be getting votes.

    Question? Why don’t you think the LibDems where all over this. Had they had every LibDem in Parliament debating against the bill, and voting against it, surely they would have won a lot more labour voters who don’t want to vote conservative but are disappointed with labour? I don’t see the upside for the lack of effort and I can’t see why they weren’t all over this.

  4. It was a bad bill brought by a Labour government, but it could not have made it through wash-up without the collusion or acquiescence of the opposition parties.

    Just saying.

  5. Thanks for the comments. Useful comments all. Although I don’t like shrugs in any context. Too pessimistic.

    Jason: I’m certainly not dissing ORG’s efforts. I agree it was a very hard bill to communicate. I found it tricky to explain to people I know. I’m also not going to defend Des, Celia or David either on this one. Although, David will be told off the next time I see him. I’ll also be interested to hear how much correspondance he received. Keen to guage how much slacktivism became activism, as it were.

    Adrian: I think there are ways (and I don’t admire them at all) which MPs are effectively influenced. I think part of the problem was that the mesage didn’t get through adequately and wasn’t understood. That’s why I want to see more of a ‘concerned webby types’ movement emerge. ORG will be part of that. Sometimes the medium isn’t the message.

    On a more prosaic point, here’s hoping that the big change in MPs we’ll see this time around sees a lot more web literate MPs. I think it will.

    But I stand by my point that we need to work harder as concerned citizens to educate and inform our lawmakers. Big brands and organisations like RSPB, Greenpeace and others to name but a few are very effective campaigning machines. We need more of that ourselves.

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