Wednesday, April 07, 2010

DEB 2nd reading, HC (& a few musings on party politics & Twitter)

The Digital Economy Bill has passed its Second Reading in the Commons and goes to its final vote tomorrow.

Today in Parliament was not inspiring viewing, although Tom Watson and John Redwood, inter alia, made commendable good sense. Austin Mitchell , Lab MP , (who had earlier tried to get an early day motion re the Bill) was declared King of the Internet for the Day, for actually knowing about things like Charlie Stross and the "long tail". Pete Wishart, ex Runrig & now SNP, ranted. They weren't very good as a band either.

Despite these gems, as some tweeted, 20,000 people wrote to MPs,646 Members of Parliament, 36 turned up : not a good advert for democracy, especially in respect of eleventh hour still intensely disputed legislation. The Tories suddenly decided they didn't like the orphan works clause for its mysterious but unfortunate effects on photographers (who clearly have more hit points than geeks - one tweeter suggested this was because lots of old people take photos, whereas young people, who dislike the rest of the Bill, don't vote) ; the Lib Dems stuck to their guns in opposing the clause they themselves invented (sorry! I meant the BPI invented); and Labour, largely, wasn't there. it was most edifying.

Pangloss went on Radio 2 drivetime, spoke to Richard of Judy fame (I believe, m'lud) and tried to explain all this to people stuck in gridlock. This was less than simple.

A very large number of ordinary people appeared to watch the debate on iPlayer. Mostly they came away appalled to mutinous about the empty House, the bad Star Wars jokes apparently tailored for the nerds who must surely be the only people interested in the future of the digital economy, and the strange Parliamentary habit of dissing the Bill but then voting for it anyway, as per the whip.

It will be interesting to see longterm what effect widespread live-Tweeting plus iPlayer/Parliament TV access to debates may have on arcane Westminster procedures. Some, one hopes. Certainly it will be fascinating to see if MPs becomes aware that their actual constituents (and voters in a month's time) can see them waving their cock tails in their weird and wonderful natural habitat - and, judging by the backstream, come away largely unimpressed. Certainly the Lib Dems lost a lot of techy votes today. Tom Watson MP on the other hand, who sat reading tweets between speakers, came away with a lot of new supporters.

Twitter/iPlayer/blogs give individual MPs, not just parties, access to the public consciousness, and thus a chance to resist the uniformity of the whip, in a way not seen since the rise of party politics - plus a chance for the public, largely disenfranchised except every five years in the current system, to very easily know what the MPs they vote for are actually up to, and to respond angrily if they don't like it. Representational democracy is morphing here, assisted by other grassroots enablers such as, and 38 Degrees. This may do remarkable things for the Commons - I hope I will see this. (Interestingly the first two of these were created by the excellent MySociety whose founder Tom Steinberg is now advising the Tories in this campaign.)

Oneof the more far out suggestions tonight was that the House should have had a "tweetfall" screen in the background on which appalled tweets could have unfurled. This is a common device at conferences these days, and perhaps , as at least a salutary reminder of the electorate, not such an insane suggestion after all?

Meanwhile, back at the DEB, the Law Society of Scotland - hardly a hot bed of radical copyright abolitionists and technonerds - has issued an interesting statement that they view the DEB disconnection provisions as in breach of the ECHR. Refreshing for this expat Scot:-) (Thanks to Scott Wortley for this.)

Mo McRoberts, one of those people listening in as @nevali on Twitter, has been moved to write an open letter to the MPs who spoke in favour of the Bill in Second Reading. It is a really excellent letter from a non party political but very astute person.

ADDED: There is now a long long list of IT people, academics, artists and just ordinary folks who have signed on to this letter, and it is being RT ed by the demi celebs of Twitter. It is a quite remarkable piece of spontaneous grassroots bottom up participation - the sort of thing political parties long for and never get. I wonder why? Worthy of note anyway.

It looks to me that the future of the digital economy would be a lot better safeguarded if we had more input from the very involved public out there, including related professionals (technical or legal, for example), and less from MPs who have largely shown themselves (with some very welcome exceptions) to be technologically illiterate. Something to start working on after the election? One place to go may be the new Open Rights Group Forum which is designed to encourage discusion in the digital community generally, not just in ORG. I will be speaking a bit about this at the Cafe Scientifique meet in Sheffield on April 21 (at the Showroom).

A demain..

PS Someone rather funnier than me - Nick Doody of the Now Show on the DEB.

1 comment:

Adam Cobb said...

I'm also rather worried by MPs apparent lack of knowledge about the workings of the internet but for another reason as well.
If MPs are willing to debate a subject on which their knowledge is at best skin-deep one can't help but wonder if the same goes for their debates on education, foreign policy or any number of extremely important issues.