I spent a lot of yesterday evening watching the debate on the Digital Economy Bill on BBC Parliament. It was a rather depressing experience.
A badly written, and quite possibly unworkable, piece of legislation with serious implications for the development of the UK’s online culture and economy, and for our civil liberties, was rammed through the House of Commons without proper scrutiny.
There were some bright spots.
I don’t make a habit of praising Labour MPs, but Tom Watson was real hero last night.
There was also the rather guilty pleasure of following the reactions of the assembled geeks on the #debill Twitter feed. I watched with glee as they exposed the technical ignorance of the MPs, government minister Stephen Timms came off particularly badly.
There was also the sight of their world colliding with the world of parliamentary procedure. So many of the tweets were along the lines of ‘WTF’ as amendments were withdrawn and the Deputy Speaker cried “clear the lobbies” and “lock the doors”. Yes, we really do make laws this way.
I can only imagine what those watching thought of the contribution of Denis MacShane MP. He wandered in halfway through, presumably after a good dinner, and told the Labour benches that they must support the government because a high priority for ‘socialism’ was to defend the interests of journalists. Or something like that.
Finally, there was the fact that, alongside the Labour rebels, it was the Liberal Democrats who led the opposition. The Lib Dems haven’t by any means been perfect during the passage of this Bill. It took a campaign from within the Party and a motion to our conference to get our parliamentary party to take notice. But, as Don Foster MP reasonably said, when new facts are pointed out to us we change our position. So we got our act together in the end.
Liberal Democrat politicians responded to argument. They reacted to the concerns of voters. This is after all how democratic politics is supposed to work. That was a bright spot.
But overall the picture was bleak because the system as a whole did not respond to argument. The concerns of so many voters were ignored. The Bill went through despite the representations of so many.
If you wanted to find something really symbolic of just how broken and disconnected our political system has become you couldn’t find anything better than the smart, committed and newly engaged group of people who have followed, and got involved with lobbying on, the Digital Economy Bill staring with astonishment, incomprehension and considerable anger at the way Parliament and the Government have dealt with it.
Those disappointed with what has happened on this issue need to realise that this is not unique. So many other issues, so much other legislation, are dealt with in a similar way.
This is why political and constitutional reform is so important.
And don’t listen to Labour and Gordon Brown on this, whatever he might say in public. On the same day as the Digital Economy Bill was being rammed through important reforms, including one about the handling of Parliament’s business which would have made the farce of that bill less likely to happen, were being blocked by the Labour government.
The Liberal Democrats, despite our faults, are the only Party committed to real and radical reform of the political system. If you are angry about the Digital Economy Bill I can’t think of a better reason why you should vote for, and campaign for, the Liberal Democrats.
- Digital economy bill exposes broken system
- Digital Economy Bill: vote breakdown
- Lynne Featherstone MP: Digital Economy Bill
- The ‘Digital Economy Bill Saints’: the MPs who voted against Labour’s internet freedom clampdown
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.