Archive for Liberal Democrats

Facing the future – your chance to shape party policy

Liberal Democrats are generally proud of our democratic policy-making process, and the quality of its content – if sometimes also bemused by its sheer quantity.

Policy documents tend to have imposing but vague titles, inviting a bit of a guessing game as to their real subject, like “The Power to be Different” (local government), or a recent favourite “Are we being served?” (consumer policy).

One where the title definitely fits is “Facing the Future”, one of two policy groups on which I currently serve. The party usually has a general policy review after each General Election. This time we have the additional challenge of the coalition, making developing a distinctive policy programme for the next election more important than ever.

Our remit is not so much to come up with answers as to define the questions that our next round of policy papers should address. I’ve been particularly keen to include questions on responding to climate change, and on the social impact of new technology. Comments welcome by email, by 31st October.

And my other policy working group? It’s the one on information technology and intellectual property, set up in response to the emergency motion I proposed at the Spring 2010 conference, and ably chaired by Cambridge MP (and motion seconder) Julian Huppert. Contributions to the policy debate are welcome by email .
Comments should reach Julian as soon as possible, and no later than 31st October 2010. Fancy names not needed!

Comments (1)

LibDem Blog of the Year nomination – thank you!

This weekend I’ll be off to Liverpool for LibDem conference, leaving Richard in charge of the kittens. Or vice versa.

Conference will be different this year. With LibDems in government, we’ll be mingling with Ministers – once we’ve got past the extra security. Recent conferences had become dominated by candidate training and networking. Now I’m looking forward to having more time to join the debate, and relax with fellow campaigners.

Nothing could have been less relaxed than Spring conference. By the time we got to March 2010, I hadn’t intended to go at all. Then came the campaign on the Digital Economy Bill, and a last minute dash to Birmingham to get our emergency motion passed.

Most of that campaign was done online, using this blog, as well as LibDem Voice, Facebook & Twitter – the medium aligned with the message. Now my blogging’s been shortlisted in the LibDem Blog of the Year awards.

Thank you to everyone who nominated me. Even more reasons to look forward to conference!

Leave a Comment

Six out of ten LibDem voters back coalition

Good news. Even though that’s not quite how this headline chose to spin it.

Comments (2)

Boris promises Wi-Fi blanket for London

That’s the headline from ZDNet, reporting the Mayor’s promise of free wifi across London by the 2012 Olympics.

As the article goes on to point out, it does not say how this will be acheived, nor how it will be funded. So far, so Boris.

There is a happy precedent here in Islington. The ‘technology mile’ of free wifi along the Upper Street corridor is an initiative that I promoted for Islington – one of the first of its kind.

In an age before people could get online on their phones, we wanted people to be able to get online in the park or at the bus-stop, or in an independent cafe.

A similar scheme has since been introduced by Peabody on some of its estates around Whitecross Street in EC1.

I think this community wifi is a great idea. However, it’s exactly the kind of provision that’s under threat from the Digital Economy Act.

Having led the opposition to the Act within the Liberal Democrats, I was delighted we voted again to urge repeal of its worst provisions at our special conference on the coalition agreement last Sunday.

Now we need Boris to put similar pressure on his Tory colleagues in the coalition, if there is to be any comfort from his blanket.

Comments (1)

‘Freedom, creativity and the internet’ debate to go ahead tomorrow

I got the glad tidings by phone at 11am but have not had the chance to sit down and blog about it until now. I have however been busy in my constituency, counting cats and playing ‘Where’s Wally’, of which maybe more anon.

Anyway, I am now back in Birmingham, where my colleague Ruth Polling had the foresight to book a twin room, in which I am now busy refining my speech procrastinating by blogging.

Mark Pack has helpfully outlined the process thus far, including some positive noises from the LibDem front bench.

The Federal Conference Committee did give our original motion a fair hearing but asked for it to be shortened and tidied up, to comply better with the definition of an emergency motion. That was a blessing in disguise as it enabled us to add in a request for a party policy working group on the topic, which is long overdue (as the events precipitating this debate have shown only too clearly).

So the revised text which I’ll be proposing tomorrow is as follows:

Emergency motion 1

Submitting organisation: 21 Voting Representatives

Mover: Bridget Fox
Summation: Julian Huppert

Freedom, creativity & the internet

Conference notes with concern amendment 120a to the Digital Economy Bill which facilitates website-blocking for alleged copyright infringement and which was passed on 3 March 2010.

Conference however welcomes the stand of Liberal Democrat MEPs against website-blocking and the secrecy of the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations, condemned by the European Data Protection Supervisor for endangering internet users’ fundamental rights.

Conference believes that this amendment to the Digital Economy Bill

a)would alter UK copyright law in a way which would permit courts to order the blocking of websites following legal action by rights-holders

b)would be open to widespread anti-competitive and civil liberties abuses, as the experience with the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act illustrates

c)could have a chilling effect on the internet, freedom of expression, competition and innovation as Internet Service Providers take down and/or block websites to avoid facing the costs of legal action

d)may be illegal under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and other EU law

Conference condemns

a)website-blocking and disconnecting internet connections as a response to copyright infringement

b)the threat to the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals and businesses from the monitoring of their internet activity, the potential blocking of their websites and the potential termination of their internet connections, which could lead to the closure of internet hotspots and open wifi operated by small businesses, local councils, universities, libraries and others

c)the Digital Economy Bill for focusing on illegal filesharing rather than on nurturing creativity and innovative business models

Conference supports

a)the principle of net neutrality, through which all content, sites and platforms are treated equally by user access networks participating in the Internet

b)the rights of creators and performers to be rewarded for their work in a way that is fair, proportionate and appropriate to the medium

Conference therefore opposes excessive regulatory attempts to monitor, control and limit internet access or internet publication, whether at local, national, European or global level.

Conference calls on the Federal Policy Committee to commission a new policy working group to draw up a full policy paper on Information Technology and related aspects of intellectual property which should, in particular, consider:

1.Reform of copyright legislation to allow fair use and to release from copyright protection works which are no longer available legally or whose authors cannot be identified (orphan works).

2.The ‘common carrier’ concept, under which internet service providers would not be liable for material that they may carry unknowingly on their networks.

3.The creation of a level playing field between the traditional, copyright-based business model and alternative business models which may rely on personal copying and legal filesharing.

I’m delighted that we’ve still got the ‘meat’ of our motion, and that we’ve added in that policy group bit. It may not mean much to the wider world, but it ensures that the party can’t simply pass this motion and think ‘job done’.

I really should get back to my speech now, but will just pause to thank the fabulous #ldsavenet team who have got us thus far: motion drafter Obhi Chatterjee, Julian Huppert whose one minute wonder of a speech today persuaded conference to prioritise our motion, plus Mike Cooper, David Wright, David Matthewman, the LibDem Voice team, and everyone who has enthusiastically talked, texted and tweeted to get this issue debated.

Comments (7)

Digital Economy Bill and web-blocking: the debate continues

The emergency motion to LibDem conference on ‘Freedom, creativity and the internet’ has passed its first hurdle, having been approved by our Federal Conference Committee for debate.

Although slightly shortened to meet the criteria for emergency motions, it’s added a request for a proper policy working group on the issues, which if passed means we can get a decent IT policy going forward.

Still two stages to go. Just as potential candidates have to go on the approved list, then get selected for a seat, before fighting an election, so our motion now has to get selected before conference has a chance to debate it.

That selection takes place later today, in a conference vote just before 11am. I will be pounding the streets of Islington, awaiting the verdict from Birmingham, while my colleague Julian Huppert speaks up for our motion at conference.

Last night I was up in Brum myself, promoting our motion in particular, and the idea that LibDems should stand up against authoritarianism in general, at the LibDem Voice fringe meeting. It was great to have LibDem Chief Whip Paul Burstow acknowledge the good work behind our motion, and to hear him urge conference reps to turn up and vote for it.

The centrepiece of the meeting was the launch of the new ‘Rank your MP’ site – or, as Alex Wilcock mischeviously renamed it, ‘How rank is your MP?’. It looks at how liberal or authoritarian your MP’s voting record is. In an age where traditional party political loyalties break down and people are passionate on individual issues, this is great way to help floating voters pin down where their MPs are coming from.

If our motion wins today’s vote, I’ll be coming back to Birmingham to debate it on Sunday morning. That high-speed rail link can’t come soon enough….

Earlier in the week I was debating the web-blocking bill, plus issues as diverse as hung parliaments and the future of Royal Mail, without having to leave the constituency. Not a local hustings, but the House of Comments podcast, convened by Mark Thompson of MarkReckons.

It’s yet another example of the liberating power of the internet that our panel could meet and debate from many locations on equal terms, in my case from the comfort of the Islington LibDem office. This led to an unintentional comedy moment as some of our returning canvassers were greeted by me waving a handwritten “I’m on air!” sign, and had to resort to impromptu mime.

Mark Thompson was webcasting again this week, debating the role of the internet in elections as part of the panel for a Savvy Citizens debate, which makes for interesting listening. The ‘Savvy Citizens’ initiative helps people become savvier in how they use information in today’s information society. Peers take note.

Actually our peers have been taking note and there is already some movement.

We should not underestimate the power of online campaigning to change thinking on single issues, and to mobilise groups of people on particular causes. Our emergency motion is proof of that, with LibDem campaigners all over the UK and beyond working to make it happen.

For me, campaigning on the doorstep is still as important as campaigning on the laptop, which is why I’ll be back out on the streets of N1 today. And hoping for the call to summon me back to Brum tomorrow.

Comments (3)

That emergency motion in full…

I’m proud to be proposing this emergency motion to Liberal Democrat Spring conference, seconded by Julian Huppert, and supported by many more!

Text of emergency motion:

Emergency motion on Freedom, creativity & the internet

Conference welcomes the stand of Liberal Democrat MEPs against web-blocking; specifically that, on 4 March 2010, Liberal Democrat MEPs helped the European Parliament to demand access to the negotiation texts of the secret, international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations, which were condemned on 22 February 2010 by the European Data Protection Supervisor for endangering internet users’ fundamental rights.

Conference however notes with concern amendment 120a to the Digital Economy Bill which allows web-blocking for alleged copyright infringement and which was passed on 3 March 2010 with the support of Liberal Democrat and Conservative peers;

Conference reaffirms the Liberal Democrat constitution commitment: “We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity.”

Conference believes that this amendment to the Digital Economy Bill

a) would alter UK copyright law in a way which would permit courts to order the blocking of websites following legal action by rights-holders

b) would be open to widespread anti-competitive and civil liberties abuses, as the experience with similar web-blocking provisions in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act illustrates

c) could lead to the closure of internet hotspots and open wifi operated by small businesses, local councils, universities, libraries and others

d) could have a chilling effect on the internet, freedom of expression, competition and innovation as Internet Service Providers take down and/or block websites to avoid facing the costs of legal action

e) may be illegal under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and other EU law

Conference condemns

a) web-blocking and disconnecting internet connections

b) the threat to the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals and businesses from the monitoring of their internet activity, the potential blocking of their websites and the potential termination of their internet connections.

c) the Digital Economy Bill for focusing on illegal filesharing rather than on nurturing creativity and innovative business models.

Conference supports

a) the principle of net neutrality, through which the freedom of connection with any application to any party is guaranteed, except to address security threats or due to unexpected network congestion.

b) the rights of creators and performers to be rewarded for their work in a way that is fair, proportionate and appropriate to the medium.

Conference therefore opposes excessive regulatory attempts to monitor, control and limit internet access or internet publication, whether at local, national, European or global level.

Conference calls for:

1. All publicly-funded publications to be freely accessible under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence.

2. Copyright legislation to allow fair use and to release from copyright protection works which are no longer available legally or whose authors cannot be identified.

3. A level playing field between the traditional, copyright-based business model and alternative business models which may rely on personal copying and legal filesharing.

If you are a LibDem Conference representative, we now need you to stir up support for the motion, firstly to get it prioritised for debate, and then to actually attend and support it in the debate.

We’ll be putting a new posting about this all on LD Voice too.

Comments (27)

Digital Economy Bill campaign – latest

It’s been a classic example of a week being a long time in politics.

Those who have been following this on twitter and the LibDem Voice postings and members’ forum will know where we are, but just to summarise:

- LibDem peers rightly wanted to amend the atrocious clause 17 in the Digital Economy Bill going through the Lords (Labour’s fault)
- to form a large enough block of votes do so, they had to work with the Conservatives, and got through amendment 120a (Tories’ fault)
- a number of leading LibDem campaigners are still very unhappy that this is too restrictive and at odds with our other values and policies (not our fault!)

So we
– sent an open letter to LibDem Voice and a private one to Nick
– are tabling an emergency motion to conference
– will continue to lobby our DCMS team on this important issue

To their credit the DCMS team are talking and our input has been encouraged. As I said on LDVoice, when the letter I’d co-ordinated arrived in the Leader’s office, I got a phone call thanking me: in another party I might have had a phone thrown at me!

As a key seat candidate, and a proud & loyal LibDem, I want our party conference to be a positive and upbeat event, showing our excellent manifesto policies to the electorate. An emergency motion that restates our liberal principles, and demonstrates our awareness of reality of the digital environment, will enhance this, not undermine it.

Comments (5)

Rebel, rebel! Open letters* on Digital Economy Bill now online

The open letter I co-ordinated from LibDem PPCs (objecting to the LibDem backed Lords’ amendments to the Digital Economy Bill) is now up online.

We could probably have got 50 signatures or more – apologies to those who were not included initially – but time was of the essence. I felt it was urgent and important to get an alternative LibDem view on the record, given the intense criticism the Lords’ amendments were attracting.

If you’d told me a few days ago that I would be fomenting rebellion in my party, I wouldn’t have believed you: so what changed?

On Wednesday morning, I got an email from Cory Doctorow raising concern about the LibDem backed Lords’ amendments to the Digital Economy Bill. A few hours later, I got a tweet from Adam Priest, an Islington resident, on the same topic. I’ve met both Cory and Adam and know of their passion and expertise on freedom in the digital age. I sent each holding replies and went to check out the detail on the issue.

I knew there were concerns about New Labour’s draconian proposals, and that LibDems were trying to amend them, but that’s hardly news. What I’d not realised is that the amendments were not the great protection for freedom and the underdog that we’d expect from our party.

Checking online to see what the issues were exposed a huge range of anger and disbelief from people who would otherwise be our core supporters. People who were freedom-loving, tech-savvy and thought LibDems were too. I contacted other PPCs via one of our internal listservers and found that several were also getting challenged on this.

By teatime, Tim Clement-Jones had posted an explanatory piece on party supporters’ site LibDemVoice, but rather than appease critics, it was attracting a flood of criticism. And this was just a small sample of the outraged comments on Twitter, blogs and chatrooms. Criticism, some of it fair criticsim, was round the world before the rebuttal had got its boots on.

Both the concerns and the way people expressed them were firmly grounded in the digital age; with respect, it seemed that our peers were not.

I wasn’t happy and decided to put a posting on this blog so I could point other constituents to my position; I put that up on Thursday morning and linked to it on Twitter. I also encouraged Cory to contribute to the debate on LibDem Voice. I thought I’d done my bit, and then turned my attention to my dayjob.

But it was clear that it was not just individual LibDems’ positions that were under scrutiny but the party’s stance. We needed action as well as words. Some members were trying to mobilise an emergency motion for our forthcoming conference. Meanwhile fellow PPCs were talking about urgent letters to the leader, the papers, and more. We wanted to make a positive contribution, making our real concerns clear, without adding to the anger already out there. I volunteered to draft something, as I’d already written about it on my blog. That was the hour-formerly-known-as-lunch occupied.

Bizarrely in the middle of this I had a call from the Whips’ Office in the Lords; but nothing to do with the Bill. They needed to find a speaker for a London hustings that night, could I do it? A couple of messages on Facebook and I’d lined up the wonderful Jonathan Fryer for the hustings. By the way, I asked, were the Lords aware we weren’t at all happy with the DEB amendments? Don’t worry, I was told, a briefing would be going out later today. (In fact you can read an interview with Tim Clement-Jones here). Politely, I said it wasn’t a clarification of the position we needed, but a change.

Meanwhile, messages were flooding in on the PPC list. We went for two letters, an open one for LibDem Voice and LibDem News, and a more robust private one for Nick. We were desperate to get something out there urgently, so I set a deadline to get signatures to me by the end of the afternoon. I got the letters sent off – and within minutes had a sympathetic acknowledgement from the Leader’s office. Watch this space.

I then returned to what I’d planned to do at lunchtime – finishing a written report to a local residents’ association about a range of planning and transport issues they’d raised with me. It was tempting to spend the evening in the warm, online, but that’s not actually what my campaigning is all about. So slightly belatedly I caught up with one of our canvassing teams, pounding the streets of Holloway. And came home to find the open letter online and some positive reaction too.

*While I’ve been writing this, we’ve have another open letter from the Parliamentary team acknowledging our concerns.

The letter includes these statements:

“The Liberal Democrats believe passionately in the neutrality of the web; neutrality as far as free speech is concerned and neutrality as far as independence from government is concerned. Indeed, dating back to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act the Liberal Democrats have been committed to ensuring the maximum possible freedom on the internet. That remains our position….

“… [We] acknowledge that with the shortness of time available and need to work with other parties to defeat the Government and remove Clause 17, it may be that the wording agreed at this stage can no doubt be improved. And opportunities exist to achieve this.

“Liberal Democrats will continue to seek to do all we can to ensure that the rights and freedoms of internet users are protected to the maximum possible extent. The team from both Houses have invited some leading bloggers and the Open Rights Group as well as representatives from key members of the industry to a round table to work out how we can best make this happen.”

Sounds like a result!

Like so many of my fellow campaigners, I went into politics to make a difference. Thank you to everyone who helped with this initiative.

Comments (4)

Lords’ web-blocking amendment: I’m not a fan

A flurry of emails and Twitter messages have reached me about the latest Lords amendment to the Digital Economy Bill.

The amendment, tabled by two LibDem peers with Tory support, would allow the High Court to issue injunctions to ISPs to block sites for copyright infringement.

I am not an instinctive pirate. I spent a decade working as a librarian, including managing the library’s compliance with copyright (not the best bit of the job); for the last decade I’ve been working for a software house that supplies highvalue proprietary software. I believe in protecting intellectual property, I believe there is an important role for patents and copyright – but I still don’t like the amendment.

Firstly because the power to seek and use injunctions is much more likely to be used by those already powerful (as with libel law). We all know of cases where honest critical reporting has been crushed by a libel allegation from the rich and well-connected, and the alleged libeller has been unable to afford to contest it.

Secondly because the power – to block whole sites – is too broad: the blocking should be of individual pieces of content. Otherwise any site with user-generated content is at risk. I don’t want Facebook to close because someone, somewhere, uploads a photo they like but is copyright to someone else….

And thirdly because, as others have argued, this is likely to cause self-censorship for fear of being fined, which is a fundamentally bad thing in a liberal society.

It may be a well-intentioned attempt to soften Labour legislation but its effects are bad. I also think it’s bad politics. Most people don’t care about this issue and those who do know and care about it think this amendment is totally wrong!

LibDem Lords have a great track record, with lots of examples of good amendments to lousy laws; this is not one of them. I think both Tims are good eggs, but wrong on this issue.

I was debating this issue online with Lib Dem supporter Cory Doctorow who first raised the issue with me and who mailed me the following (and, I hasten to add, has given me permission to reproduce his words :-))

“As a publisher, bestselling novelist, and owner of a
commerically successful copyright business, I certainly believe in
copyright.

“But a national Internet censorship regime is not beneficial to the cause of copyright or of creators. It is ripe for abuse, it is
disproportionate, and it will be ineffective at preventing infringement
(China’s example is productive here: their national censorware strategy
has absolutely failed to prevent dissident information from spreading
through the country, but it has nevertheless given government a suite of abusive authoritarian tools with nightmarish consequences).

“Britain should not join the ranks of countries with national Internet
censorship regimes: countries such as Syria, Iran and China.

“A parallel to libel law is productive here. Even stipulating that libel
is bad and we should try to stop it, even casual observers can see that UK libel law is doing a lot of harm. Libel claims favor the rich and
powerful over their critics, who are forced to bear the expense of
proving that they have not violated the law.

“As bad as the state of libel law is, we wouldn’t improve it by
empowering judges to force every single ISP in the country to block
websites where a libel has been alleged to occur.

“By the same token, copyright is often useful and productive, but
copyright claims favour the party with the deepest pockets. This has
already had many bad effects on speech and expression. Adding the power to force every ISP in the land to block access to sites where an
infringement is alleged will make things worse, not better.”

Comments (5)

Older Posts »
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.