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!

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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!

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Six out of ten LibDem voters back coalition

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

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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