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.