Dear Tristram Hunt

Dear Tristram Hunt

I was very interested to read about your speech at the University of Sheffield last night – sorry not to have been able to attend, but having read various reports, including some tweeted by your good self, I wonder if you have really understood some of the issues you’re discussing. I mean, there is a great deal that I agree with in what you say, but there is one particular issue that you have highlighted that I suspect needs more careful analysis: the role of social media, and of Twitter in particular.

You are quoted as saying that the Labour Party pays too much attention to the ‘narrow online world of Twitter’, and that ‘What the algorithms which underpin our digital lives do is take information about us and fire similar information back at us,’ There is a good deal of truth in that – indeed, academics and other experts have been discussing the issue for some time. Professor Cass Sunstein, in his seminal work ‘Republic 2.0‘, raised the issue of political polarisation within online communities in 2002. Eli Pariser’s ‘The Filter Bubble‘ in 2012 addressed the effect of Google algorithms on what we see and don’t see on the net, while my own Internet Privacy Rights in 2014 discusses what I call ‘Back-door Balkanisation’, through which communities are automatically polarised by the combination of Google algorithms, invasions of privacy and the desires of commercial enterprises. It is a known effect, albeit one known within fairly narrow communities. It is not, however, so simple as ‘algorithms firing back similar information at us: it is more complex than that, and I’d recommend some serious study in the area.

Most importantly, it is not something to be afraid of, but something to be understood and to be harnessed. It is something powerful and important – and something modern that you, as a self-proclaimed ‘moderniser’ should embrace. It is a feature of online communities that isn’t going away, either, no matter how many speeches are made against it, or how many articles are written about it in the Spectator or the New Statesman.

You see, there are two fundamental problems with dismissing the ‘narrow online world’: firstly that it consists of real people, and secondly that those people are likely to be exactly the politically engaged people who are crucial in getting a political party moving, particularly a party like the Labour Party, who doesn’t have the mainstream media on its side and doesn’t have massive donations from vested interests. Labour needs its activists, and those activists are more likely than most to use the social media. The clue is in the social. Dismissing the social media means dismissing the very people that you need on your side.

The fact that  you and the other ‘modernisers’ dismiss the online world is sadly characteristic of their problems in the Labour leadership contest: a misreading of the nature of the contest. Many ‘modernisers’ seemed to think they were fighting a general election, trying to win the middle ground, to persuade the readers of the Daily Mail that their candidates were the best – when the contest was actually with Labour members and activists. Those members and activists were far from persuaded by the appeals to the Daily Mail. They were actively put off by the appearance of Tony Blair, the interventions of John McTernan (calling the nominators of Corbyn morons, for example) and by the suggestions that anyone voting for Corbyn was stupid. In your speech, Tristram, you suggest that Labour is losing touch with the voters – why did you not apply that logic to the leadership contest? It was the self-styled ‘modernisers’ and ‘moderates’ who had lost touch with the voters in the leadership contest – and seemed to have forgotten who those voters actually were.

And that brings me back to the online world, in its narrow, polarised, echo-chamber form. As I noted at the start, it is true that this effect can and does happen. However, it happens only when there are voices to echo, and when those echoes resonate. That is what happened with Corbyn and his enormous victory both in the social media and in the leadership contest. His words and views resonated within the relevant community, and gained power as a result.

The lesson to learn is not that this is irrelevant and should be avoided – but, as I said earlier, that it should be understood and harnessed. In some situations – and a leadership election is one of them – it is critical, and if the ‘modernisers’ had been modern enough to understand the online world they might have done a lot better in that contest. The online world can have great power and effect in some situations. It works really well for some forms of activism – and the ‘echo-chamber’ effect is actually one of the reasons for that.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that it is the only tool, or that this lesson means we should spend all our time and effort in online campaigning. The ‘Twitter bubble’ is a bubble, just as the ‘Westminster bubble’ is a bubble, and the ‘media bubble’ is a bubble. Social media has its place, just as focus groups have their place, and working with the mainstream media has its place. They have strengths and weaknesses, and different uses at different times. Each should be used with huge pinches of salt, but should be used. Labour, and you and your fellow ‘modernisers’ need to understand that. Don’t dismiss the online world. If you are truly a ‘moderniser’ you should embrace it, understand it, and engage with it. Don’t treat Twitter as somewhere for you to broadcast your views, but as the interactive and responsive medium that it can be at its best. Then you might harness its power rather than fear it.

Kind regards

Paul Bernal

P.S. There are a great many people on Twitter and elsewhere who have the best interests of the Labour Party very much at heart, and who would be not only willing but able to help you and others with better engagement and understanding of the often unruly and sometimes intimidating online world. I am one – and having recently rejoined Labour I would be very happy to do my bit.

The Surveillance Elephant in the Room…


Yesterday’s decision in the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in what has been dubbed the ‘Europe vs Facebook’ case was, as the Open Rights Group puts it, a ‘landmark victory for privacy rights’. Much has already been written about it. I do not propose to cover the same territory in any depth – the Open Rights Group blog post linked to above gives much of the background – but instead to examine the response of the European Commission, and the elephant in the Commission’s room: surveillance.

The judgment was published yesterday morning, and its essence was very simple. The ‘safe harbor’ agreement, which effectively allows personal data to be transferred from the EU to the US by some 4,000 or so companies, was declared invalid, because though under the agreement the relevant US companies promise to provide protection for that data in many ways – security, promising not to repurpose it, misuse it, hold it longer than necessary and so forth, essentially along the lines of European Data Protection law – there was one thing that it could not provide protection from: surveillance by the US authorities.

As the CJEU put it (paragraph 94 of the ruling):

“…legislation permitting the public authorities to have access on a generalised basis to the content of electronic communications must be regarded as compromising the essence of the fundamental right to respect for private life…”

This is where the European Commission comes in. It was the Commission that made the ‘safe harbor’ decision, setting up the safe harbor system, which should, in accordance with data protection law, have ensured that data was adequately protected in the US. The Commission did not ensure that – and did not even state that it did – primarily because the state of US surveillance law (and, as far as we know, US surveillance practice) could not allow it. US surveillance law means that ‘national security, public interest, or law enforcement requirements’ override privacy and other rights where non-US citizens are concerned, and EU citizens have no form of protection against this, or legal remedies available.

The Elephant in the Room

This, it must be clear, is a fundamental issue. If the US can do this, without control or redress, then whatever systems are in place, whatever systems are brought in to replace the now invalidated ‘Safe Harbor’, will similarly breach fundamental privacy rights. No new ‘safe harbor’, no individual arrangements for particular companies, no other sidestepping plans would seem to be possible.  Unless US surveillance law – and, US surveillance practice – is changed, no safe harbor would seem to be possible.

The Commission, however, does not seem willing – or perhaps ready – to confront this issue. Their brief statement in response to the ruling, published yesterday afternoon, does not mention surveillance even once. That in itself is quite remarkable. The closest it gets to accepting what is, in fact, the essence of the ruling, is a tangential reference to ‘the Snowden revelations in 2013’ without mentioning anything about what those revelations related to. There is no mention of US surveillance law, of the NSA, of national security or of anything else relating to it. The surveillance elephant in the room looms over everything but the Commission seems to be pretending that it does not even exist.

The US authorities, however, are quite aware of the elephant – in a somewhat panicky press release last week, between the opinion of the Attorney General that presaged the CJEU ruling, the ‘US Mission to the European Union’ said that the ‘United States does not and has not engaged in indiscriminate surveillance of anyone, including ordinary European citizens‘. They do not, however, seem to have convinced the CJEU of this. Far from it.

Heads in the sand

In a way it should not be a surprise that the Commission seems to have their heads in the sand about this issue. It is not at all easy to see a way out of this. Will the US stop or change its surveillance practices and law? It is hard to imagine that they would, particularly in response to a ruling in a European court. Can they provide convincing evidence that they are not engaging in mass, indiscriminate surveillance? Again it seems unlikely, primarily because the evidence points increasingly precisely the opposite way.

There are big questions about what actually constitutes ‘surveillance’ – does surveillance occur when data is ‘collected’, when it is accessed automatically or analysed algorithmically, or when human eyes are involved? The US (and UK) authorities suggest the latter, but the European Courts (both the CJEU and the European Court of Human Rights) have found that privacy rights are engaged when data is gathered or held – and rightly so, in the view of most privacy scholars. There are many reasons for this. There is a chilling effect of the existence of the surveillance apparatus itself and the ‘panopticon’ issue: we alter our behaviour when we believe we might be being watched, not just when we are watched. There is the question of data vulnerability – if data has been gathered, then it might be hacked, lost or leaked even before it is analysed. The very existence of the Snowden leaks makes it clear that even the NSA isn’t able to guarantee its data security. Fundamentally, where data exists, it is vulnerable. There are other arguments – the strength of algorithmic analysis, for example, may well mean that there is more effective intrusion without human involvement in the process, the importance of meta-data and so forth – but they all point in the same direction. Data gathering, despite what the US and UK authorities might wish to say, does interfere with our privacy. That means, in the end, that fundamental rights are engaged.

What happens next?

That is the big question. The invalidation of safe harbor has huge repercussions and there will be some manic lobbying taking place behind the scenes. The Commission will have to consider the surveillance elephant in the room soon. It isn’t going away on its own.

And behind that elephant there are other elephants: if US surveillance and surveillance law is a problem, then what about UK surveillance? Is GCHQ any less intrusive than the NSA? It does not seem so – and this puts even more pressure on the current reviews of UK surveillance law taking place. If, as many predict, the forthcoming Investigatory Powers Bill will be even more intrusive and extensive than current UK surveillance laws this will put the UK in a position that could rapidly become untenable. If the UK decides to leave the EU, will that mean that the UK is not considered a safe place for European data? Right now that seems the only logical conclusion – but the ramifications for UK businesses could be huge.

More huge elephants are also looming – the various world-wide trade agreements currently being semi-secretly negotiated, from the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership – between the various Pacific Rim countries including the US, Australia, NZ, Japan) to the TISA (the Trade In Services Agreement), TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – between the EU and the US) and CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – between Canada and the EU)  seem to involve data flows (and freedom from government interference with those data flows) that would seem to fly directly in the face of the CJEU ruling. If data needs to be safe from surveillance, it cannot be allowed to flow freely into places where surveillance is too indiscriminate and uncontrolled. That means the US.  These agreements would also seem likely to allow (or even require) various forms of surveillance to let copyright holders ensure their rights are upheld – and if surveillance for national security and public safety is an infringement of fundamental rights, so would surveillance to enforce copyright.

What happens next, therefore, is hard to foresee. What cannot be done, however, is to ignore the elephant in the room. The issue of surveillance has to be taken on. The conflict between that surveillance and fundamental human rights is not a merely semantic one, or one for lawyers and academics, it’s a real one. In the words of historian and philosopher Quentin Skinner “the current situation seems to me untenable in a democratic society.” The conflict over Safe Harbor is in many ways just a symptom of that far bigger problem. The biggest elephant of all.

The ethical case for ad-blocking

The ad-blocking wars have been hotting up over the last few months – triggered in part by Apple’s integration of ad-blocking into the new version of iOS, the operating system for iPhones and iPads. Some of the commentary, particularly from those associated with the advertising industry, has been more than a touch hyperbolic. Seasoned internet-watchers will be very familiar with ‘such-and-such will break the internet’ stories: the number of things that we’ve been told will break the internet over the years is huge. It’s as familiar as the ‘such-and-such technology/practice will kill music’ stories that have been around since the advent of recording – from home-taping to file-sharing, music has died almost as often as Sean Bean in the movies. And yet music still lives. And thrives. As does the internet, despite all the things that should have killed it.

The latest idea is that ad-blockers will break the internet. A particular piece in The Verge has been very widely read and shared – which puts forward the entirely believable suggestion that Apple has included ad-blocking in iOS as part of its global war with Google and Facebook. The overall premise is highly convincing – and of course Apple will do whatever it can to ‘win’ against Google and Facebook, and of course this is an opportunity to make some ground. Both Google and Facebook do make their money (or most of it) from advertising, so restricting, controlling or blocking advertising could potentially reduce that income. And Apple is a business, and will be looking for opportunities that give it a commercial advantage over its rivals. So, however, are Google and Facebook – despite their efforts to portray themselves as providers of free and wonderful services to all, guardians and supporters of freedom of expression and so fundamental to the infrastructure of the internet that we love that any challenges to them (and their business models) are challenges to the internet itself.

Publishers and the advertising industry – and in particular bodies that ‘represent’ the advertising industry – are equally aggressive, suggesting that ad-blocking is ‘unethical’, ‘hypocritical’ or worse. They have pursued ad-block software providers in the courts in Europe – consistently losing, most recently in Germany last week, where the makers of AdblockPlus made their fourth successful defence against a legal challenge. The media onslaught has been extensive, and supported by many commentators. And yet Adblock software seems to be increasingly popular and successful, both on computers and on mobile.

Why is this? Is it because those who use ad-blocking software are unethical? Because they come from the ‘something for nothing’ culture? Because they don’t understand the economics of the internet, and so are blindly going down a route that can lead only to disaster? I don’t think so. The reverse: I think that users of ad-blocking software are taking a positive route both ethically and economically. If anything, it is by extending the use of adblocking software that the future of the internet is being secured, not the reverse. The more people that use adblockers, the better the future for the internet.

Why do I think this? Well, first of all, I look at some of the positives and negatives of the use of adblockers.

In favour of ad-blocking:

  1. Makes your screen clearer and makes it easier to find and read the content (particularly important on mobile)
  2. Makes the experience cleaner, clearer and less annoying
  3. Speeds up your connection – stops those processor-hungry video ads in particular
  4. Saves you money if you pay for data (which many people do)
  5. Reduces your chances of picking up malware
  6. Protects (to some degree) your privacy by stopping trackers and profilers
  7. Protects (to some degree) your privacy by stopping others (e.g. government agencies) from piggybacking on the trackers and profilers
  8. It’s your freedom of choice to put whatever software you like on your own equipment.

Against ad-blocking

  1. Disrupts the current advertising model that supports much of the free content on the internet
  2. Stops you receiving relevant and attractive ads tailored to your profile and behaviour

This second anti-ad-blocking point is a stretch to say the least, though it is one that the advertising industry likes to push. I am far from convinced. That then leaves only the first point, that using adblockers disrupts the advertising model. And it does, no question about it. It has the potential to disrupt it hugely, which is why the advertising industry and the publishers that are supported by it are in such turmoil.

The points in favour of ad-blocking, however, include some very strong ones. Fundamentally, and this is the point that the advertising industry seems very reluctant to admit, the current model is broken. Very badly broken, from the point of view of the user – and particularly the mobile user. The first four points are critical: speed of connection for mobile is a fundamental issue, most people pay for data, and the screens of even the biggest phones (I have an iPhone 6 plus) are small enough that advertisements often make pages all but impossible to read. One of my favourite newspapers, The Independent, was completely unreadable on my phone until I installed an ad-blocker.

The remaining points are more ‘niche’ – I am a privacy advocate, so the privacy points really matter to me, but I realise that not all people care as much as I do, even if I believe they should – but the first four are strong enough that the points against ad-blocking would need to be very compelling, and ultimately, to me at least, they are not. Indeed, precisely the opposite.

The current situation is unsustainable

Let me return to the main point against ad-blockers. They disrupt the current advertising model that underpins much of the ‘free’ internet. Two key words: disrupt and current. Privacy-invasive, processor-intensive, screen-filling advertising is very much the current system, not something that has always existed nor something that need always exist. To assume that a current model is a ‘required’ model, is a necessary model and will (and must) last forever is ridiculous in the face of the most cursory examination of history. Things change all the time – and sometimes that change is necessary. For many people (as the uptake of adblockers reveals) the change in the current advertising model is necessary right now.

The need for disruption

The question then is how the situation can change – and part of that is the need for disruption. Without disruption, nothing will change. That is where adblockers come in, and why the use of them is a positive ethical step. If we want change, we have to act in order to make that change happen. Without adblockers, would the advertising industry be willing to change their model? The evidence points strongly against that. Advertisements have become more intrusive, more processor-hungry, more screen-filling over recent months and years, not less so. The past record of the advertising industry is not one to be celebrated. Here are just a few examples:

  • They have pretty consistently fought against attempts to make advertising less intrusive, and supported the worst excesses of advertisers. Phorm, the creepiest and most privacy invasive of all, which thought it was OK to monitor peoples entire internet activity without consent, and even engages in extensive secret trials without telling anyone, was supported directly by the industry bodies right until the end, when its model was ditched in the face of legal threats, EU action and being abandoned by its business partners.
  • The Do Not Track initiative – through which advertisers were intended to abide by user choices set out in their browsers – was so heavily undermined by the advertisers that it fell apart. Firstly they turned ‘do not track’ into ‘do not target’ – still tracking those who opted out, gathering data and profiling them, but not serving them with targeted ads. Then they refused to accept the idea that ‘not being tracked’ could be set as the default, saying that they would ignore that choice.
  • Google and others appear to have effectively side-stepped the do not track settings in the Safari browser, still tracking users though they had actively chosen not to be tracked: this is the backing to the Google vs Vidal-Hall case.

This is just a part of it – and does not even touch on the many other ethical issues connected to advertising. For advertisers to lecture others on ethics is more than a little hard to swallow.

How, then, can the advertising industry be persuaded to change its ways? The use of disruptive technology is one key tool. If the current dysfunctional situation is to be changed, and that would seem to many to be a good thing, then more use of that disruptive technology would seem to the necessary. Just as civil disobedience is sometimes critical to get social change, the same is true on the internet. It might be pushing it too far to say that we have a duty to use ad-blockers, but I don’t think it’s that much of a push.

There are some signs that some advertisers are taking the hint. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported last week that ‘Adblockers and Innovative Ad Companies are Working Together to Build a More Privacy-Friendly Web’ – and I hope that this is a sign of better things to come. Would the ad companies have taken this kind of step without the uptake of adblockers? I think it highly unlikely.

What is clear to me, however, is that we need a new economic model to replace the current broken one. I do not know what that model will be, but I am confident that it will emerge. The internet will not ‘break’, any more than the music industry will collapse. Our disruption is part of how that new model will be created and developed. We should not be cowed by the advertising industry, particularly on ethical grounds.

Ethical policing of the internet – part 2

The first ‘proper’ meeting of the new National Police Chiefs’ Council’s  “Digital Ethics Panel” took place yesterday, at the College of Policing – I am one of the initial members of the panel. The meeting yesterday followed from an exploratory meeting back in March, a somewhat fiery affair that I wrote about at the time. It has taken some months for that meeting to turn into something real. In those months a great deal has happened – from the replacement of ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) with the NPCC, three big reviews of surveillance (from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation (The Anderson Review) and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)) and last but by no means least the victory of the Conservatives in the General Election. New legislation is on its way – the impending Investigatory Powers Bill – and the limited messages that have come out about what that bill will contain have been far from reassuring.

In this climate, the idea that policing of the internet should have an ethical basis – or at least an ethical backstop of a kind – is one that I think should be taken seriously, and the NPCC should be applauded for the initiative, though it is still far from clear what it will actually amount to. Yesterday’s meeting was largely to thrash out the terms of reference of the panel. The people present included representatives from the police, the National Crime Agency, and the technology industry as well as academics from law and from moral philosophy. The depth and breadth of knowledge and experience was impressive – I felt very much at the junior end – and the discussion was wide ranging, reflecting the depth of the challenge that such an idea represents.

The idea, essentially, is to address critical issues of police activity on the net, both theoretically and in practice. Issues raised yesterday included the interaction between the police and the security and intelligence agencies, policing and monitoring social media, the process through which the new Investigatory Powers Bill will be scrutinised, finding ways to help MPs to be better informed, educating and raising the skill and knowledge levels of police officers, helping academics and others to learn more about the operational reality of policing on the net. The work would be intended to be practical as well as theoretical – potentially advising on the ethical issues arising in actual investigations as they happen, not just being a talking shop.

It is far too early to say whether this will actually work. There are many risks attached – including the possibility that the panel is used as a kind of fig leaf or a rubber stamp, to its existence being used to pretend to ethical principles that are not really adhered to – but the very fact that the NPCC thinks such an idea is worth exploring is a good sign. I did not get any sense yesterday that anyone involved was doing so with ulterior motives – but I know I can be naive at times.

Time will tell, but this does seem to fit with the developing movement towards more accountability and transparency, better oversight and broader understanding of the issues involved in surveillance. That was part of the essence of both the Anderson Review and the RUSI report – and the police at least seem to have got that message.

This blog post is very much my personal view of what happened – there will be more official communication in time, but one of the key terms of reference that was agreed upon was that the members of the panel would be able to communicate in their own way about what happens – subject to the Chatham House Rule, and obvious issues of confidentiality, particularly in relation to ongoing police work. I believe there’s promise here. I hope I’m right.

The Labour Purge…. and social media privacy.

The so-called ‘Labour Purge’ has many disturbing elements – from the motivations behind those who might ‘need’ to be purged to the motivations of those who want to purge them – but there is one aspect that appeared yesterday that seems to have been largely ignored: the attitude to people’s privacy. There was one particular statement, reported in the Guardian, that I found particularly disturbing:

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 20.15.25

There are many different elements to this statement that should bother us, but two linked point are particularly disturbing. Firstly, it suggests that the party has been scouring the internet to find social media profiles of people who have registered. Secondly, it seems to suggest that for people not to have clearly identifiable social media profiles is suspicious.

Privacy in public

The first idea, that it’s ‘OK’ to scour the net for social media profiles, then analyse them in detail is one that is all too common. ‘It’s in the public, so it’s fair game’ is the essential argument – but it relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of privacy, and of the way that people behave. Privacy isn’t two valued, with information either ‘public’ or ‘private’. It’s not even a spectrum, with some things more private, other things more public. It’s much more complex and nuanced than that. Some things we want to keep private from some people, and are happy to share with others. Some things we change our minds about. Time and context can change things. You might be happy for your friends to know something, but not your parents – or your kids. And vice versa. And it’s not about ‘hiding’ ‘bad’ stuff – again, it’s far more complex than that.

With social media this is particularly important. Though we should be wary of ‘real world’ analogies, in the context of politics it might be worth comparing the sort of conversations people have on Twitter, for example, with those we have in the pub. It’s a public place, and the things we say are ‘in public’, but when you chat with your mates around a table in a corner of the pub, do you expect that conversation to be recorded, and then pored over by your employers, the police, your relatives, your enemies, the local morality police etc? Do you think it would be OK for someone to have a microphone on the table next to you, and a camera hidden in their pint glass? Yes, this is ‘in public’, but in practice we do expect some degree of privacy – and if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have the kinds of important conversations that we do. If we expect to be watched and recorded, we’re more guarded – and less honest. We should encourage privacy, not ride roughshod over it, if we want honesty, freedom of speech, intelligent political debate and so on. Labour’s approach here is quite wrong.

Anonymity in social media

The second point is just as important. We should not expect people to have social media profiles – let alone identifiable social media profiles. What is more, this is particularly important for some of the people that Labour should care about and support the most. People may be ‘digitally excluded’, for a start – but they might also have extremely valid reasons to be pseudonymous on the internet. Vulnerable people, in particular, might need pseudonymity to protect them from those to whom they are vulnerable. Whistleblowers. People with abusive spouses. People with abusive or manipulative employers. Trade unionists, for example, might have that status used against them – there’s a reason that Trade Union membership is considered ‘sensitive personal data’ under the Data Protection Act. People might wish not to have their religion revealed to all and sundry. People might wish to separate their personal and professional lives for perfectly good reasons.

Respecting and supporting people

There is much more to say on this subject – but the underlying issue is the one that is most disturbing. What the Labour Party is doing may well breach the Data Protection Act – there is a discussion to be had here – but it is certainly at least verging on the creepy. It displays an attitude to people who wish to support them that is disappointing to say the least. It displays a distrust of – even a contempt for – people that should worry us.

Did they ask the people who applied to become supporters if it was OK for them to be scrutinised in this way? Did they inform them that they would be scrutinised in this way? Did they even think that it might be an issue? Did they check who would be doing the scrutiny, and what they would do with the data that they gathered? Have they compiled databases with the scrutiny information in – something that would certainly engage the Data Protection Act? Are there blacklists? How have they ensured that this data, these lists, are secure and not open to misuse? Have they even asked any of these questions?

The underlying attitude seems to be one of the classic and hideous misunderstanding of privacy: ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear’. If that’s still the attitude of the Labour Party, even after all the revelations of the last few years, they need to step back and think again.

Labour should embrace privacy

The Labour Party should embrace privacy, not ride roughshod over it. Privacy should protect the weak against the powerful. It should enable people to organise, to support themselves with and as a community. It should be precisely the sort of thing that Labour should support. They should remember the way that the powerful – whether governments, corporations, criminals or other powerful groups – invade privacy in order to cement and wield their power. They should remember how vulnerable people and vulnerable groups need privacy. They should always have known this – but now, particularly now, they should be aware of it, and change both their attitude and their actions.

Neither ‘moderates’ nor ‘ modernisers’…

One thing that has become stark in the Labour leadership election has been the division between factions – the trouble is, the descriptions used seem to be determined by those who have a distinct interest in the result. Jeremy Corbyn is of course described as ‘far left’ or ‘hard left’ – and though I disagree with both descriptions that isn’t really the point I want to make here. No, what I don’t agree with is the counter-description of those who seem to be lining up against Corbyn as ‘moderates’ or ‘modernisers’. Neither term is at all appropriate.

Anyone who has watched the increasing desperation by some within the anti-Corbyn campaign should have noticed the lack of moderation. The language used against him and his supporters has been vicious and personal. The tactics used – and even worse the tactics proposed – have been much less democratic than those used by his supporters. There have been stories of coups should he win, and most recently a call by John Mann MP for the whole contest to be called off. None of this is ‘moderate’ in any meaningful way. It’s the opposite: extremist, in a particular ‘centrist’ form. The level of control demanded – and part of John Mann’s call was based around an idea that the leadership election was ‘out of control’ – is the kind associated with the ‘hard left’ or ‘hard right’ than with anyone who pretends to be ‘moderate’. The narrowness of the ‘acceptable’ discussion is also far from moderate – it’s controlled and controlling. Moderates? Far from it.

The idea that the anti-Corbyn campaign is full of ‘modernisers’ is almost as misleading: in practice, many of them want the opposite of modernisation. What they want is a return to something that was modern, but has now become part of an almost mythical past. Labour circa 1997 is seen as the ideal – and this isn’t ‘modern’ any more. It’s harking back to the past, with nostalgia just as unrealistic as UKIP’s nostalgia for a mythical 50s. A true ‘moderniser’ is open to something new, ready to abandon their presumptions and prejudices, not to try to lock into place something that they liked in their youth. I liked Labour 1997 – but in 1997. It’s not 1997 anymore – and a real moderniser wouldn’t want it to be. They would want something really new – and not to go back to their version of the Blair model. That time has passed.

So no, the ‘anti-Corbyn’ campaign isn’t populated by moderates and modernisers so much as with extremists (of the centre) and nostalgia-driven conservatives (with a small ‘C’). A moderate would want debate, and show respect. A moderniser would be open to different options and to having their assumptions (including economic ones) challenged. Right now, those driving the campaign against Corbyn do neither.

The Labour Leadership Saga…

When Labour lost the General Election

They knew they needed new direction

Without a pause for much reflection

“A new leader” they cried!


The first to rise was the man called Chuka

His suits so sharp, credentials pukka

But when tabloid lips began to pucker

He ran away to hide.


Tristram next began to expound

His vision, with his vowels round

But support for him could not be found:

He fell, and wept inside


Just three remained: let battle commence

With Yvette and Andy on the fence

And Liz, who said her views made sense

For the members’ votes they vied


‘I’m Northern, me,” Scouse Andy said

Bright Yvette “I’m not quite so red”

Tough Liz cried “They’re both just like Ed”

“Who the voters can’t abide”


Said Liz, “I’m really not a Tory”

“Listen, you lot, to my story”

“Don’t vote for me? There’ll be no glory”

“Our future will be fried”


But from the left a wailing came

Those three, they cried, are all the same

They treat this thing as just a game

Let’s not give up our pride!


So Jez rose out from far left field

To this despair, he could not yield

With sword of red, and trusty shield

The media he defied


“I stand for people” Jez cried out

“For the poor and the lost, for those without”

“For socialism, I will shout”

“I’ll swim against the tide”


The old-new Labour lot just laughed

The very idea was completely daft

But a cunning plan they thought they’d craft

And let him come inside


But to their shock, his old left style

Did not make members run a mile

Instead it made them raise a smile

And fight instead of hide


His rivals could not deal with Jez

So went to their friends in the press

And said “it’s really quite a mess”

“Don’t worry,” their friends sighed


“It’s Tories playing silly games”

“They only want to fan the flames”

The antis cried, and called Jez names

And rocks at him they shied


They said ‘he’s just a dinosaur’

But others said ‘Jez tell us more’

At hustings he just took the floor

The others seemed to hide


The more he spoke, the more they shook

He rarely let them off the hook

He read them like an old, old book

No secrets held inside


What could the anti-Jez lot do?

The game had turned, that much they knew

They even tried to plan a coup!

The others simply sighed


Nothing seemed to work at all

Their ratings seemed to fall and fall

No matter who they tried to call

No answers could they find


Could Labour members be so mad?

Surely Jez must be a fad?

Things can’t really be so bad

The odds he has defied


The Blairites soon began to panic

Their media-writing was almost manic

But they misunderstood the whole dynamic

They couldn’t turn the tide


“He’s old,” they cried, “he’s got a beard”

“He’s damaging”, they sneered and sneered

“He’s just the sort of man we feared”

Was what they felt inside.


They called on Blair, their old grandmaster

But this time he was a disaster

They couldn’t have made Jez rise faster

No matter what they tried.


What could they do? They cursed and cursed

The Corbyn balloon must be burst

Before things could get any worse

And he got in his stride


“The game” they said, “it must be stopped”

“The whole contest it must be dropped”

“A new idea we must adopt”

“New rules must be applied”


“This time” they said, “we’ll make quite sure”

“The likes of Jez are shown the door”

“And just the right people take the floor”

“Let that be our guide”


Will they win? Just time will tell

The whole thing now begins to smell

A stitch up we might just foretell

But can they stop the tide?


…to be continued…