More on Corbyn’s Digital Manifesto…

Yesterday a piece I wrote about Corbyn’s Digital Manifesto was published on The Conversation – you can find it here:

https://theconversation.com/corbyns-digital-meh-nifesto-is-too-rooted-in-the-past-to-offer-much-for-the-future-65003

The natural constraints of a short piece, and the requirements of The Conversation meant that I didn’t cover all the areas, and my own tendency to, well, be a bit strident in my opinions at times means that it may not have been quite as clear as it could have been. I would like to add a few things to what I said, clarify a few more, and open up the opportunity for anyone to comment on it.

The first thing to make absolutely clear is that though I was distinctly underwhelmed by the Digital Democracy Manifesto, it is far better than anything produced by Labour to date, and vastly better than anything I have seen by the Tories. My criticism of it was not in any way supporting what the Tories are currently doing, nor what they are likely to do. I used the word ‘meh’ in my piece because I wanted (and still want) Labour to be bolder, clearer, and more forward-looking precisely so that they can provide a better opposition to the Tories – and to the generally lamentable status quo on internet policy. As I tried (but perhaps failed) to make clear, I am delighted that Corbyn has taken this initiative, and hope it sparks more discussion. There are many of us who would be delighted to contribute to the discussion and indeed to the development of policy.

The second thing to make clear is that my piece was not an exhaustive analysis of the manifesto – indeed, it largely missed some really good parts. The support of Open Source, for example – which was criticised aggressively in the Sun – is to be thoroughly applauded. You can, as usual, trust The Sun to get things completely wrong.

I would of course like to say much more about privacy – sadly the manifesto (in some ways subconsciously) repeats the all-too-common idea that privacy is a purely personal, individual right, when it actually underpins the functioning of communities. I’ve written about this many times before – one piece is here, for example – but that is for another time. Labour, for me, should change its tack on privacy completely – but I know that I am somewhat unusual in that belief. I’ll continue to plug away on that particular issue, but not here and not now.

What I would hope is that the manifesto starts an open discussion – and starts to move us to a better understanding of these issues. If we don’t understand them better, we’ll continue to be driven down very unhelpful paths. Whether you’re one of Corbyn’s supporters or his bitterest opponents, that’s something to be avoided.

11 thoughts on “More on Corbyn’s Digital Manifesto…

  1. Bloody hell – Richard Barbrook! And he’s still wearing that hat! Takes me back, what, twenty years? Longer? (My Activist Years ran from 1987 (joined the Socialist Society) to 2000 (left Red Pepper); some time in there I distinctly remember being at a series of meetings & launches along with Richard B, in that hat.) Just to think, if I’d stuck at it I could have ended up standing behind Jeremy Corbyn, at a policy launch, in a hat.

    Anyway, the Manifesto sounds like it’s a lot better than nothing – which perhaps doesn’t come over loud and clear in your Conversation piece. At the very least, it’s something to build on, & all involved deserve credit for that (including Richard Barbrook).

      • Unfortunately, Barbrook sporting clothing with wording on it linked to para-military organisations, which did not sign up to the Good Friday Accord is just another Corbyn judgement fail, amongst many.

        May I forestall any suggestions that such matters are trivial by highlighting the resumption of the Birmingham Pub Bombings Inquest and a debate later this month on compensation from Libya for the victims of the IRA? Corbyn, by putting Barbrook front and centre, underlines the nature of his friends and their past and present connections. Consequently, the quality of the policy and whether it may be built upon becomes rather academic.

        The small group from which Corbyn draws people like Barbrook is mostly narrow in its politics (and well away from the mainstream), white, male, affluent and middle class, quite often educated in all boys’ secondary schools, including Winchester and a fair few are graduates of Oxbridge. Were they to regard those attributes as a weakness and adopt an inclusive approach to policy making then one might start taking them seriously.

        That they do not adopt such an approach and clearly do not see the composition of their group as a weakness, like a significant number of those saying they are voting Corbyn as leader this year, renders them both impotent and irrelevant. When I suggested to one Corbyn supporter that McDonnell go to a Children’s Centre to get input into his economic policy making, he responded by saying that was not possible. First, one should develop the policy then popularise it. In other words, the proles and the plebs were, as far as he was concerned, incapable of making a valid contribution to developing party policy.

        The supporter was an affluent, retired economics lecturer with many decades of lecturing behind him. Corbyn’s supporters and approach to politics in a nutshell. True, Corbyn may alight on the odd policy worthy of consideration, but more by accident than by design and with no idea how to do it again in other areas. Very much a definition of how too many of those in management in UK approach their day jobs, not listening to their staff, hiring consultants, thinking they are right and carrying on regardless of evidence (or polling or election results or canvassing returns …).

  2. As someone who has seen the Tory’s (and previously Labour’s) digital by default approach to the provision of public services and staff training therein, up close and personal, I was not just underwhelmed, but confirmed in my view that Corbyn and his supporters are not to be trusted anywhere near the levers of Government.

    A party dominated by the middle class, who think what is good for them, must be good for the other ranks is one not only ignorant of what those people want, but uncaring too. The middle class have a disproportionate level of influence in all aspects of our society already. Any proposals that not only do not challenge that dominance, but actually entrench and extend it, will never have my support.

    Unlike most of Corbyn’s supporters, I recognise the existence of digital exclusion http://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/itandinternetindustry/bulletins/internetusers/2016. I know that up-skilling and cheap, higher speed broadband go nowhere near addressing the digital divide, when making the service user fit the program, not the other way around, is the preferred option. The most vulnerable and hardest to help in our society deserve better from Labour than ideas dreamed up by youths with wispy beards, whizz kids, heliophobes and techies.

    Anyone whose ideal society is one in which there is ever reducing personal contact, especially in the delivery of public services, is someone who should never be given more than a prophylactic role in the development of such services. Neither should they have a key role in developing and organising the election campaigns of a political party serious about winning power.

    John McDonnell’s wants to rebuild trust in HMRC? Ask taxpayers, for once, what changes in service delivery would encourage them to be more trusting. I would hazard a guess that a range of options, including access to face to face meetings with HMRC staff, would be what you hear back from them. Dealing with HMRC about a complex tax matter or DWP about a disallowed benefit are not matters easily conducted over the telephone, let alone online.

    The middle class dominate middle management and too much of the quality of that management is poor. They, when considering how best to deliver goods and services have a disturbing tendency to defer to the snake oil salesmen, they mostly are male, with their software solutions designed with no thought as to whether or not a digital solution is an appropriate way to approach the matter in hand.

    Thankfully, as every day passes, Corbyn’s chances of entering 10, Downing Street, except as a visitor, are fading into the past. Unfortunately, for those for whom Labour was founded and who the need public, private and voluntary and community sectors to deliver goods and services in a way suitable to their circumstances, the same, not all poorly intentioned, middle class management stay in place.

    Whoever wins a General Election, the middle class never lose. I would like to see Labour put forward policies in this area, as in others, that unsettle the middle class or are of no interest to them at all. That way I might have something relevant to discuss when trying to persuade people to stick with Labour. And we are talking sauve qui peut whilst Corbyn remains leader of the Labour Party so any comment or policy announcements from him and his entourage are becoming solely of academic interest.

      • In the case of the DWP Summer School I attended in 2006, people earning around £27k and upwards. Most in my syndicate group had little or no experience of face to face contact with DWP’s clients. They took it for granted that, because they online banked and the like, then others did and, if they did not, then they really should do so. Not poorly intentioned people, but woefully ignorant of the people whom DWP serves. As for wider information about the middle class in this context, look at those pressing for Personal Employment Budgets and Personal Health Budgets. Not do they just extract even more from public services, the majority of service users find themselves worse off than before. Some of those pushing for PEBs pose as Socialists, who think the travails of middle class will be a vote winner at a General Election. I refer you to https://www.theguardian.com/profile/john-seddon and especially https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/05/poor-quality-high-cost-public-services-caused-by-politicians-managing-imposing-measures … for more on how digital by default is costing the taxpayer billions whilst robbing the front-line of resources and making their jobs harder than they need to be, resulting in poorer quality delivery thereby making voters even less enchanted with the public sector. Putting the passenger, patient, client, customer, voter … at the heart of your activities is a good place to start whether in business, Government or politics. May, superficially is doing just that. Corbyn makes a virtue out of not doing so … Partying on like it’s 1976 with (silicon) chips …

  3. I leave my comment here, because it’s relevant to both articles. What you say about this part of the Digital Manifesto “That feeling is repeated throughout. The manifesto’s promise of a Universal Service Network of high-speed broadband reaching even rural areas is barely different from what all governments have promised – and generally failed to deliver – for the past 20 years. Hardly revolutionary.” is not only true but it also shows Labour propensity to think of and work for (as John highlights above too) the middle class and that has to be good for everyone else. The statement I copied and pasted from your article in the other publication, well it also implies that Labour policy makers totally ignores that in some parts of England and UK there’s not even ‘a’ broadband service, let alone fiber optics.

    I live in Cumbria, where saying we will have a high speed broadband is like promising we will get unicorns for Christmas. Even in the small towns we’re lucky if we get to browse the internet; forget streaming or Skype, that’s sci-fi in many places here. Perhaps only Carlisle is connected to the high-speed network but just out of Carlisle people have NO broadband at all. BT has probably enjoyed those 15 millions of pounds that were given to allow us to have a decent network and then its staff threw their hands up in the air saying it is not possible. Maybe those millions were invested in this special web page where we can check if fiber optics are available to us (http://www.connectingcumbria.org.uk/) and you get redirected to an openreach page where I have entered my postcode in for the last three years and I’m still waiting, this is what I get: “You’re in a plan to get Superfast fibre but we haven’t started work yet”.
    I live in a town and near the centre, not in a village under the shadow of Scafell Pike.

    Therefore, are Corbyn and his staff informed about this? Are Corbyn and his staff informed that NHS is stripping the health service to nothing in Cumbria (where people have to travel about 60 miles to get to a hospital in order to get an urgent tooth extraction, firsthand experience, or a cast for a broken wrist)?

    And above all are they informed that one of the proposals for decreasing the health service in this county was to connect with people who experience health issues on a ‘vis-a-vis videoconference’ whilst there is almost NO broadband anywhere to support such a service?

    Corbyn would be electable by the ‘working classes’ and gain new voters if he would listen to and work together with such classes ‘where’ they live instead of keeping his backside on his chair trying to preserve the voters he already has in the southern part of the country (the miners ‘show’ doesn’t count, given that the majority of mines have closed down 30 years ago!!).

    • One area where I would back some form of public ownership (Corbyn supporters gasp for air) is around the various networks, gas pipelines; electricity transmission, distribution and supply; telephone networks (and mobile phone masts) and so on to address the issue of improved, blanket provision of such services across the country. We might thin out the number of masts whilst improving coverage to the maximum. My relatives now living north of Barmouth, after emigrating from Birmingham, would vote for that!

      I had been having some fun with a Tory, on Twitter, who, after banging on about free market forces (they do not exist, a topic for another day) said he was unhappy with the priority being given to the roll out of broadband in his area. I said, going by the foregoing, that he should offer to pay more for it, if it was that important to his business. He then went into meltdown. Other taxpayers should accept his need came before their needs and he should not have to pay for that to happen.

      After BT was privatised, an interesting test case arose about connecting a house half way up a mountainside in Snowdon to the telephone lines about one and a half miles away. In the past, BT would have charged the same amount, irrespective of location, now they felt free to charge the full cost of doing so, including the poles and the one and a half miles of cable.

      There is a constituency there for the courting around broadband and other similar matters. Add in water, where the Tories are now talking about purchasing water direct from an intermediary (the supplier goes under many names, but remains hard to engage with) and you have a good case for seizing the commanding heights of a key part of our economy. And, if freezing or cutting water rates and making plugging leaks a priority to reduce hosepipe bans are not vote winners …

      Meanwhile, Corbyn and his supporters have boiled rail (re)nationalisation down to freezing or cutting rail fares for a minority of public transport users. Finally admitting, perhaps, that the less than £700m of pre-tax profit made by the railway companies, in last declared tax year, will not go very far?

      “The language of priorities is the religion of Socialism,” Aneurin Bevan. I think we may agree that he was born into the working class?

      PS I live in the Birmingham. We are well on the way to sharing the views of many outside of the M25 Beltway that the priorities of those within that zone only incidentally overlap with those of us beyond their enclave.

      Shop stewards at JLR on the Monday after the referendum were angry with Corbyn about his campaigning and reaction to the result. They said they felt he had sold them out and that their members were no longer taking Labour seriously. How much angrier, how much more disaffected are they now after the repudiation of NATO and the events of yesterday? Most of their product is exported to the rest of the EU via HS1 and we here would benefit from an HS2 connecting directly with HS1. Corbyn thinks HS2 should finish a few miles west of Paddington Station.

      Corbyn may now make as many policy launches as he likes, McDonnell as many statements, Abbott castigate private sector workers for working in the private sector indefinitely … They are not being taken seriously any more, except with regards to comments like those of Abbott.

  4. Jeremy Corbyn strikes me as being what the Americans call a ‘fence post turtle’. You know he didn’t get there by himself and you know someone must have put him up there.
    It was Mark Twain who said, “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”
    Corbyn has had to submit to the usual hidden agenda as all politicians do. The men behind the curtain don’t care about his left wing policies, but they do care about the Internet. There is an ongoing campaign to destroy it, as you and others must have discerned by now. The Internet is the only means by which people like me can communicate with the world out there and that is dangerous to those who would prefer to remain anonymous. ‘Their’ identities are there for all to see, posted across the Internet in plain sight, one only needs to do a little research – follow the money?
    cadxx
    PS I don’t expect you to publish this.

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