Osborne has taken the "dot communism" fetish to another level

Labour should learn from his error.

This summer at the Edinburgh book festival, Ewan Morrison coined the excellent pejorative "Dot Communism" and I've been borrowing it ever since. Dot Communism pervades public life across all political boundaries. It is the lazy fetishisation of the values of firey start ups everywhere: work tirelessly, grow fast, and democratise resources, insofar as democratisation involves everyone owning everything at once, whether it be information or hard cash.George Osborne yesterday took this fetishisation to a new extreme, and Labour should be learning from his error.

Proposing a new scheme in which employees swap certain significant employment rights for a stake in the organisation which employs them, Osborne seeks to create a new kind of worker - the "employee-owner". In a sense it's safe Tory ground in that he's relying on personal responsibility rather than protectionism to ensure both productivity and fair play. However, the scheme also relies on- indeed champions - the thrusting owner mentality which will thrive on personal risk provided there's the promise of fat, fast returns.

Labour should be paying attention to two kinds of response. Unions have reacted with outrage, with Paul Kenny of the GMB stating unequivocally his belief that "slashing people's employment rights... won't create jobs and it won't create growth". This was perhaps predictable. Osborne gleefully played up his scheme's lefty-bating angle, introducing the policy with the gloriously sarky statement "workers of the world unite". Still, the horror of the left at this extreme application of the dot communist manifesto should be a stark warning to any overly soundbite-friendly policy wonks at Labour HQ.

More importantly, John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, was quoted in the Guardian with a distinctly lukewarm response. The scheme might be 'attractive' to workers in 'some of Britain's cutting-edge entrepreneurial companies', but he thinks 'this is a niche idea and not relevant to all businesses'. In other words, flashy get rich quick schemes might well appeal to a few media-friendly industries whose workers are characterised by boldness and zeal, but the majority of organisations rely on the bulk of their workforce feeling secure in their jobs, drawing their salary, and proceding perfectly happily without a major stake in the future of the company.

All Labour needs to do now is to realise that this is exactly what they've already said. Shadow secretary of state for business Chuka Umunna's speech at the party conference- as recorded on Labour's website- now looks rather prescient in calling for "an economy that rewards those that work hard and create sustainable value- not those just out to make a quick buck". There's an opportunity for Labour to turn this line into more than banker-bashing. They can be the party of sensible entrepreneurship and sustainable growth, the thriving local furniture business to the Tories' coke-fuelled Old Street digital bullshit dispensary.

As Ed Miliband starts putting some flesh on to the bones of his "one nation", he should be reading the papers today and remembering that, in business, mutual responsibility, shared vision and employee development are about much more than the promise of quick cash. Indeed, he's already said as much- so he'd better make sure the nation realises it.

Josh Lowe is a freelance journalist and writer. He tweets at @jeyylowe.

The silicon roundabout in Old Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

Josh Lowe is a freelance journalist and communications consultant. Follow him on Twitter @jeyylowe.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital