'Hoon is the real vandal'

UK Green Party leader Caroline Lucas gives her take on this week's runway protest by direct action g

Environment Secretary Ed Miliband should be careful what he wishes for. No sooner had he told the Guardian that more popular mobilisation on climate change was needed, than the activist group Plane Stupid kindly obliged.

Using tried and tested tactics from the book of non-violent civil disobedience to make their protests heard far and wide, campaigners took to the runway at Stansted first thing on Monday morning to protest about Ministers’ continuing inaction on the climate agenda.

With 52 cancelled flights, 57 arrests on the last count, and pole position on TV, nobody could say they were unaware of the group’s concerns, least of all the government.

However, the prime minister’s disingenuous response saying ‘everybody has a right to protest, but people also have a right to be able to travel without unnecessary hindrance” clearly shows which corporate lobbyist he remains most loyal to.

The decision to push ahead with the expansion of Stansted airport is environmental and economic madness, and Ed Miliband will need to prepare for many more such actions unless the government starts acting on the climate agenda with the urgency and ambition it requires.

Forget the much criticised “vandalism” of Plane Stupid. The real climate vandalism belongs to Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, who has been more than willing to brush aside the huge public opposition to the expansion of Stansted, not to mention the wishes of the local authorities.

It seems increasingly clear that peaceful direct action is fast emerging as the only way to focus the government’s attention on the climate challenge.

At Kingsnorth Climate Camp earlier this year, we gathered peacefully to register our disgust at the government’s ongoing commitment to coal. On the Campaign Against Climate Change’s Global Day of Action last weekend, we gathered to demand rapid changes to safeguard our environmental future. This week, Plane Stupid showed that those who care about our planet and its people will not be silenced.

With climate emissions from air travel at an all time high, the government is living in a fantasy land if it thinks it can allow aviation to grow at such an alarming rate, while also committing to significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

As one of the MEPs involved in the negotiations on the EU’s energy and climate package, I’ve seen at first hand – and watched in horror – as government leaders of EU member states, including our own, water down key elements of the package, which were never ambitious enough in the first place.

So it’s a bit rich of government ministers to suggest that politicians can’t make progressive climate policies in the absence of the popular mobilisations.

What we need from our politicians right now is genuine political leadership - and if Labour MPs can’t provide it, they should move out of the way and leave the job to the politicians, like the Greens, who can.

Dr Caroline Lucas MEP, Green Party

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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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