Jeremy Corbyn has promised to “democratise the internet”, speaking this morning at the launch of his eight-point digital manifesto at Newspeak House in east London.
“Labour under my leadership will utilise the advances of digital technology to mobilise the most visible general election campaign ever,” said Corbyn, in a clip you might have watched via a livestream on his Facebook page, before it crashed.
His manifesto sets out how Labour hopes to democratise the internet so that “no one and no community is left behind”. Unfortunately, some of the terminology used isn’t so universal. In a bid to leave no one behind, we thought we’d decode the manifesto here.
Universal Service Network
It’s hard to argue with Corbyn’s first and largest proposal – that high speed broadband should be accessible across the country. According to the Labour leader, this would cost £25bn to implement and would be funded by his proposed National Investment Bank, “at minimal cost to the taxpayer”.
Although this is good idea, it isn’t a new one. The Conservatives already announced plans for a similar Universal Service Obligation (USO) in March, whereby everyone has a legal right to request download speeds of at least 10Mbps. A report published by Ofcom last week shows the government faces resistance from internet service providers who don’t want to pick up the extra costs.
The People’s Charter of Digital Liberties
Corbyn’s second most eye-catching suggestion, a digital bill of rights, is a win for anyone wary of Theresa May’s Snoopers’ Charter. He promises to protect personal privacy and “[enhance] the on-line rights of every individual”.
Corbyn hopes to “foster the cooperative ownership of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services”, which essentially means he wants services like Airbnb, Deliveroo, and Uber to be community-run (or, if you want to go there, nationalised). The National Investment Bank would fund these websites and apps, which in turn would allow greater regulations of employment contracts. It’s quite a utopian vision and it’s easy to be cynical about how this could work in practice, but were it to work, it could arguably transform the entire economy.
Programming For Everyone
By encouraging publicly funded software and hardware to be released under an Open Source License, Corbyn dreams of a world where everyone can share code and learn from one another. Although it is a myth that Open Source is insecure, the prevailing belief in its vulnerability means the government has previously been slow to warm to the idea. Nevertheless, back in 2007 the Conservatives speculated it could save the country £600m a year. If Corbyn were succesfully able to implement the policy, there could therefore be multiple benefits.
Digital Citizen Passport
“We will develop a voluntary scheme that provides British citizens with a secure and portable identity for their on-line activities,” claims the manifesto, explaining this can be used to interact with public services like health, welfare, education and housing. Without even considering any potential security or privacy issues, the largest criticism of this proposal is that it already exists, as Gov.uk’s Verify.
Open Knowledge Library
At first glance, Corbyn’s proposal for a “free-to-use on-line hub of learning resources for the National Education Service” is undeniably a good idea. The problem is that the idea ends there, with no real discussion of what it is and how it will work. At present, it simply sounds like a publicly-funded version of resources that are already available (Wikipedia, anyone?).
Community Media Freedom
The entirety of this policy basically boils down to “free speech, yo”, which is, unarguably, fantastic. Unfortunately, the manifesto offers little in the way of explaining how its goals, such as stopping the “manipulation of software algorithms for private gain”, will actually be achieved.
Massive Multi-Person On-line Deliberation
Corbyn’s plan to “organise online . . . meetings for individuals and communities to deliberate about pressing political issues and participate in devising new legislation” is Twitter. It’s just Twitter.
Outside of this eight-point manifesto, here are some other things we learned today about Labour’s digital plans:
- According to Corbyn, some MPs don’t turn on their computers because they do not know how to, which, honestly, shall we deal with that first?
- Team Corbyn hopes that technology – and the visibility it allows – will be Labour’s “path to victory”, which is nice, but what he really means is: memes.
- Corbyn reveals he has an “open mind” about nationalising the broadband network.
- Corbyn calls online abuse appalling and says that Labour is chasing down offensive material.
- A team of coders called Coders for Corbyn have released some digital tools to show your support for the leader. Yes, the Corbyn emoji – Jeremoji – is about to be a thing.
- The entire manifesto features “online” written as “on-line” and really, that is the real issue here.