Quiet bat people

Politicians struggle to write digital policy. Half because the space around digital and democracy is phenomenally complicated (it is just political philosophy that /happens/ to have a smartphone involved), half because they lack the experience to propose competent legislation. Witness attempts to ban mucky pictures, Trump saying that he’ll “turn off the internet” by talking to Bill Gates, Labour Digital’s staggeringly underwhelming work a few years ago and almost any minister other than Lord Maude’s speaches on the subject.

Sadly, it is coming up to the end of silly season and that means we’re about to get more policy from people. Today it’s the leader of the opposition. I’m going to go through the press release policy proposals briefly.

Universal Service Network — We will deliver high speed broadband and mobile connectivity for every household, company and organisation in Britain from the inner city neighbourhoods to the remotest rural community.

Cool. No problem. Everyone struggles with rural broadband and it just needs fixing at this stage.

Open Knowledge Library — We will create a free-to-use on-line hub of learning resources for the National Education Service.

Sort of suggests you haven’t seen FutureLearn. But hey — more learning is good. My only question is what is the user need and how will it be assessed/met? Just kidding. That isn’t my only question. What will it be? A Mooc? An extension of the OU? Who is meant to work for and what is it meant to do. I like learning for the sake of it (MA Psychosocial Studies), but you have to have a sense of purpose to the actual providers.

Platform Cooperatives — We will foster the cooperative ownership of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services. The National Investment Bank and regional banks will help to finance social enterprises whose websites and apps are designed to minimise the costs of connecting producers with consumers in the transport, accommodation, cultural, catering and other important sectors of the British economy.

Maybe. I keep seeing loads of interesting things with co-operatives. Although that feels more like organisational change than digital per-se.

Digital Citizen Passport — We will develop a voluntary scheme that provides British citizens with a secure and portable identity for their on-line activities. The Digital Citizen Passport will be used when interacting with public services like health, welfare, education and housing.

This is the dumb one. How will it be voluntary if you will need it to authenticate to online citizen services? It also duplicates GOV.UK Verify and even Government Gateway in a sense. It isn’t as simple as calling an initiative a “passport”. What will that be? A chip and pin machine like Estonia that’s open to attacks because the hardware is static?

Programming For Everyone — We will require that all publicly funded software and hardware is released under an Open Source licence.

This actually basically already exists. Except for the hardware and actually that’s hard. Look at how the Raspberry Pi struggled to release open hardware schematics because it includes a Broadcom (iirc) chip. We don’t make all the things in one place — can we open up hardware that is publicly funded (as in bought) but not public funded in R&D or assembly?

A People’s Charter of Digital Liberty Rights — We will launch a public consultation with people and parties across the political spectrum to draw up a digital bill of rights.

I love a consultation me. Have a go.

Massive Multi-Person On-line Deliberation — We will utilise information technologies to make popular participation in the democratic process easy and inclusive. We will aim to organise both online and offline meetings for individuals and communities to deliberate about pressing political issues and participate in devising new legislation.

As Josh Tauberer put it:

The world is complicated and for good reason we elect representatives to make decisions so we don’t have to read 2,000-page bills. No only that, but the world REALLY IS complicated. What do you think the dividend rate should be for Federal Reserve member banks’ shares in their local reserve bank? This is an actual, serious issue in Congress that got a vote, and I bet you don’t know remotely what that sentence means. Now prepare for 999 more votes like that.
People are rationally ignorant. We want to live our lives. If everyone had to participate in every vote, there would be no time left to live. People don’t want a direct democracy.

I agree. I’ve been involved in running consultations and the public reading stages of legislation. It doesn’t lead to better outcomes in that the people who felt disenfranchised before still don’t turn up. These sorts of online consultation platforms put power in the hands of people who have the time to spend their lives arguing with other people on the internet. No thanks.


There were a lot of interesting signs in Labour over the past year or two, an understanding of user needs had started to creep into discussions and the idea of the digital reforms that had happened so far were largely depoliticised and turned into “good governance” rather than a Tory plot. It is disheartening to see a collection of ideas that bear so little relevance to the changing work environment in the gig economy, to different ways of interacting with the state.

I’m always hopeful that first drafts can be improved upon in policy. This is in need of serious research and user needs analysis, not a return to the bad old days of policy based evidence making and terribly named initiatives.

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