Democracy day?

On the ropes over taxes and the deficits, Mr Brown is trying to change the subject today. He wants to talk about a new democracy.

He does so without a hint of irony and without a moment for self reflection. Yesterday he could have instructed the Ministers in his government to try a little democracy for a change in the Commons. Instead they opted for their well tried and tested steam roller approach to all other opinions but their own.

The Digital Economy Bill had been 13 years in the making. Apparently over those 13 years they had discovered how important the creative industries are, and how they need new regulation. The government against all precedents decided to hold a second reading of a major new bill after announcing the end of the Parliament!

Worse than that, they time limited debate with a vicious timetable. We could have stayed later and spent more time on the Bill last night, but that did not suit Labour. Instead those of us who did get to speak were time limited. Today all of one hour will be given over the committee stage! A proper committee stage needs a minimum of 20 hours. The bill in its current form is ill thought through, badly drafted, and will have unpredictable consequences. Last nigth when I sought to expose one of the problems with it, the Minister seemed unaware of any of the impact the Bill might have and was left defending some other Bill in his imagination which he had not presented to the House.

Democracy is in your heart. A democrat respects the opinions of others, considers them carefully, and allows full debate to expose the different views. This government has always done the opposite – it has scorn for its opponents views, seeks to misrepresent or stifle them, usually kicks the person and not the ball and allows as little debate as possible. You should judge this goverment by its actions, not by its fine words on democratic reform. The method of handling the Digital economy Bill sums up all that is bad in this government’s approach. They are not democrats in their hearts, when it comes to handling other people’s opinions.

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50 Comments

  1. Julian
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    It’s a great shame conservative MPs are supporting this bill. I wrote to my conservative MP who said he thinks it’s important. How many times has rushed-through legislation caused problems in future? Why are MPs so reluctant to learn?

    • Winston's Black
      Posted April 7, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      The reason is probably an EU Directive which they won't want to tell us because Cast-Iron Dave doesn't "do" Europe.

      • Winston's Black
        Posted April 7, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        My above remark was intended to be flippant to some degree but it does appear that our Masters in Brussels have ordered that we introduce a Digital Economy Bill or equivalent before May 2011.
        http://www.iwr.co.uk/information-world-review/new

        Could this explain Cameron's lack of resistance?

        • Mark
          Posted April 8, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

          I believe that this is just one of several cases where Brussels have been pressured by the Labour government into making this an EU requirement – so it's really a circular argument. The whole idea is from the authoritarians in Labour (because the ways in which this bill can be misused amount to extreme censorship and yet more extensive data gathering on citizens).

      • Mark
        Posted April 8, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        Further to my point above, I found the following comment elsewhere:

        "With the passage of this bill what becomes crucial – in my opinion – is the question of which ISP (if any) will stand up against the introduction of deep packet inspection – which I imagine will be the only way to enforce this bill once it becomes law.

        After all, how else will a provider be able to differentiate between such content being streamed legally – and anything else – without deep packet inspection?

        Once that system/software is implemented, an ISP will have a copy of every single e-mail written, every comment left on a website or blog any information googled for. Not to mention any personal information I may choose to back up on a remote server.

        This is a situation I find revolting.

        I would be interested in reading any pledge you might be willing to make to your current, and prospective, clients on this matter."

        Over to you, Mr.Redwood.

        P.S. I understand that David Davis MP and Nick Palmer MP were among those who actually oted against this bill.

  2. Norman
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Funny you should bring this up. Heard on the radio today that the government will have to postpone (or hopefully not get the chance to introduce) some new tax rises as there will not be enough time to squeeze everything into the last two days of Parliament.

    Apparently there is only enough time to rush through 14 (fourteen) new Bills in the last two days. Listening between the lines it seems as the Opposition were involved in horsetrading along the lines of 'We'll let you pass this one but we're going to block that one' so I don't know who is the biggest culprit in all this.

    I don't know if Parliament always worked thus but 14 Bills in about as many hours on the face of it seems ludicrous.

  3. John
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    You are of course completely correct about the railroading of the Digital Economy Bill.

    So why are the Conservative Party (according to last night's news) supinely agreeing to help the Government's put it into statute this week?

  4. Mike Stallard
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    The sheer chutzpah of Brown always amazes me. Does he really think the British, North and South, are that silly?
    I do hope he loses by a large margin.
    What arrogance!

  5. alan jutson
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Labour should be given the red card for foul play.

    Time is now up for this excuse for a Government.

    Let us hope the majority see it that way next month.

  6. Nick
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Democracy for MPs. Nothing for the rest of us.

    When do we get a say on the issues?

    You only deem that we are good enough to choose the next trougher, and that's once in 5 years.

    On the Bill. Where do you promise to repeal it as your first act? ie. A single bill, we repeal the Digital Economy Bill. No need for a discussion. Move to vote. Done.

    Nick

  7. Fiona Maddock
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    The proposed Digital Economy Bill is flawed. To quote one MP featured on the radio this morning "it cannot be right to curtail the internet connection of Starbucks just because one user has downloaded an illegal file whilst having a coffee". This approach to punishment is going to cause problems for families and other groups who share an internet connection where one member is law abiding and one isn't.
    What about internet cafes? What effect will the bill have on the great broadband revolution we are supposed to be about to enjoy? It should not be rushed through like this. There have to be other ways of protecting copyright or punishing the sites which promote illegal downloads.
    This bill needs more input from the technology experts. I sympathise with musicians and creators but their needs and the needs of users must be analysed within the context of the technology. This Bill should be withdrawn and reconsidered.

    As usual it's a case of this government saying one thing and doing another.

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted April 7, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Yep, if someone were malicious they could terminate all library connections by downloading, quite anonymously, something illegal. Indeed, were I the franchisee of the next door Starbucks with free wi-fi I might well do that to herd the library crowd into my cafe.

      There might also be problems for honest families. I set up a wireless broadband for my mother over the weekend (who at 77 has decided it's time she 'got on the internet') and was quite astonished to see that four of the seven signals her lpatop was picking up, were wholly unsecure. So again, all too easy to park outside and destroy someone's internet connection.

      As for your Starbucks example which is a very good one, if I may develop it further, if I wear a fake designer T-shirt into the cafe, do we close it down? No, clearly not. It must be sensible and moral to target the criminal, not the innocent party.

      • alan jutson
        Posted April 7, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        Stuart

        Exactly.

        Indeed there have been attempted prosecutions which have failed, where the ISP has a record of a particular download, but forensic examination of the said computer proves its never happened.

        Those who piggy back know what they are doing, and who to target.

  8. Liz
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Democracy and how the Conservatives will restore much of what has been taken away should be a major election issue. A lot of people will not vote on May 6th because they do not think that their vote counts or their opinions matter. The founders of the Labour Party must be spinning in their graves seeing how, since 1997, the Labour Government has trashed democracy in Britain generally but particularly in England.

  9. WitteringsfromWitney
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    "Democracy is in your heart. A democrat respects the opinions of others, considers them carefully, and allows full debate to expose the different views. This government has always done the opposite – it has scorn for its opponents views, seeks to misrepresent or stifle them, usually kicks the person and not the ball and allows as little debate as possible."

    With respect John, David Cameron has not done the first and is most definitely guilty of the second. Leaving aside Cameron Direct events which are no more than a Q&A session, which are not a debate in the strict sense of the word – three times David Cameron has refused to publicly debate, in his own constituency, the question of our membership of the EU.

    On the basic question of who governs our country, this debate must be held – especially during the election period. The electorate as a whole deserve that debate and not just in Witney. If our country does not elect and is unable to directly hold to account those who govern us, where is democracy? What is the point in voting, if all we are doing is electing administration clerks for laws handed down by the EU? A simplistic view maybe, but nontheless, correct.

    I mean no disrespect to you personally, but are the electorate not deserving of the truth and free debate during an election period?

  10. Andy Hoff
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    No successful part of the economy will be left un-meddled with by Labour. Any sign of the serfs having freedom will be met with a wall of incompetent legislation and interference.
    Still not to worry the price of petrol is almost at an all time high and the last time that happened the economy went into cardiac arrest. By the election we probably won't be able to afford the electricity to use computers so the new law won't matter.

  11. David B
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Your comments on the Digital Economy Bill can be applied to virtually every bill passed in the last 13 years. I feel there have been three main problems that have lead to this:

    1. The Program Motion (or Guillotine) used to be used sparingly by governments. This government has made it a part of everyday life in the House of Commons curtailing every debate meaning large sections of some bills are not even discussed
    2. The MPs on the government side march through the lobbies seemingly without thinking. This has been made worse by the use of MP representing constituencies in Scotland and Wales voting through legislation that only affects England.
    3. This government has used legislation as if it can solve every problem by a simple vote. I pick out specific legislation like the Climate Change Act and the Fiscal Responsibility Act. These acts have been passed as if they were an end in themselves. The legislation is actually meaningless, eg no point in having a Fiscal Responsibility Act if you do cut lay out plans to actually cut the deficit and the debit mountain it created

    The power of the executive needs to be curtailed so that legislation is actually meaningful, useful and proportionate and is properly scrutinised.

  12. Pete
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    John, thank you for trying to do some good in the Commons last night. I think I can share the frustration you must have felt at being confronted with an opposition that clearly didn't understand the issue in sufficient depth.

  13. Brigham
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    You must not be so naive John. When you have a government full of unscrupulous liars, democracy goes out of the window. When I look at the rest of the world, especially the EU, I see no democracy anywhere. Thank heaven I am in my seventies. I can't stand much more of the crooks that are in power throughout the world.

  14. John Exell
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I watched the 2nd reading bill last night and I liked what you had to say, I thought the labour back bench was more opposed to the bill than the Tory front bench.

    I work in the IT industry and the Internet is a corner stone of our future economy and this bill should be given more time to consider, rather than the steam roller attitude of Number 10!

  15. Acorn
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Is this where I mention separating the "executive" from the "legislature" again? Come on guys; you know it makes sense.

    A House of Commons – the voice of the people – that decides its own business, not the government. Along with a fully elected Lords – the voice of local government say. All Bills would have to pass in both chambers.

    With primary elections, we could start to loosen the dead hand of ping-pong party politics on the nation. We could make a move away from electing a dictatorship every five years. Or at least reduce it to every two years.

  16. Zach Beauvais
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    This makes good points, Mr Redwood. However, your own party, and the party of my MP in Shropshire, has decided to both back the bill and not attend the debate in force.

    It is good to see you taking the time to write a piece about how bad this bill's unpredictable consequences could be, and the disgrace of pushing it through Parliament in a hurry. Thank you.

    But you're party is backing this bill.

    I'm afraid that doesn't count as point-scoring, really. It's like shouting at the referee after throwing the match yourself. You really should have voted against the bill, and your party alongside, Mr Redwood. This piece doesn't account for that.

    Reply: I voted twice today against the government's efforts to steamroller this and other bills through the House.

  17. adam
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    So how come the tories dont publicise it.

    You have kept very quiet about this shutdown of democracy over the years. Outside the educated internet crowd, not one in 50 knows what is going on.

  18. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    JR: "They are not democrats in their hearts"

    Nor in their heads. We know this full well, not least by the way they have given away so much of our lawmaking powers to an unelected anti-democratic organisation called the EU.

  19. John Wood
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    And Labour are proposing a 'National Democracy Day' if they get re-elected.

    In memoriam presumably

    • A T
      Posted April 8, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      Re. In memoriam.

      Well said

  20. The Great Ignored
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Don't vote Conservative or Labour.

    They're all as bad as each other.

  21. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    You are allowed to repeal bad legislation. There is nothing to stop you.

  22. Hamish
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    To present this as a failing of the government is rather disingenuous of you, John. There are two parties with the power to stop this bill. The Labour party is only one of them. Guess which is the other?

  23. Tom Morris
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    I greatly enjoyed your speeches in the house last night, and am glad to see that there are people of conscience in all three of the parties speaking out against this travesty of a bill.

    I do hope that you can convince your colleagues in the Conservative party to let this bill have a proper debate in the next Parliamentary session. As was stated last night by some of the Labour back-benchers, if this is such a big concern, we can take a few months and get it right in the next Parliament.

    I wonder if the Conservative Party would be willing to make a commitment to the following proposition: if the Conservatives win the next election and form the government, they will commit not to having a "wash-up" at the end of the Parliamentary session.

  24. Mike R
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    This is a truly awful bill, both in the measures it proposes and in the way this government has determined to railroad it into law without commons parliamentary scrutiny.

    Three cheers for Mr Redwood then, but none for the Tory front bench who seem ready to allow the worst parts of this bill through via the misuse of wash up.

    For those of us who pray that removing New Labour would signal a less totalitarian style of governance , the Tory front bench acting as accomplices to Mandelson over his vile Digital economy bill, when a principled opposition would scuttle it, is very worrying. Frankly the Tories have lost my vote due to this and to their craven attitude towards a number of other NL fascistic bills, where they have been too chicken to properly oppose some dreadful new laws interfering with personal freedom with draconian savagery.

  25. Chris B
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Well done for standing up against this bill. but I do ask How can any other Conservative allow through a bill that seems so weighted against the small businessman especially by this sleight of hand?

  26. Matt Flaherty
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    I am not a supporter of Conservative policies and I generally support the sitting government, but the Digital Economy bill is a disgrace. I applaud any member of parliament who stands against it.

  27. Robin Wilton
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    With respect, John, in this case the Government seems to have done an admirable job of kicking both the people and the balls… if you'll pardon the turn of phrase.

  28. Pauper
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    "Democracy is six men telling five men what to do." – Lord Salisbury. Clearly Labour has not moved on in its understanding of democracy from the views of a pessimistic Victorian Tory aristocrat (who I still admire enormously, by the way). Your last paragraph should be in your party's manifesto, Mr Redwood. It is a noble work. Edmund Burke could hardly have done better.

  29. Kevin
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Mr Redwood for speaking up on behalf of creative people who have a grip on reality and the "long tail".

    I think on balance Labour have alienated the electorate more than either of the other two parties, even with the Lib Dem's u-turn on some of the clauses, but it's a close-run thing.

    The last few days have been nothing but a shambles, I can't begin to understand why there's such surprise at the public reaction to this bill. Labour seem to have distain for anyone willing to question their position.

    I felt your frustration with Stephen Timms during the summing up, where Mr Timms failed to comprehend and then brushed aside your question regarding "how far will the government take this?" Could someone download something and share it with his or her immediate family having purchased it?

    I'd also add to that, will the bill extend beyond the virtual world? Half of the electorate are probably carrying around mp3 players with music they didn't pay for in accordance of BPI preference (all mp3s should be purchased not ripped or shared).

  30. barton71
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    The only reason that the controversial clauses in the digital Economy Bill are being forced through parliament is because of the influence the entertainment industries, and the music industry in particular has within the government. They want laws in place to punish people who are sharing without permission and they want them in place now.

    This influence is not only within the government. There are many in the Conservatives, the LibDems, and the SNP, who also have a vested interest in seeing this bill passed into law. Whether that interest is Pete Wishart of the SNP, who used to play in Runrig and Big Country, or peers who have connections to law firms that work on behalf of some of the large music companies, or individual MP's who have friends in the music industry, it is wrong that they (do this), and it is made infinitesimally worse when they are using their power and privilege as politicians in parliament to rail road those bills into law, while telling the public to trust them and that there is no need for debate.

    MP's and Lords received somewhere in the region of 20,000 emails and letters from concerned voters about the failings of the Digital Economy Bill and apart from a handful of MP's, they were almost all ignored. Instead the MP's chose to listen to the lobbyists from the entertainment industries.

    Why? We can only guess. (allegations left out)
    Mr Redwood, sir. For all i may disagree with you on other matters, on the issue of the Digital Economy Bill and how it is being forced into law, you correct. Democracy in the UK has failed.

  31. Anne McCrossan
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    John I was very pleased to see you speaking out against the Digital Economy Bill in the House yesterday, thank you for that, but I am very disappointed that the Conservative party is supporting this Bill.

    This Bill and the way it's been railroaded through the legislature reflects a massively wanting 1.0 representative system, a travesty against democracy is being perpetrated, the Bill's a symptom of a very broken system and your party is discredited by being associated with it.

  32. Crosbie Fitch
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I believe the Liberal Democrat party is in need of people who understand the meaning of 'liberal' and 'democratic' – people like John Redwood.

  33. Pete
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    One question.

    If this bill is such a travesty, why didn't you vote against the second reading of the bill?

    All those in favor say 'aye'? AYE!
    All those against say 'no'?
    The ayes have it.

    That conspicuous silence was your opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to democracy, but instead you were mute.

    We can also judge an Opposition (as well as Government) on actions, not by your fine words on democratic reform.

    Third reading tonight. Will you speak out, or will you be silent once more?

    Reply: There was no point as the Ayes were in an overwhelming majority.

  34. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    I saw your protest in the commons about the Finance Bill. My sympathies.

    You would think that the 2010 budget report would make it easy for the reader to extract, in terms of constant 2010/11 prices, the key quantities in the government forecast for the public finances. In fact, you have to draw the information from several tables and apply the correction for inflation yourself. Anyway, here are the key results for the years 2010/11 to 2014/15:

    Debt interest will rise from £43 bn to £64 bn (£30bn now).
    Other current expenditure will fall from £601 bn to £597 bn (£584 bn now).
    Gross capital expenditure will fall from £60 bn to £43 bn (£71 bn now).
    So total expenditure will be flat at £704 bn (£685 now).
    Tax receipts will rise from £541 bn to £636 bn (£516 bn now).

    In summary, total public expenditure will be flat (debt interest up, current expenditure fairly flat, capex down). Tax receipts will rise by more than 4% pa compound for 5 years.

    Not a nice future.

  35. Kimpatsu
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Why did the craven Tories support this unjust bill? There really is no difference between them and Zanu-Labour. The Tories are supposed to be in favour of small businesses, but this bill ruins mine with its prohibition on web lockers. I'm now desperate to emigrate to Canada. You are going to lose much support over this, and deservedly so.
    Bastards.

  36. Nigel T Packer
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    They just don’t get it do they!

    The digital economy is global it is a different country with no statehood that can be looked up in directory of nations. It is ‘for the people by the people’ to corrupt a phrase.

    The door was opened when commercial activities started on the internet in the early 90’s. Since then the internet has become a place for people to connect for any number of reasons wherever they are. There is no control and any state that tries to control by censorship and penalty will fail as the technology will change to avoid detection and capture. If it was as easy as passing a bill and making a law there would be no spam or viruses, China would not be rebuking Google.

    The only way to stop it is to remove the internet from our phone lines computers and networks which would require the removal of phones and networks and we would all go back to writing to each other with pen ink and paper. I am sure the Royal Mail would be happy about that!

    Those who seek protection from IP theft need to find different ways to protect themselves.

    The legislature should look at reviewing Patent and Intellectual Property protection with new clauses to help protect IP. Not this badly thought out rushed Digital Economy Bill was pushed through last night.

  37. cna training
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    What a great resource!

  38. Winston's Black
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    The EU and their Lab/Lib/CON acolytes have realised that the internet empowers and informs the masses as to the corrupt practices of the Climate Change Scam, the undemocratic nature of the EU and resulting impotence of Parliament etc, etc.

    It also enables smaller political parties, such as UKIP, to reach a wider audience despite the censorship and propaganda of the BBC and supine dead tree media.

    Such freedom is anathema to our Masters in Brussels and their disciples in the 3 main political parties.

    I exonerate the courageous few like Mr Redwood whom have tried to fight this draconian legislation and abuse of Parliament.

    Sadly though the rump of your Party comply with such practice so I am left with no alternative but to vote UKIP.

  39. peter soakell
    Posted April 9, 2010 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    mobile technology makes the user the ultimate authority.

  40. zakc
    Posted April 11, 2010 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    Just wanted to say that if you were the candidate for Westminster North, you'd have my vote.

    I got a lovely and silly reply from my current MP.
    http://bit.ly/9qyq7c

  41. nike shox
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    He does so without a hint of irony and without a moment for self reflection. Yesterday he could have instructed the Ministers in his government to try a little democracy for a change in the Commons. Instead they opted for their well tried and tested steam roller approach to all other opinions but their own.

  42. cheap ghd
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if Parliament always worked thus but 14 Bills in about as many hours on the face of it seems ludicrous.

  43. rolex daytona
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    mobile technology makes the user the ultimate authority.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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