Corbyn launches digital democracy manifesto but fails to inspire

In the trendy, tech-centric east London, Jeremy Corbyn this week launched what he called a “Digital Democracy Manifesto” that he hopes will “democratise the internet”.

The often-divisive Labour leader’s eight-point plan includes:

Universal Service Network – a commitment to delivery high speed internet across the entire country, including a £25 billion investment.

Open Knowledge Library – plans to create a free online hub of learning resources.

Platform Cooperatives – the party plans to “foster the cooperative ownership of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services.” Could mean some sort of government-owned eBay/TaskRabbit-like services?

Digital Citizen Passport – a voluntary online identity to use when interacting with government services.

Community Media Freedom – a pledge to protect freedom of speech, net neutrality, and reforms to copyright laws.

Programming For Everyone – all publicly funded software and hardware is released under an Open Source license.

Digital Bill of Rights – presumably much like the Liberal Democrat proposal, it would provide greater protection of privacy and freedom online.

Massive Multi-Person On-line Deliberation – nothing to do with World of Warcraft, but an idea to almost crowdsource opinion on policies and current issues.

Corbyn also promised new rights and trade union membership for digital workers.

“With the rapid advances in digital technology, data and information can become sources of inequality and exploitation,” he said.

“There is a clear need for more online democracy and our manifesto today sets out how Labour would democratise the internet in order to rebuild and transform Britain, so that no one and no community is left behind.”

Quick analysis:

It’s good Corbyn sees the need to take the digital realm seriously, but there’s little new on the table. You’d be hard-pressed to find a politician who doesn’t support faster internet available to more people. The commitment to Open Source is good, and one that the likes of India, Estonia, and Bulgaria have already adopted.

Digital Passports aren’t a new idea, and it’s hard to see why online identity cards would succeed when physical ones were so deeply unpopular.

The concept of publicly-owned platforms is interesting but seems unnecessary and expensive when there are already so many private ventures out there. Crowdsourcing public opinion is great in theory, and the likes of Change.org and the Government’s petition system do some great work, but it’s hard to see how Corbyn’s platform would be different.

Reactions have been mixed but largely negative:

WebRoots Democracy, a group campaigning for online voting, was in favour of Corbyn’s openness towards the idea.

The Independent’s John Rentoul was scathing, calling the Labour leader “technologically inept.”

The Telegraphic called it “an epic fail” and “trapped in the past.”

The Memo labelled the manifesto “a bad case of copy & paste.”

Business Insider kinda went for a different angle altogether.

Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael noted that Corbyn is now in favour of a Digital Bill of Rights after abstaining in a previous vote on the matter.

Robin Tombs, CEO of mobile identity startup Yoti told IDG Connect;

“Today’s launch of the Digital Democracy Manifesto demonstrates a clear recognition by the Labour Party that the UK requires a digital identity as more and more of our daily tasks are carried out online. Whether we're buying or selling goods online, online dating, or even renting out holiday homes, we will all benefit from a digital identity."


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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