Yesterday the Open Rights Group held its final European Parliament hustings at Shoreditch Village Hall in Hoxton, London. It’s been a while since I visited and it’s certainly cleaned up well. It was great to be there. On the way in, I met Claude Moraes, Labour’s spokesman who told me that the Tories non-attendance was deliberate policy. I don’t know if it’s shame at their behaviour on the lobbying around the data protection directive or fear of a digitally educated audience. The meeting was moderated by Glyn Moody, who led the meeting through the issues of privacy, surveillance, whistle blowing, net neutrality, lobbying and copyright reform. The Tories absence meant that representatives from Labour, the LibDems, both represented by incumbents Claude Moraes and Sarah Ludford,the Greens (Danny Bates) and UKIP (Paul Oakley) who were not, were present.
You can read my take on this below, but to see what happened and it was two hours long, you can watch the whole event on Youtube.
I believe that the European Parliamentary role is the most technical legislative role in Europe, certainly more so than the UK Parliament or local government councillors. Good MEPs need to know a lot about a lot. In a meeting I attended earlier this year, Bill Cash MP argued that British MPs need to understand the law making process, not the issues of substance. The quality of British law that impacts the internet would suggest that Cash is wrong on this. Moraes & Ludford’s competence and understanding of the issues showed. In one or two cases, they just stated it wasn’t an area of expertise, probably wise given the expertise in the audience. I expect if Jean Lambert had been there to represent the Greens she’d have proved that too. The only non-incumbent I have seen with the over all command of the policy space is Andreas Biondi, Labour’s 8th place candidate for London.
I believe that all the candidates were weak on Copyright allowing Oakley, the UKIP candidate to define the answer in terms of not extending the copyright term. Ludford either misspoke or misstated that copyright term as 70 years, when it’s life plus 70 years; so I put her right. (I think that’s more than enough, see also my blog on the LP fringe event at which I proposed reducing it to twenty years.) Today’s issue in the western i.e. capitalist economies is enforcement and politically the balance between the rights of copyright holders, the right to pursue an ISSP business and various individual human rights.
Claude has a very self effacing & humble style which since he is a giant on these politics is not an advantage. He finds it hard to say “We’re great because of me!”; but it’s true. Claude was the author of the EU Parliament’s response to the Snowden leaks. I cover this in my article, “Privacy is a Human Right, get over it!”. The report has been adopted by the Parliament, which has suspended or threatened to suspend the TTIP talks, the US Data Protection safe harbour provisions and the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme. Claude repeated his view that the US Safe Harbour agreements were useless. He also pointed to Yvette Cooper’s speech to Demos on the balence between security and privacy in the internet age. I have to say, I missed this when it was reported by the Guardian, and would have been unsurprised by the Register’s hostile headline but we can read the speech for ourselves here. Id’ say it’s better than its critics suggest; there’s a growing consensus that RIPA gets it wrong and the recognition that privacy is part of the balance is a better position than the Tories and spies take and that many had expected from the Labour Front bench.
The Greens have great policy, but the Labour list is led by Claude and half the London slate have signed up to wepromise.eu. It was a Labour Government/Parliament that passed the Human Rights Act which entrenched the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The legal basis of our freedoms and protection against overreaching governments and companies was enacted by Labour. This was enhanced by the Freedom of Information act. In Europe, the Labour Group has led the opposition to ACTA, David Martin, one of Labour’s MEPs from Scotland was the Rapporteur for the Trade committee which recommended rejection and now Claude has written the report defending European citizens right to privacy. Some of this takes great courage. Labour’s record on digital politics in the European Parliament is good. Certainly good enough to vote for.