Labour’s Corbyn pledges to ‘democratise the internet’

Written by Rebecca Hill on 30 August 2016 in News

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has launched a manifesto for digital democracy across the UK, mooting online voting and a single, secure identity for people to access public services.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used his speech to highlight his campaign's use of social media - Photo credit: PA Images

In a speech in East London today, Corbyn – who is campaigning for continued leadership of the Labour party following a contest by Owen Smith – set out a range of digital policies.

Corbyn said that it was “not fair” that people in London can get 4G anywhere, when in rural areas they “can’t even get single bar reception”.

This, he said, was not trivial and a barrier to learning, to business and a source of social and economic isolation. As such, he said he wanted to see nationwide high-speed broadband.

Corbyn also called for an increased use of technology in policymaking and democracy, including the creation of a ‘digital citizen passport’.

This would be a voluntary scheme to provide British citizens with a “secure and portable identity for their on-line activities” for them to use when interacting with public services for health, welfare, education and housing.

Corbyn noted in his speech that some local authorities already provide a central access point for residents who need to use the council’s services.

However, such citizen portals have come in for criticism; recently FutureGov co-director Carrie Bishop said that they were unintuitive and built for business processes, not user needs, and needed to be redesigned. 

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Corbyn also used his speech to propose a People’s Charter of Digital Liberty Rights, developed through a public consultation to create a digital bill of rights, and to use digital technologies to encourage people to join in the democratic process.

Corbyn set out plans for what Labour described as “massive multi-person online deliberation” – a way of using IT systems to help people interact and discuss political issues and help devise new legislation.

“And if we can be sure of reliability, we will look to open up digital voting,” Corbyn added. “But that will be open to the widest possible consultation.”

He also said that all publicly-funded software and hardware would be released under an open source licence and that the National Investment Bank and regional banks would help finance social enterprises whose products aim to minimise the costs of connecting producers with consumers to boost the British economy.

Labour can’t win with ‘methods of the past’

Addressing his party’s poor performance at the previous two general elections, Corbyn said that Labour would not win the next by relying on “methods of the past”.

Instead, he emphasised that digital technologies must be used to increase the party’s support, and highlighted his own campaign’s use of social media as evidence that he would be best placed to lead Labour into the next general election.

"My leadership campaign is leading the way in harnessing the advances of new technology to organise political campaigning like we've never seen before,” Corbyn said.

He added that a general election campaign under him would “channel this new energy and creativity” to get Labour back into government.

Corbyn pointed to his campaign’s phone canvassing app, which helps volunteers contact voters and was inspired by Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the US, as an example of the future of political campaigning in the UK. Corbyn said that the Sanders campaign mobilised more than just Sanders’ base, instead appealing to other groups.

Corbyn’s speech comes as leadership ballot papers will be sent to all Labour party members. The closing date for votes is 21 September and the results will be announced at the Labour conference on 24 September. 

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