Politics

After a farcical display in parliament, what will the legacy of the digital economy bill be?

As the digital economy bill becomes the Digital Economy Act 2010, I think about the legacy of that political process

Photo: Zeynep

I received a text message from my dad the other day. It said simply ‘What’s the digital economy bill?’ Big question, I thought. How should I reply?

I could have said the digital economy bill is designed to protect the vested interests of opaque media companies, intent not on improving the lot of artists and music lovers but making sure money keeps heading their way thanks to the same creaking business model they’ve used for decades.

But that would have missed the point. There’s another side to the digital economy bill — now the Digital Economy Act 2010 — that’s only just becoming apparent.

The bill that originally appeared in the House of Lords last November horrified computer scientists, programmers, and geeks of all hues across the UK. Indeed, so much so that a huge campaign started against it. And this from a section of society hardly known for participating in mainstream politics. Yet we all got involved, we all felt passionate and we got involved.

And when I say there was a campaign, I mean a real campaign. Not just a lazy, anaemic Facebook group that has become the height of political action these days. A real campaign. Thousands of letters and emails were sent to MPs, thousands more written in follow up. Arguments were put forward on blogs, television, and in newspapers. People went to MPs’ surgeries and begged them to stand up for them in parliament. Debates in the Lords and Commons were followed avidly.

And what happened?

We made the mistake of thinking this would mean something. We didn’t expect MPs to ignore their constituents and listen instead to the embarrassingly ignorant arguments made by ministers and party whips. We didn’t expect the government to ride roughshod over parliament and remove any chance for proper debate. We didn’t expect the largest opposition party to get into bed with them and pass the bill without consideration.

So what is the Digital Economy Act 2010? A bad law for certain. But more importantly it’s the reason so many that took this so seriously will now go back to ignoring politics. Some think it will increase participation in the political process but I say the opposite will happen.

We tried everything yet we ended up with nothing. We tried to take part but we were deceived. We thought we could help form a good law by persevering with a painfully outdated parliamentary system. We ended up realising the whole thing was a farce, a sham, no more than the stage for a performance designed to make out we have any say in what happens. We ended up despising politicians and media executives even more than we did. We ended up with apathy.

I told Dad the digital economy bill was a route to disappointment and disillusionment. And with that I gave up on the general election.