A nothing election, but an issue worth voting for

A version of this post appears at Hagley Road to Ladywood.

I voted for Labour in the last three General Elections. In ’97 I did it with conviction and hope. Four years later, before the War on Terror and all that jazz, I voted Labour with quiet content. At the last election, despite my better judgement and deep anger at the party, I did so again.

I will not be voting Labour in the coming General Election.

The fact remains that some of my closest political friends are still deeply wedded to the party. They don’t have much love for Brown, and they’re not defenders of the Iraq War, but their loyalty is to the party, not the personalities of the current car-wreck of a government. I’ve always been a pragmatist, not a tribalist.

I toyed with voting, and campaigning for, the Lib Dems. But having ‘enjoyed’ many run-ins with leading Lib Dem bloggers, I found many of them to be insufferably self-righteous. I know Lib Dem bloggers who are great, but others seem to believe they have a monopoly on liberalism and a fabulous sense of their own importance.

So, I find myself without a natural home.

Recently I wrote encouraging voters to ignore the largely indistinguishable major parties and vote for the single issue that’s closest to their heart. For me it is individual rights and the increasing illiberalism of our lawmakers. Following my own advice I’m inclined to vote for the Pirate Party UK.

I know all about Godwin’s law of internet debate, but there is something about the pending Digital Economy Bill that reeks of state-capitalism. I believe in artist rights and intellectual property, but to ram through a half-arsed statute that seems oblivious to the workings of the internet, is plain wrong.

And it doesn’t help that media monopoly interests are being championed by one Peter Mandleson: that charming socialist who loves nothing more than a cosy drinky-poos on a billionaire’s yacht. I’m sorry it’s a stitch up.

(Read Paul Carr’s excellent post at Tech Crunch for a fair-minded assessment of the Digital Economy Bill).

The Pirate Party knows that copyright law is broken. People should profit from innovation, but ideas that are in time shared and modified, contribute to our further advancement. And that has to be good.

Even with regard to media, it’s important that all that is good and great is experienced by the maximum number of people. Artists should profit from their work, but they should also realise that the world that created the opportunity they enjoy, should be rewarded in turn by them adding to the collective pool of human wisdom and creative output.

It’s not socialism, far from it. It’s about both rewarding creativity and also ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the one limitless resource we have: knowledge. Finally, with the internet, we can encourage children to discover and learn without limits. For politicians to consider cutting off an internet connection because someone is accused of downloading a copyrighted song, is as baffling as cutting off a water supply because someone drowned a kitten in the bath. The internet is a utility. Fact.

(It’s worth noting that there are no fines in the DEB for rights holders making spurious claims of infringement, meaning they can flood ISPs with complaints, that would ensure any fair process is impossible to implement).

Across the planet powerful lobbys are drafting draconian laws that endanger our freedom to share knowledge and propagate culture. A recent study found that file-sharers spend more money on new media than non file-sharers. We believe that artists and innovative companies should be rewarded for their efforts, but at the same time, we refuse to be held hostage to the excessive profit-mongering of monopoly rights holders.

This is not to say that the DEB is completely without controls. There are significant triggers that should bring serial-copyright infringers into line. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good law or that the very concept of denying access to the internet is right.

If they stand in my area, I’ll vote for the Pirate Party not because I believe in everything they stand for, but because I want this issue to get the scrutiny and focus it deserves. The DEB should be scrapped, and parliament should start again from scratch, drafting a law that is has the propagation of knowledge at its core, not the profits of big media.

I believe that the internet holds an astonishing power to realise otherwise unfulfilled potential in our young. Yes, many an internet hour is spent watching cats fall off sofas, but for the voracious and inquisitive young mind, the net presents an opportunity that previous generations could only dream of.

As Pope said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”